" On the other hand, to just allow the market to determine and dictate the stories in a society—especially corporate entities—without any consideration or influence on them regarding the kinds of values and perceptions I’m talking about seems a bit thoughtless and unwise, imo."
As Robert eluded to, though, corporations don’t have any particular interest in telling one particular story over another other than to the extent that they can sell it to the public. I think what you’re saying is that passive reception of whatever’s on is not necessarily the healthiest route to take, and that I completely agree with. This is why criticism (or discussion, for those of you involuntarily cringe at that word . . . whatever you want to call what we) is so important . . . so we make ourselves more than buckets that any old thing can be dumped into. But ultimately, these are decisions you want to make for yourself, you don’t want anyone else to make them for you.
I think movies impact our breadth of perspective, which impacts our moral judgments. But the philosophical component of morality is all talk, morality is something ingrained into us emotionally. All moral philosophy does is help us structure our base emotional reaction to the effect we have on others.
A film might make me say “I have this belief, I apply it in this situation, why didn’t I apply it in this other situation before?” But all it can do is re-contextualize the belief I already have, it won’t make me change my belief.
If a movie ever made me want to buy a gun, I would only ever fire it at inanimate objects. A movie can convince me guns are cool, but it can never convince me murder is acceptable.
Matt has a good point. Maybe more important than having robust public funds available for the production of art is having public funds available for programs of art appreciation. We used to have programs like this in schools, but whatever ones are left are probably getting chopped right now.
any attempt by a government to intervene the influence of a work of art through harmful legislation that directly or indirectly impacts it’s accessibility to the public is an authoritarian attack on the freedom of thought. therefore in a free society censorship should be left to the democratic process to define what is and isn’t acceptable or considered art.
authoritarian governments realize the impact that art has on the people which is why you will notice today’s totalitarian countries becoming more focused on diminishing what was even left of support by the government for the arts such as cutting funding for art programs in schools etc.
1. Do you agree that movies play a very important role in developing personal or civic virtue/vice; in shaping attitudes and values that will affect society?
NO. People get their values from the genetics, they get it from their peers, they get it from their upbringing. They do not get their values from stupid movies.
2. To what extent do the values of a society and its citizens depend on the movies (stories, music, etc.) that it creates and exposes it’s citizens to? (Plato/Socrates’ positions seems quite radical, believing that only certain types of harmonies and rhythms should be exposed to youth, as these harmonies and rhythms would develop the right “spirit”.)
Same response as question one. They may reflect your values but they do not shape them.
3. Finally, if films do have this kind of power, do filmmakers bear any responsibility for the films they make? What about governments and leaders? To what extent should they control and regulate the making and distribution of films?
The sole responsibility of a filmmaker is to make the best movie they possibly can. Whether or not it is a good movie is up to the audience. The purpose of governments and leaders is to ensure the rights of the people. Whether or not the state should provide funding to any artistic endeavor is a matter of democratic deliberation. As for controlling the content of films, anything short of photographic deliberate harm or injury to an actual human being, should be up to the discretion of the filmmakers and the distribution networks. But with the internet even that would be difficult to control as we can see in the markets for illicit pornography.
Ah Plato, that enemy of the open society! ;)
Should filmmakers bear any responsibility for the films they make? Probably not, because imo the negatives of this (i.e. creative censorship, etc) would far outweigh any potential positives.
Propaganda is certainly an interesting element of our modern technological society, and this includes the potential of cinema and documentaries to “shape” public opinion to some extent… it’s kind of like a problem without a solution imo. But as far as I’m concerned, if a fool believes what a propagandistic film claims as being truth (such as a “hate speech” against race or religion, etc), or if a fool goes on a violent rampage after viewing a violent film such as A Clockwork Orange, then the fool is simply creating problems for himself out of compulsion (i.e. a lack of mental stability) because on a rational level he doesn’t really need to be so easily influenced. In other words, imo these sorts of societal problems are really created out of a much deeper individual psychosis (i.e. a film may act as a “trigger”, but the core problems have already been sown).
At any rate, I personally see no logical reason for government censorship to exist, because imo it generally only serves to create even more problems than there were before. That is, parents of vulnerable children ought to be able to censor for themselves as they see fit.
Don’t have much time, but I wanted to respond to couple of comments.
Ray said, The sole responsibility of a filmmaker is to make the best movie they possibly can.
I want to throw out an idea/question that I realize is an outdated one: what about the idea of making art to create something beautiful—and along similar lines—with the idea of promoting beauty and virtue. Suppose a filmmaker used their talents and insights to create films that expressed and fostered virtue—versus used their abilities in a more narcissistic, egocentric way—i.e., purely self-expression. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, but when I think of great filmmakers or artists, I don’t think of them as having this attitude. They’re trying to express their vision or their experiences or their identity in some way—with little concern of helping society or individuals—at least not in the way I’m thinking of it. I don’t know I’m speaking off the cuff, so maybe I’m totally off base on this.
Anyway, one filmmaker that comes to mind that is sort of in the mold of I’m thinking of—Frank Capra. I’m not saying that every filmmaker should be as direct as he was—in terms of promoting ideals—and I don’t think every filmmaker has to even try to create films that promote virtue; there’s room for all kinds of filmmakers. But there doesn’t seem to be any that create films in a way that celebrates and fosters virtue (virtue is such an archaic word, which is a little sad).
3. no; no; none
people should do whatever they want so long as they’re not infringing on others. i don’t buy this “the responsibility of a filmmaker is to make the best movie they possibly can” business for one second. why is that their responsibility? their responsibility to whom? people can make whatever sort of movies they want
It might be instructive to post a list of Capra films and the ideal you think each promotes.
Nothing like the influence advertising has.
Hollywood film is heavily focus grouped product. Just like any other consumer good.
You market it and sell it and do whatever is necessary to maximize profit. The responsibility of the film make is to listen to the studio and bring the film in on budget.
Are there any grand themes in contemporary film? I think there were at one time but it’s pretty bleak now.
The focus is on blockbusters and “franchise” films. Some may be entertaining but generally that’s about it.
And Plato was wrong about developing virtual leaders while ignoring the public. The Republic should be called the Road to Fascism.
As Robert eluded to, though, corporations don’t have any particular interest in telling one particular story over another other than to the extent that they can sell it to the public.
Right. I’m not saying studios tell one particular story, but if we looked at the films (and TV programs, commercials, popular music, video games, etc.) and analyzed them as a collective, how comfortable would we be with the attitudes and values promoted in them? If we were trying to build a good society and good citizen, would these be the values we’d want to honor and encourage? My sense is that I don’t think we would (but who knows—maybe we should look into this). When “what sells the most” dictates content, my guess is that the results won’t be of great artistic or moral value.
Let me put it another way. I’m not comfortable letting my children just dive into popular culture without any careful supervision (And I’m not just meaning screening inappropriate content like adult material.) I don’t trust corporate entertainment industry to raise my children. And I’m not suggesting that that is their job—it’s not; it’s the parent’s. But still, what does it say if someone feels appalled by the values and attitudes that are at the core of popular culture?
I don’t know, perhaps if we analyzed movies and other entertainment as a collective many people here would be OK with the attitudes and values promoted in them.
I think what you’re saying is that passive reception of whatever’s on is not necessarily the healthiest route to take, and that I completely agree with.
I completely agree with this, but that’s not where I’m coming from. I’m not thinking about the way movies and popular culture affect us as adults now. I’m thinking more of the way movies, popular culture—particularly the narratives contained in them—as a collective affect our society as a whole and the cumulative effect on individuals. Seen from that vantage point, I’m asking if someone or something should take responsibility for this—or should we just allow market forces to dictate the ideological and moral content of these narratives.
I should only speak for the film’s of my country i suppose because I have a better relation to its values in camparison to the values put fourth in its entertainments. I will say that morally we are at a much better place now then ever before. And some of that has to do with openness in movies and television. It is more a shock to the system to see an adult virgin or a bigot on tv then it is to see a girl or guy that likes to have a good time and someone who envies closeness in a functional gay couple and Hooray for all that.
Plato believed in a strict class system in which those of the ‘gold’ aristocratic class were told how to breed, so as to maximize the quality of the gene pool.
Trying to think of another historical figure who had similar views on genetics…
Let me pose you a question. Do you believe you would have different values if you were exposed to different films? Do you believe you are influenced in this manner, and that you were not the one in control of forming your own vales? And if you don’t believe it applies to you, how can you say it applies to other people?
Everybody likes to think ‘If I were a dictator, I’d be a benevolent dictator, and this is how I’d act’. The thing is though, anyone imposing their will by force on anybody else can not possibly claim to be benevolent, whether it’s an act of a dictator or of a democratic majority. Involuntary censorship of any kind is not acceptable, and if artistic appreciation could only exist if it’s fostered by the government, it wouldn’t deserve to exist.
Do you believe you would have different values if you were exposed to different films? Do you believe you are influenced in this manner, and that you were not the one in control of forming your own vales? And if you don’t believe it applies to you, how can you say it applies to other people?
It’s hard to say how different I would be if I were exposed to different films—I think I watched quite a bit since age five. But I do think I’m influenced in the manner I’m speaking about. Here’s the thing. I’m not simply thinking of morality or ethics—e.g. if I were in a given situation what would be the proper behavioral response. I mean, it can include that, but I’m thinking of something a lot more.
For example, what does it mean to be a male? Who are my role models? TV and film definitely influenced my ideas about that. I admired characters like Dirty Harry, Bandit (Burt Reynolds), Han Solo, Indiana Jones and the Fonz. And, yes, I remember trying to behave like them in certain ways (the wise-cracking, cool tough guy schtick—I was in grade school, OK? :) Are these good or bad roles models? I don’t think they’re all bad, but I’m not exactly proud of this, either. Also, would we say that these characters possess the kind of values and attitudes that we’d want boys to emulate? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s worth thinking about—and I hope this gives a clearer idea of what I’m thinking. (This is just one specific example.)
Now, I must say that, I think my parents and peers probably had a bigger influence—and perhaps they mitigated the negative influences of film on me. Still, I don’t think the influenced is negligible, either—or at least something we should just ignore.
Everybody likes to think ‘If I were a dictator, I’d be a benevolent dictator, and this is how I’d act’.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not really advocating this position.
Today’s Hollywood product is buttered for the teen crowd, as they are its largest audience. If you don’t think these films influence teen values, you’re living in an interesting bubble.
I didn’t know that they actually screen films for a small audience of kids or teens and change the films based on their comments.
I will say, I do think children younger than 8 can be influenced in that way, but any influence films have is eclipsed by the influence of their parents and peers, the power gradually shifting from parents to peers as they approach puberty.
Now, films certainly influence people aesthetically. There’s a distinction I’m trying to make here that I’m not sure how to express.
1) People’s feelings about how they relate to others and their behavior toward others
2) People’s explanation for their behavior
Movies are very good at influencing #2, and very bad at influencing #1. Suppose I’m a person who is naturally kind to others. In one dimension, I am raised as a Christian, so I say “I’m kind to others because of Christianity”. In one dimension, I am raised as a Muslim, so I say “I’m kind to others because of Islam.” In one, I’m raised as an atheist, so I say “I’m kind to others because I’m a humanitarian”.
Suppose I’m a person who is hateful and antisocial and wants to hurt and control others. I’m raised as a Christian, I kill in the name of God. I’m raised as a Muslim, I kill in the name of Allah. I’m raised as an Atheist, I kill for the good of mankind.
An example with movies is, say I’m a man and I want to be strong, independent and badass. I watch Star Wars, I start emulating Han Solo. I watch Indiana Jones, I start emulating Indiana Jones. It’s all the same, and the only difference is the aesthetic I choose to express myself with.
“Seen from that vantage point, I’m asking if someone or something should take responsibility for this”
No, because outside of very broad parameters, this would be infringing on individual freedom, and there’s no entity out there without its own potentially dangerous ideology it’s pushing. The solution is not to limit what people are exposed to, but to teach them how to process what they are exposed to more intelligently.
Oh there’s a third option—although impossible and probably even more undesirable—religious institutions—that is, allow churches (e.g. Vatican, etc.) oversee the process. (I believe the Vatican does have a list of approved movies and other art. It might be interesting to analzye this list—or any other list created by a religious institution.)
Does the Dalai Lama like films?
The Pope selecting films – I can kinda guess where that is going… would you want that church suggesting morals to your children? complete lack of judgment if so…
By the way, there’s a rich history of moral censorship in the film industry. The Catholic organization the National League of Decency was once very influential, and it fact it was a Catholic priest named Daniel A. Lord co-authored the Production Code that was adopted by the Will Hayes and the MPPDA in 1930. That’s about as much power as I want any one entity to have.
“d there’s no entity out there without its own potentially dangerous ideology it’s pushing”
sounds like Foucault ;-)
As for your second point, wouldn’t teaching them how to process things more ‘intelligently’ eventually limit what they were exposed to though since, if widely adopted, it would change the way people engage with media and therefore force corporations to respond to a new kind of demand? and how we would ensure that this ‘education’ wasn’t biased and problematic in its own kind of way?
i guess doing it more subtly through education is better than enforcing it through law ;-)
Right, it would ultimately be another kind of limit, but it would be a more democratic limit.
“how we would ensure that this ‘education’ wasn’t biased and problematic in its own kind of way?”
We wouldn’t, but we could account for this by teaching people to think critically, and by allowing for the process itself to be an object of criticism, so we’re teaching people to think rather than to receive ideas.
I hear what you’re saying, and I agree that parents and peers are probably a greater influence in terms of values and behavior. However, I think you underestimate the importance of stories. I think we look to stories to help us understand a) ourselves; b) people in general; c) questions about life (e.g., why we are here, the purpose of existence, etc.); d) any complex idea or issue.
Narrative package information in a very compelling and easy to digest manner, and I think the narratives themselves influence how we see and understand the world. And yes, this can influence our behavior and decisions. I think each of us has these narratives (and metaphors), accumulated over time, that we draw on to make sense of our lives and guide our behavior.
Imo, the storytellers and mythmakers are powerful and important in any society. We have independent artists, but corporations seem to dominate and dictate this storytelling process. That just doesn’t seem like a good set-up.
On the other hand, I don’t think some heavy-handed government intervention is the answer, either.
But would you agree that studios and corporations influence—and in a way, limit—what people are exposed to? Again, I’m not comfortable with any centralized agency overseeing the process in this way, but I’m not sure what the alternatives are.
On the other hand, let me throw this out there. Suppose we get academics, critics and artists to control funds that can be used to support projects? (Ugh, I’m not that keen on this, either, as I don’t feel confident this either—who will determine the critics and artists that oversee the funds? But let me throw this out there.)
As for your second point, wouldn’t teaching them how to process things more ‘intelligently’ eventually limit what they were exposed to though since, if widely adopted, it would change the way people engage with media and therefore force corporations to respond to a new kind of demand?
Limits to what one is exposed to is necessary and essential. (How can you be exposed to everything?) The key is finding a good filtering process. Matt’s suggestion of education is very appealing, but my faith in the education system makes me less than enthusiastic. (Plus, the notion strikes me as viewing education as a magic bullet, which I don’t really buy. Having said that, I do think our education system is very important.)
…and how we would ensure that this ‘education’ wasn’t biased and problematic in its own kind of way?
I think it has to be “biased” in some way—every educational instituation operates on some set of values and ideas, and these transfer to the students. But this doesn’t really answer your question (which is a complex one). To give a short reply I would say that one of the values intellectual autonomy—i.e., that individual students should make their own minds. At the same time, this would entail equipping them with tools to make this judgment, as well as exposing them to good ideas.
“Matt’s suggestion of education is very appealing, but my faith in the education system makes me less than enthusiastic.”
Well, to be clear, I’m not talking just about education in that narrow sense—formal, state-run academic education— either, but, also a general process of learning about things (film, for example) in a particular way that entails more than simply sitting in front of a screen and passively absorbing them.
Oh, I agree about the latter. But as a solution to address the making of stories in a culture (the making of culture in general), this doesn’t seem too promising. To be more specific, here’s how I’m understanding where you’re coming from:
1. More discerning citizens (consumers) will lead to a demand for better quality stories, and less poor ones.
2. Formal education can help foster these types of citizens.
3. Citizens can do this on their own.
Placing our hopes in #2 and #3—while appealing in many ways—it’s not appealing because of the prospects of success, to say the least.
Who decides, then, how education is filtered?
I would disagree in general, the stories don’t change the way we understand ourselves, they change the way we explain ourselves, and the way we express ourselves. They change the words we choose, but not the feelings underneath them.
Do you mean, who actually decides? or who should decide? “Education is filtered” may not be what I"m thinking, but I assume you mean the values and ideas that form the basis of an educational institution.
My answer to the first question would be: the administrators, teachers, policy makers and book companies decide this. My answer to the second question, off the top of my head, would be: administrators and politicy makers (i.e., elected officials). I also think teachers should have input as well.
How do you implement that and keep out normative bias?
I don’t think you can.
Which is giving institutions power to filter exposure to ideas is bad.
But are you saying that we can take away this power from educational institutions? Once an educational institution decides on content and methodology, filtering has occurred, right? (To not give them the power would mean allowing students to study—nay, do—whatever they wanted—and even that approach involes certain ideological bias.)
I’m suggesting that if educational institutions value individual autonomy, self-expression, critical thinking skills—the idea that a student learns, rather than taught—then I think that’s a good way to create discerning citizens. At the same time, exposure to great ideas and even great art—without thoughtful discussion and writing about these things—would be important to fostering the type of person that would create a demand for quality narratives and art.
Jazz, I agree that the issues you are talking about here are important. One thing that annoys me is these kinds of concerns are mostly brought up by the religious right who have a terrible way of thinking about the issues and then propose awful “solutions”. More sensible people seem to either not care or just think it is hopeless to do anything.
Another tactic to think about is ways to limit the advantages of the big corporations. I’m not optimistic here either since the trends have been in the wrong direction. But you could imagine returning to robust anti-trust practices to break up the big conglomerations. Likewise you could reform copyright to make it easier for people to repurpose all that vast material out there to new ends. I’m a big proponent of limiting copyright to ten years after which everything becomes freely usable in the public domain.
We are long way, though, from having the kinds of advocates for the public interests who could successfully take on these very big, very wealthy, and very motivated corporations.