Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college junior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 145

Text: But I shall positively say that Warner Oland, the oriental-looking villain of the screen, was responsible for my mortal dread of Chinamen. Whenever I saw one I would run as fast as my little legs would carry me and palpitating with fear would cling close to my reassuring mother. He, Warner Oland, was always wicked in his role of the canny, cunning, heartless mandarin who pursued Pearl White through so many serials. I carried over this impression to all Asiatics, so that they all seemed to conceal murderous intent behind their bland features, their humble attitude merely a disguise until the time was ripe to seize you and kill you, or, worse yet, to make you a slave. I never passed by our Chinese laundry without increasing my speed, glancing apprehensively through the window to detect him at some foul deed, expecting every moment one of his supposed white slave girls to come dashing out of the door. If I heard some undue disturbance at night outside, I was certain that “Mark Woo” was at his usual work of torturing his victims. I have not been able to this day to erase that apprehensive feeling whenever I see a Chinese person, so deep and strong were those early impressions.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the chapter ‘Schemes of Life’, section ‘Stereotyped Views’. The Swedish-American actor Warner Oland frequently played oriental characters, including Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Serials in which he appeared with Pearl White were The Romance of Elaine (1915), The Fatal Ring (1917) and The Lightning Raider (1919).

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