Carl Plantinga's talk, "Spectator Judge: Affect and Ethics in Narrative Film and Television," delivered to the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image, argues that movies powerfully instill moral values in the people who watch them, by cueing us to "judge, believe, and feel emotions in various ways." This is the thesis of the novel I'm working on, so I read the summary of the talk with great interest:
Fiction films and television dramas, in other words, are persuasive devices. One might say that although analysis of film has largely been thought of as a branch of poetics, according to Plantinga’s argument it should better be seen as a branch of rhetoric. The spectator is typically invited by a film into the position of making judgements about characters and their actions, and this immediately makes film a moral activity. Film therefore offers a sentimental education, teaching people about emotional scripts and structures of feeling. It invites us into a state of transportation and engagement, and we are pleasurably rewarded by the moral and evaluative emotions we experience, carefully specified for us by writers and directors. For instance, we feel empathy and sympathy for a protagonist, and this will lead to relief and satisfaction in the promise of justice. In response to cruel or contemptuous behaviour of a character, we feel anger and disgust, and we are pleased to see wrong-doers punished. We recognize sacrificial acts, which induce states of admiration.
Morality at the Movies [Onfiction]
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In 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia after expelling a US puppet regime, surviving a brutal US bombing campaign despite the massive asymmetry between the Cambodian forces and the US military. Tian Veasna was born three days after the Khmer Rouge took power, and spent his formative years in forced labor camps as his family were beaten, starved, tortured and murdered. Today, Veasna is a comics creator living in France, and in Year of the Rabbit, Veasna creates a coherent story out of his family's narratives, giving us a ground-level view of the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, whose campaign of genocide led to the deaths of more than a million people.
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