Movies are great at telling stories, but they're horrible at teaching basic survival skills. Here are five of the ways they've led us astray - from performing CPR to battling wild animals.
Movies and TV shows are meant as entertainment. As such, they tend to take shortcuts. Sometimes the survival methods they "teach" carry over into the real world, and our understanding of things such as treating nosebleeds, getting knocked out, or how to deal with a snake bite get skewed. Here are the correct ways to handle those situations.
Myth: CPR Takes Minutes And Results In Complete Recovery
On countless TV shows and in thousands of movies, CPR is used on a victim minutes after they've passed out (or actually died) and they're resurrected safely and easily within a couple of seconds. The problem is that CPR doesn't work the way you see on TV.
CPR is meant as a life-prolonging technique, and it's typically not meant to bring someone back to life. Instead, it's supposed to keep their blood moving long enough for proper medical help to arrive. Worse, CPR isn't nearly as effective as it's depicted on television. On TV, CPR saves about 75 per cent of victims and takes about a minute to perform. In reality, the effectiveness of CPR is between 2 per cent and 30 per cent depending on the reason for giving it. Instead of giving up after a minute, you should continue administering CPR until help arrives.
Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't learn CPR. You should, but knowing when to administer it - and how to do it properly - is key, since most movies and TV shows get it wrong. Take a proper first-aid course.
Myth: Getting Knocked Out Is No Big Deal
Receiving a blow to the head is usually portrayed in movies as a minor annoyance with no serious consequences. In reality, it's a lot harder to knock someone out with a punch then you'd think, but it's bad news when it does happen.
In general, a concussion isn't too horrible provided you're not out for longer than five minutes, after which you're susceptible to long-term damage. Of course, repeated concussions, like the ones athletes deal with are suspected to lead to serious brain damage.
If you get concussed, the best thing to do is see a doctor within a couple of days of the injury. If you experience vomiting, a prolonged headache, visual disturbances, slurred speech, confusion, blood discharge, or another loss of consciousness you should see a doctor right away.
Myth: Tilt Your Head Back To Stop A Nosebleed
Although it has been recommended not to tilt your head back when you have a nosebleed for years, movies and TV shows still show people doing it all the time. Tilting your head back to stop a nosebleed isn't just ineffective, it's also dangerous because it causes complications by allowing blood into the esophagus, which increases the risk of choking and vomiting.
The New York Times explains how to stop a nosebleed the right way:
A report in the British journal BMJ says you can stop the bleeding by using your thumb and index finger to squeeze the soft tissue just below the bridge of your nose for 5 to 10 minutes. A cold compress or ice pack placed across the bridge of the nose can also help.
If all of this fails and the bleeding lasts for more than 20 minutes, or the nosebleed was caused by a blow to the head, seek medical attention.
The last thing you want to deal with when you have blood falling out of your nose is blood down your throat as well.
Myth: Suck Out Snake Venom After Being Bitten
It's a staple in classic western films: someone sucks snake venom out of a snake bite to save the victim's life. The idea is that you can catch the venom before it enters the bloodstream and then spit it out to save the victim, but it really doesn't work that way. As WebMD points out, you should never attempt to suck the venom out of a snake bite.
Instead, keep the person as still as possible, cover the wound with a loose bandage (do not apply a tourniquet), and get the victim to an emergency room as quickly as possible. The general rule is the less you move the victim, the less likely the venom will spread through the body and cause damage.
Myth: Most Wild Animals Will Attack You Unprovoked
Hollywood seems to truly hate the wilderness. As far as movies are concerned, it's the most dangerous place out there, and every single animal is dangerous, even the cute ones. The truth is that while many animals are dangerous, most want nothing to do with humans, and the last thing you should do is taunt them.
When you run into most animals in the wilderness, it's best to remain calm, and back away slowly. Seek some kind of shelter if possible (playing dead isn't a good all-around strategy, but it does work if the animal isn't aggressive). If they do attack, go for the eyes, and make as much noise as possible.
The best way to avoid animal attacks is to avoid messing with them. Don't leave food sitting out, don't wander into their territory, and don't go looking for them. Generally speaking, they want nothing to do with you, so if you stay away from them, they'll stay away from you.
Bonus Urban Survival Myth: Anything Any Movie Has Taught You About Computer Security
We couldn't omit discussing one of Hollywood's biggest urban survival myths: computer security. Hacking is represented in all kinds of goofy ways in movies. While these scenes are characteristically over the top, they also suggest that hacking is a fast process that just about anyone can manage.
Of course, hacking isn't easy, nor is it fast. While some fast hacks exist, such as Firesheep, they're pretty rudimentary and easy to block. More complex hacking, like Stuxnet or Zeus take months (or more) to find the exploits, code the hack, and implement it.
In most cases, hacking also takes a lot of work and wits to do it. Even if you have tools like Reaver at your disposal, it still takes a fair amount of time. just guessing passwords takes a special skillset. In general, finding an exploit and taking advantage of it is incredibly difficult. The fact is, hacking into any secure computer takes a lot of effort, and it's rather boring to watch on the screen.
The same goes for how viruses are typically represented. Viruses are a pain, but they can't damage your hardware, browse for porn under your name, or infect alien spacecraft. And don't even get us started on "zoom and enhance" or Nokia gum hacks.
The lesson here is to not trust what you see on screen when it comes to anything important. If you want to prepare for anything, research the correct way to do it first. Life is not a movie.
This story has been updated since its original publication.