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Music is a powerful tool for the expression of ideologies, especially when it comes from respected and popular artists. During the 1960s, considerably the most widely known were the Beatles, with their sales at over 500 million records worldwide. At the same time as the rise of the Beatles, the 1960’s brought about the escalation of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was arguably the most controversial in America, and many different artists voiced their opposition to it, including the Beatles. Through their music, the Beatles forwarded an ideology of peace, togetherness, and love, and opposed the war. However, music is not the most effective vehicle for protest. While music can bring people together, it alone does not educate as thoroughly as a combination of visual and auditory mediums. When music is adapted to combine a visual aspect as well, the message and facts are more effectively processed and remembered. Learning is easier when the ideas are presented in a multimedia form. In addition, adding in visuals benefits memory due to the picture superiority effect, which dictates that due to the strong symbolism connected with images, humans are more likely to remember pictures than they are words.
Fortunately for the Beatles, they did not only further their message of peace through music, but through visuals as well. Two examples of visual adaptations that successfully used the music of the Beatles’ to further their message are Yellow Submarine, made at the time of the Beatles’ popularity, and Across The Universe, a more modern creation. Looking at these two examples is vital due to the Beatles far reaching messages. They were the most wildly known and influential, but what made them so? Why did their art and the messages of their art cause so much stir? It is not just due to the Beatles themselves, but how their music was used. By utilizing certain cognitive structures, adaptations of their music successfully furthered the ideas the Beatles were attempting to promote. These movies used powerful visual techniques that left the ideas memorable and easy to recall. In addition, the ideology and peaceful protest and the reasoning behind why the Vietnam war was wrong was not always easily understood, and the usage of multimedia facilitated the education.
The idea of the “visual learner” and “auditory learner” is one that has exploded over the last 10 years, however research is now beginning to counter this by focusing on the universal techniques which help learning regardless of supposed learning style (Pashler et al., 106). A study conducted at the University of Haifa explored how a multiple representation model (a sheet explaining concepts using visuals and words) could better teach students than a single representation model (a sheet only using words). The study found that the effect of the MR models significantly helped students. The article states, “The diverse, distinct MRs seemed to afford students the ability to easily notice and identify certain bits of information within the whole display, thus facilitating these students’ usage and manipulation of larger amounts and more varied types of information, as compared with the SR group students who noticed less information based on the unitary text-only display to which they were exposed” (Eilam & Poyas, 376). The conclusion of this study was that multiple representations using visuals and words helped the students see and pick out more information, allowing them to use the information more effectively. In addition, the study found that the students who were exposed to the MR models performed better on tests of the material. One might question the reliability of the study due to the topic of “learning styles” from earlier, and suggest that the students who were assigned to the conditions that had visual representations were more likely to perform better on the test, and vice versa. However, the groups were selected using random sampling, and the p-value (the probability that the experiment’s results are due to chance) was below 0.05%, the bar for reliability. This shows that the study’s results could be replicated regardless of a student’s supposed “learning style”. The results of this study support the theory that to facilitate teaching of concepts, a combination of multiple mediums is most effective.
Yellow Submarine is a movie created as an adaptation of the Beatles’ music album with the same name. Its first impression is one of simplicity; the animation is extremely flat with thick outlines and bright colors. Along with the idea of simplicity comes childlike qualities, however The Yellow Submarine is quite the opposite. It is a critical counterculture narrative, produced at the time of the Vietnam War with the clear intent of protest. This narrative is shown through the entire storyline, following the tale of a fight between the oppressive ‘blue meanies’ and the people of Pepperland, preaching the idea of peaceful protest through the usage of music as the only weapon to succeed. However, there is more beneath the surface, for certain characters are used to show other themes as well. The character of “Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D.” talks only in superfluous rhymes, and mentions that if he were to talk normally, the others would all realize that he did not actually know what he was talking about (Yellow Submarine, 1968). Jeremy’s character is a critical portrayal of the higher class in society who use superficial cues and elitist language to place themselves above others, while not truly having any content or depth. Another character who is representative is the Vacuum cleaner beast, which sucks up everything on a quest for destruction, eventually sucking up the entire world and itself. This monster shows the rejection of the focus on consumerism, destruction, war, and profit.
Unlike the storyline of Yellow Submarine, these other themes are not obvious at first glance, and it requires the ability to analyze and notice subtle ideas. As discussed earlier, multiple representation models are the usage of combining two mediums, generally both words and visuals. Yellow Submarine is a MR model, the visuals of the movie and the incorporation of the music being the two mediums used. MR models bring with them advantages, and the most important is the ability for the viewer to notice more information and pick out more subtle themes. This is greatly important for Yellow Submarine because of it’s usage of subtle themes critiquing certain aspects of society. While the overarching theme of anti-war and peace is important, the underlying ideas are equally as important and much more subtle. The usage of a MR model for the movie enabled the viewer to more easily notice these themes, and understand the narrative at work without the many different themes so blatantly obvious that it became confusing for the viewer to track everything. Thus the adaptation was an important creation because of its increased effectiveness over the musical album.
In addition to the importance of using multiple mediums, visuals are extremely important on their own. The picture superiority effect states that images are more likely to be remembered than words, and this is due to the fact that images are coded more easily and are more easily retrieved from memory due to their symbolic nature. In addition, by assigning a symbol or image to a word, it becomes more memorable. Numerous studies have been done, dating back to the creator of the theory, Allan Paivio. One study, conducted in Sweden, explored how memory interacted with images versus words, to confirm the theory. The authors state, “The second main finding of these experiments was the superior memory accessibility of items studied as pictures. With accuracy measures, the picture superiority effect is a well-known and extensively studied phenomenon” (Stenberg et al., 436). While the authors acknowledge that the picture superiority effect has shown to clearly affect accuracy of memory in other studies, new findings of the study show that pictures also help with accessibility of memories. This means that one is more capable of recalling an item which is shown through a picture, and the reaction time to memory is also faster.
The movie Across the Universe is an anti-war critique just as Yellow Submarine, and is also an adaptation from the Beatles’ music. However, it takes a different approach than the latter, and instead of using more subtle and underlying themes, it takes blatant events, especially historical events, and brings them to the forefront. Because of this, Across the Universe does not require as much critical thinking, and instead requires excessive memory to process and comprehend all of the information being provided which furthers the anti-war and counterculture message. For example, certain events such as the 1967 Detroit Riot and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination highlight the race relations issues critiqued in the movie. In addition, the drafts of the Vietnam war stand as a negative highlight, becoming extremely clear in the scene when a character is drafted and treated more as packaged meat than a human. Sexuality is also discussed when Prudence, a character whose sexuality is unclear but is interested in other women, sings a song where she pines over a fellow cheerleader, and then sinks into an episode of depression later on when her crush chooses a man over her (Across the Universe, 2007). These themes of race relations, sexuality, the anti-war movement, and more including class relations, drug usage, and abuse, are strong and clear throughout the movie. The choice to attempt to forward so many different ideas then requires the viewer to maintain excessive amounts of information via memory.
The usage of a visual adaptation of the music is successful due to the increased ability of memory with regards to visual stimulation. As explained in the previous study regarding the picture superiority effect, visuals are more useful to remember information. Because of Across the Universe’s usage of so many strong themes, extreme ability at memory is required. By itself, the music does not have the same ability of memory, and by only attempting to further so many messages through music, the viewer would be unable to follow everything and would become confused. Thus, by adapting the music of the Beatles to a highly visual movie, the creators are able to bring up so many different themes because a greater capacity of memory has been enabled. This is why the choice to adapt the music in such a manner was successful.
These two examples are powerful lessons for how to create successful adaptations, and how to use cognitive processes to your advantage. There are powerful cognitive processes at work in the brain that can control how everything is viewed and remembered, and they should not be ignored or forgotten when creating artwork. Yellow Submarine and Across the Universe both show a different processing theory and how it applies to the movie being successful or not. Without the cognitive benefits, the movies might not have been able to promote the messages that they did, and would not have been as memorable. Multiple representation models and the picture superiority affect are only two of these theories that can be melded to the creator’s advantage, and to properly further a message in film, or another medium, cognitive processing theories should be considered and utilized.
While music has been a popular unifying manner of protest in the past, shown especially through the music of the Beatles, it is not the most effective manner of communication on its own. The usage of a multiple representation model which uses multiple mediums such as visuals and words enhance the ability of the viewer to notice more details and analyze the information better. This concept is utilized in the movie Yellow Submarine. The movie has many themes that remain subtle as not to confuse or distract the viewer, and by combining both music and visuals, the viewer is more easily able to notice these themes. In addition, visuals on their own are more effective than other forms of communication. Due to the picture superiority effect, images are more likely to be remembered than words because they are more easily coded and retrieved from memory. Another movie, Across the Universe, which is also a Beatles adaptation, utilizes the picture superiority effect. Unlike Yellow Submarine, this movie has many blatant themes, and instead of requiring the viewer to notice more ideas, it requires the viewer to remember more. By using a visual adaptation of the music, Across the Universe enables the viewer to more easily remember the multitude of themes and messages addressed. These two adaptations stand as important points for creators attempting to convey ideas through their work, especially those of protest. By utilizing different manners of cognition such as multiple representation models and the picture superiority effect, creators can more effectively convey their message.
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