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Author Topic: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False  (Read 301 times)

Will

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Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« on: January 13, 2018, 04:27:39 PM »
This is a big point of discussion right now, moreso than it ever has been, what with the ideas of whether or not people should have "trigger warnings" or discussions over if a piece of a art is "problematic" or not. Usually these discussions are framed in a hyperbolic/strawman kind or way over whether or not these pieces of art should be censored. I wholly object censorship, but I don't think that should let an artist off the hook for any kind of piece of work. They should still be open to criticism if there is morally objectionable aspects to their creation. Read the spoiler if you need context for this discussion:

(I truly believe that a film like MOTHER! does get a pass for how bombastically stylistic it is despite it being, at its core, morally objectionable. But that's just one film - please don't turn this poll into a discussion over that film - I am stating the specific reason behind this poll just for context as to why it's being posted at all. This is just something I've mulled over a long time.)

Personally, I believe some pieces of art can be morally objectionable and that that's as important part of criticism as the ideas of style, if not more important, if only because it tells me more where the person belongs on a moral spectrum in relation to mine. Anyone can appreciate an assured, precise style, not everyone can interpret where a film morally lies for them.

Teproc

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2018, 04:36:21 PM »
Sure. The Birth of a Nation would be an example almost everyone (well, everyone on this forum anyway) would agree is morally objectionable.

But also: everyone agreeing isn't really the question. If you think a film (like Mother!) is morally objectionable, you can make that argument, and indeed you have. Just because people don't agree in this particular case doesn't mean they're arguing that art can't be objectionable.

Will

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2018, 04:40:36 PM »
Sure. The Birth of a Nation would be an example almost everyone (well, everyone on this forum anyway) would agree is morally objectionable.

But also: everyone agreeing isn't really the question. If you think a film (like Mother!) is morally objectionable, you can make that argument, and indeed you have. Just because people don't agree in this particular case doesn't mean they're arguing that art can't be objectionable.

I don't want to make this discussion about MOTHER! but I will say this: a lot of the reaction to people being morally objected to that film seems to be a flippant dismissal of even considering the film from a moral standpoint.

Which doesn't just account for MOTHER! but a lot of films, be them by filmmakers like Lars Von Trier or (your example) like D.W. Griffith.

Edit: Clarity, grammar
« Last Edit: January 13, 2018, 04:42:36 PM by AliceGuyBlache »

Teproc

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2018, 04:46:02 PM »
Do you find that people are unwilling to see The Birth of Nation as morally objectionnable ? They might (in fact I would) say it has value despite that, and I guess an argument is that "if you can put the racism aside, it's actually enjoyable", but I don't think that's dismissing the moral issue entirely. It's just like someone can enjoy watching The Birds while also acknowledging that the way Hitchcock treated Hedren was wrong.

Edit: You're right re: not litigating Mother! all over again, that was not my intention.

Will

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2018, 05:10:54 PM »
Do you find that people are unwilling to see The Birth of Nation as morally objectionnable ? They might (in fact I would) say it has value despite that, and I guess an argument is that "if you can put the racism aside, it's actually enjoyable", but I don't think that's dismissing the moral issue entirely.

I would say that the film should be dismissed regardless of its "aesthetic" value. Again, this isn't promotion for destroying the negatives and every print out there (it's disappointing that I feel like I have to say this, maybe not for your sake, but for others) along with wiping the memory of it existing, but only critical/historical dismissal of its aesthetic value. Wipe it from the canon. What do you think we lose? What do you think we gain?

It's just like someone can enjoy watching The Birds while also acknowledging that the way Hitchcock treated Hedren was wrong.


That's a whole other part of the discussion. THE BIRDS never explicitly shows Hedren being treated badly by Hitchcock. I don't know if I want to open this part of the discussion because there's so much we don't know about how today's films are being made. The moral or immoral parameters of that are endless. Do you really believe the production of the film should be taken into consideration as well? If so, I think it kind of throws the baby out with the bathwater because we could only go increasingly and ridiculously further, example: was the Production Coordinator of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID abusive to his wife BEFORE he got the job? If so, how can we appreciate that movie? And so on and so forth.

Teproc

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2018, 05:34:31 PM »
Well, I wouldn't wipe The Birth of a Nation from the canon, for the same reason I wouldn't wipe Hitler from history books. But I don't see "the canon" as being about "these are great films" because I'd say there is not such thing as a great film: there are only films many people happen to agree on. The idea of a canon is, I think, much more about historical significance: and if I can trust what I've been told on the subject, THe Birth of a Nation is very siginificant historically.

On that second point: you're right that it's a different issue because it's not on screen. I don't think production-related issues should affect how one views a film, I'm saying that the knowledge of them can. I certainly don't think it would invalidate a film: indeed most if not all Golden Age films would be deemed unacceptable otherwise. I think it comes back to a difference of opinion between us on what a canon is: you say the moral or immoral parameters are endless... well yes, they are. So what ?

Will

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2018, 05:47:24 PM »
Well, I wouldn't wipe The Birth of a Nation from the canon, for the same reason I wouldn't wipe Hitler from history books. But I don't see "the canon" as being about "these are great films" because I'd say there is not such thing as a great film: there are only films many people happen to agree on. The idea of a canon is, I think, much more about historical significance: and if I can trust what I've been told on the subject, THe Birth of a Nation is very siginificant historically.


Feel like you're doing the strawman I warned against with the hyperbolic comparison of "wiping Hitler from the history books" after I repeatedly talked about BIRTH OF A NATION from an aesthetic standpoint only. Not only that, but I never suggested of wiping the prints of BIRTH OF A NATION, I deliberately stated that that was something I am not supporting. I am only saying we should dismiss it for its aesthetic value.

Perhaps I misused the word canon because I see the canon as works of art that evolved the medium, perhaps that's my mistake.


On that second point: you're right that it's a different issue because it's not on screen. I don't think production-related issues should affect how one views a film, I'm saying that the knowledge of them can. I certainly don't think it would invalidate a film: indeed most if not all Golden Age films would be deemed unacceptable otherwise. I think it comes back to a difference of opinion between us on what a canon is: you say the moral or immoral parameters are endless... well yes, they are. So what ?

I don't want to argue about it simply because we don't know if Picasso or Rembrandt were sexist or not to go the most extreme route. They probably were, but we don't know. If we're going case by case basis, then we need to investigate how every single piece of work is created. I rather go by what's in the film because that's concrete. I don't want to open that floodgate, if you want to, I ask you to argue why it's more important than what is immediately visible on screen.

Teproc

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2018, 05:51:48 PM »
I don't think the comparison is a strawman or hyperbolic. Something can exist in the historical record but not be taught in school: indeed that's most of history for you, for reasons both practical and political. What you're saying is Birth of a Nation shouldn't be destroyed, but it should be, essentially, forgotten. Or am I misunderstanding you there ?

I think our divergence is that I don't think "aesthetic value" exists. There's what people like (which is based on aesthetic, but there's no objective value), and there's what's historically important.

On your second point: I do agree what's immediately on screen is much more important, I was probably unclear on that. Someone who is not racist can end up making a racist film, and that's what mostly matters in fine.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2018, 05:53:58 PM by Teproc »

Will

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2018, 06:08:40 PM »

I think our divergence is that I don't think "aesthetic value" exists. There's what people like (which is based on aesthetic, but there's no objective value), and there's what's historically important.


This is why I've been thinking that you're saying THE BIRTH OF A NATION is valuable - because of its aesthetic. I believe that there's many arguments out there for the aesthetic value of THE BIRTH OF A NATION. I wouldn't say erase the film, but just put it in the history books as an example of where our culture was at the time. "There was this extremely racist movie that made millions of (adjusted for inflation) dollars." That's it. You can look for it if you want to because the prints are out there, but it shouldn't be taught in theory/criticism courses like it currently is at some schools just for its aesthetic value (some people look to it for its use of montage being revelatory, though there's many other films that had that as well like BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN).

Teproc

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2018, 06:13:35 PM »
Well Birth of a Nation predates Potemkin by a lot. Also, Potemkin is a propaganda film for a dictatorial regime, so... moral purity isn't attainable here, and it generally isn't when one deal with, you know, humans. I guess I don't see the problem with Birth of a Nation being a staple of film history classes as long as it's properly introuced for what it is (and the same for Potemkin, or any film for that matter).

I think your problem is with people saying "well, it's racist, but it's a great movie" ? I'd also have a problem with that, but that's because I don't agree that trhere is such a thing as an objectively great movie, so I guess I'm not the one to have this discussion with. :P
« Last Edit: January 13, 2018, 06:15:21 PM by Teproc »