Five Survival Skills the Movies Taught You Wrong
CPR will save someone's life in a matter of seconds. Tilt your head back and look at the clouds to stop a nosebleed. If an animal spots you in the woods it will chase you relentlessly and maul you. Movies are great at telling stories, but they're horrible at teaching basic survival skills. Here are five of the ways they've taught us horribly wrong.
Movies and TV shows are meant as entertainment. As such, they tend to take shortcuts so they get to the point as quick as possible. Occasionally the survival methods they "teach" carry over into the real world, and our understanding of things like CPR, getting punched in the head, or even the best way to deal with a snake bite get skewed. Here are the correct ways to handle those situations.
Myth: CPR Takes Seconds and Brings Most People Back to Life
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 seconds. The problem is that CPR doesn't work like 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 help to arrive. Worse, CPR isn't nearly as effective as it's depicted on television. On TV, CPR saves about 75% of victims and takes about a minute to perform. In reality, the effectiveness of CPR is between 2% and 30% 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. You're best off taking a class, especially since standard CPR training changed in 2010 to reflect new research that chest pumping is more effective than initially thought.
Myth: Knocking Someone Out (or Getting Knocked Out) Is No Big Deal
Getting a blow to the head is usually portrayed as a minor annoyance with no serious long lasting problems in movies. It's also a lot harder to knock someone out with a punch than you'd think.
The problem is that if you get knocked out (or knock someone out), the effects can be a lot more severe than movies portray. In general, a concussion isn't too horrible provided you're not out for longer than five minutes, after which you're susceptible to longterm damage. Of course, repeated concussions, like the ones athletes deal with (along with bravado types like James Bond) are suspected to lead to serious brain damage. While movies often show getting knocked out as an everyday occurrence, medical help is usually a good idea.
If you get a concussion, the best thing to do is see a doctor within a couple 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.
It's a simple little thing, but chances are the last thing you want to deal with when you have blood falling out of your nose is a bunch of 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. It makes sense in a weird sort of way, but the problem is that it doesn't really work. 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 person (or yourself) 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
One thing that Hollywood seems to truly hate is 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. Do not run from most bears, cougars, or wolves because they are way faster than you. In most cases, seek some kind of shelter if possible (and no, 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.
Of course, in reality, the best way to avoid animal attacks is to not mess 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 help ourselves from taking on 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 do with the right mixture of Mountain Dew, Hot Pockets, and antisocial behavior.
Of course, hacking isn't easy, nor is it fast. While some fast hacks exist, like 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, and 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 ton 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. As far as virus prevention is concerned, the built-in Microsoft Security Essentials is all you really need.
We've barely scratched the surface here, and countless other examples of terrible Hollywood survival skills exist out there. Of course, the lesson here is to not trust what you see on TV when it comes to anything important, and if you want to prepare for anything, research the correct way to do everything first. Our guides to wilderness survival, urban survival, and disaster survival are good places to start.