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Depictions of Eyewear in American Cinema: Sunglasses are Super, Eyeglasses are Not

Ethan Hinds III, Elise Weisert, Manuel J. Marin III, Dr. Misha F. Syed, MD, MHEP

University of Texas Medical Branch


Introduction: Patient bring their perceptions of eyeglass and sunglass wearing into the clinic and rely on them throughout their treatment. Perceptions are both received from and externalized by media, including cinema. Therefore, it may be possible to infer patient perceptions of eyewear and adherence from popular culture. Methods: In this cross-sectional study, movies since 2000 from the top 5 grossing superhero franchises were screened for depictions of eyewear. Inclusion criteria included characters with at least one speaking line and with the presence of eyewear. Positive or negative depictions were noted when a scene contained an action done to or by the character that depicted them in a positive or negative light. Characters were also categorized based on age, sex, race, and reason for being portrayed with eyewear. Recording reasons for wearing eyewear allowed for further stratification and analysis. Results were identified with a χ2 test with α < .05 and descriptive statistics. Results: A total of 21 movies were analyzed, and results showed that sunglasses were depicted in a more positive light, whereas eyeglass wearing was more evenly distributed between positive and negative depictions. Chi-square statistic was 6.6048 and the p-value was 0.01017. These results were significant at p<0.05. Most positively depicted sunglass wearers were between the ages of 19-35 years old, and a majority of positive and negative eyeglass wearers were between the ages of 36-60 years old. Females were represented 6 times less than males amongst characters with eyewear. With regard to fashion or function, eyeglasses were largely depicted as functional tools, regardless of positive or negative. However, sunglasses were equally depicted for fashion and function with mostly positive depictions. Conclusion: We demonstrate stark differences in depictions of eyeglasses and sunglasses in American cinema. Use of sunglasses was positive overall, without respect to any other factor. Eyeglasses were equally depicted as positive and negative, indicating more complex stereotypes associated with eyeglass wearing. These depictions represent how patients internalize values and apply them in context of clinical care, impacting the physician-patient dynamic. Similarly, cinematic depictions of eyewear affect patient’s perception of eyeglass and sunglass wearing, thus impacting their adherence to ophthalmologic care.

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