I've been reading Robert McCrum's biography of P.G. Wodehouse (Wodehouse, 2004). In passing, discussing Wodehouse's decision to try writing for Hollywood in the late 1920s and early '30s, the author mentions this:
According to George Cukor, the premiere [of The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture], on the night of 27 December 1928, had been 'the most important event in cultural history since Martin Luther nailed his theses on the church door'....
My first thought on reading that was "What a ridiculous thing to say"--just the sort of thing you might expect of some self-important entertainment industry executive. My second thought was "But now that I think about it, I guess it was pretty significant." (And Cukor was not an executive, but a director, trained in the theater, who went to Hollywood at about the same time Wodehouse did.)
And my third thought was, "You know, I think he might be right." Whether or not the Luther comparison is accurate, it is true that moving pictures, especially after they became speaking pictures as well, are something never before seen in human history, and that they've had a huge influence. And it seems entirely possible that their cultural effect may be as great as some of the big philosophical shifts in civilization. Never before had the human race seen itself this way. There had been theater, of course, but as the early movie producers soon realized, that is a very different thing. Actors on a stage remain human in scale, and in the same real world as the audience. Movies, in comparison, are simultaneously much more and much less real--literally larger than life, and at the same time, and no doubt in part for that very reason, creating a stronger illusion of reality, and all the more illusory because it's heightened and intensified.
I haven't really thought about this at length, but surely others have. No doubt there are books exploring the idea. At the moment I'm just tossing it out for discussion--what do others think? As a cultural influence, has it had an effect on the mind of a civilization comparable to that of the Protestant Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or industrialization?