Cultural scripts from movies, TV shows, and video games are often blamed for contributing to things like murders and school shootings. When people do heroic things, though, I don’t remember seeing these behaviors linked to cultural scripts. For example, in the recent spate of heroic celebrity behavior (Ew.com reports: “First Ryan Gosling broke up a street-fight. Then Kate Winslet rescued Richard Branson’s mother. Now, completing this week’s hat trick of celebrity heroism, Brad Pitt has reportedly saved an extra from being trampled on the set of World War Z.“) I haven’t seen anybody suggest that these behaviors are learned through watching movies (or being paid to act heroically in said movies). Events that transpired over the summer, however, suggest that I have not picked up on these cultural scripts.
To give one example, I was leaving a store one summer afternoon when I heard a woman yell to stop a man who had stolen her purse out of her shopping cart as she put her purchases into her car. The man, who was likely in his late teens or early twenties, ran past me on the other side of my car and across the parking lot. Rather than chasing after him I stood watching him run and then started walking in his direction considering whether, if I started running, I would be able to catch him before he got to the road or wherever he was going. Meanwhile, another man did chase after him until he got into an SUV with three other men that had been waiting in the parking lot. Another man followed them, recording their license plate number and reporting it to the police. Shortly afterward, a detective arrived at the scene of the crime and reported that they had been apprehended. In sum, while I did not act heroically, several others did, resulting in a positive resolution to the situation.
This situation led me to wonder if I would act differently in a similar situation. More than that, though, I wondered what I would have done if I had actually caught the perpetrator. Tackling somebody in a parking lot does not sound like a good idea. At any rate, I wonder if my failure to follow cultural scripts in one situation makes me less likely to follow cultural scripts in other situations. Maybe I am less likely to act heroically but also less likely to act violently. I also wonder if being trained as sociologists makes us more likely to recognize cultural scripts but less likely to follow them.