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Source: Richard Harris, 785-532-0610, rjharris@ksu.edu
News release prepared by: Calin Cooney, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010

CLASSIC HOLIDAY MOVIES HAVE UNIVERSAL APPEAL, PROFESSOR SAYS

MANHATTAN -- Holiday films have a special appeal that reaches all generations, according to a Kansas State University professor who studies why we watch certain movies.

Richard Harris, professor of psychology, has examined issues involving language and cognition in the areas of psycholinguistics and mass communication. His recent research studies reasons for watching various types of movies and the effects of viewing those movies.

"Christmas movies have become part of the way that individual families celebrate the holidays," Harris said. "The holidays bring out the tradition side in all of us. They also tend to be a major family time. For example, my family has watched the 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' on Christmas Eve for several years now after we get home from church. It's part of our expected Christmas activities, like making cookies or decorating the Christmas tree."

The appeal of holiday films and television specials is found in their widely accepted themes, Harris said.

"The messages are universal," he said. "Most of the films aren't limited to Christianity or Western culture. They tug at universal themes like family, reconciliation, reorganizing priorities in one's life, etc. Everyone can relate."

Even though these messages are repeated every holiday season through the same films, generations still find everlasting entertainment in timeless holiday classics such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Story" and "Christmas Vacation," regardless of how dated the films become, Harris said.

"There are always new Christmas films every year hoping to become a classic that people will watch and re-watch every year, but few newcomers make it," he said.

Since most holiday films concentrate on secular themes and spread universal messages, they can appeal to many cultures, he said.

"I believe many of them are popular in other cultures as well. For example, in Japan, which is neither very religious currently, nor does it have a Christian cultural tradition, Christmas is a popular secular holiday," Harris said.

As for the timeless holiday classics, Harris said audiences find them both joyful and encouraging. "The main effects are calming, positive emotions and a general good feeling," he said.