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Author Topic: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False  (Read 155 times)

valmz

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2018, 07:37:53 PM »
I find it very difficult to think of a coherent way to ascribe morals to an inanimate object or concept or action. There are certain pieces of art that we say are immoral, but is that what we actually mean, or is it just shorthand for a different idea?

It's obviously incoherent to say that something is immoral merely because an immoral act is represented. Probably all religious texts and all ethical texts represent an immoral action as a teaching tool.

It's also obviously incoherent to say that something is immoral because it has the potential to inspire someone else to do something immoral. This argument has been used throughout history, but at this point it's pretty well accepted in Western society that even ultra-realistic depictions of immoral acts are acceptable. It's not much different from the previous case except perhaps it's on film, it is more visceral, and it may not be framed within a teaching context. Still, there are innumerable instances of works that Western society has chosen to allow to be freely propagated that depict terrible people doing terrible things for terrible reasons without any mitigating context. There are few things that can be dreamed up that would exceed a historical reenactment of factual human activities, anyway, so there doesn't seem to be much point to that.

There are still some categories of work that are considered "beyond the pale", but is it the inherent art that we object to or is it something else? Consider: snuff films. These films may be indistinguishable from many horror films released weekly, but as a society we ban them not for what the images themselves show but as a deterrent for the illegal actions. Our shorthanding of these films as immoral is more of a means to stop their production than it is to condemn a person who unwittingly views one, thinking it to be merely a legally produced and morally untroubling work.

Then we arrive upon works that we can consider would be damaging to an actual person based on the content included: Consider a libelous work which actually damages a person's livelihood and living conditions based upon incorrect information contained therein. Are we really in the business of blaming the art itself, or is it, again, merely a way of speaking that really condemns the creator and shelves the work for practical purposes? I think the latter.

This, ultimately, is how all "morally objectionable" works fall, be they a work of art by a horrible artist with horrible intentions or merely a work by an earnest artist that has deleterious effects due to the naivety or the outdated nature of the artist's outlook - we object to the practical effects of the art due to its impact on society.

Do I really fear for my own soul when I watch Birth of a Nation, that I might be corrupted into becoming a KKK member for watching it? I actually don't even think this is the right question. The better question would be: Are the ideas that I might glean from Birth of a Nation inherent in the character of the art itself, or do they demand my own efforts to recontectualize elements within the work to my relationship to the world? I think this is an important distinction, because when we condemn libelous art we are worried about and condemning not the art itself but its effects in the real world, and the same goes for "dangerous art", be it hateful art or upsetting art or any other variety.

Now, the follow-up question not being posed: What is the best way to combat the real-world implications of damaging ideas that may be instigated by a piece of art, especially a piece of art that communicates directly (as these are surely more effective than densely allegorical work)? The answer in the past has certainly been to restrict access and provide a solid publicly funded educational foundation for all citizens to have the capability to resist the pernicious effects of such art or propaganda and make moral decisions of their own, thus nullifying the pernicious effects of such works and rendering the question of their "moral character" both philosophically and practically irrelevant. I can't say that this practice is working with flying colors, although I do think that the better answer is to invest more in education and not in censorship, since repression has never been shown to lead to a positive societal outcome as a substitution for education.

So, there you have my thoughts, I think: inanimate objects, concepts, and actions cannot have moral character, and education trumps the deleterious effects of humans vulnerable to ideas gleaned from works of art that are errantly applied to real life and not properly recontextualized in these viewers minds as morally acceptable conceptualizations. I fear not The Birth of a Nation, because I own my own ideas and morality.

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2018, 09:13:05 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.

Let's dig deeper down because people can bring up artistic and technical achievement in Birth of a Nation. On that level there's Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, a propaganda documentary by an artistically praised director that uses cinematic language to glorify Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. Let's go morally below that level.

What about Jud Suss (1940) and The Eternal Jew (1940)? I have not seen these films, but they are considered important historically, appearing on Harvard University's Suggested Film Viewing List, "an educational resource that offers guidance and encouragement as students seek to find points of orientation within the vast history of film and video," and in the book Film as a Subversive Art. Neither film is considered to contain much artistic merit or technical achievement, but they influenced the German people against Jewish people. They're morally objectionable position is what has given them artistic credibility.

Now here's a personal one, and it's an example I've mentioned before.

AliceGuyBlache

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2018, 09:20:59 PM »

Now, the follow-up question not being posed: What is the best way to combat the real-world implications of damaging ideas that may be instigated by a piece of art, especially a piece of art that communicates directly (as these are surely more effective than densely allegorical work)? The answer in the past has certainly been to restrict access and provide a solid publicly funded educational foundation for all citizens to have the capability to resist the pernicious effects of such art or propaganda and make moral decisions of their own, thus nullifying the pernicious effects of such works and rendering the question of their "moral character" both philosophically and practically irrelevant. I can't say that this practice is working with flying colors, although I do think that the better answer is to invest more in education and not in censorship, since repression has never been shown to lead to a positive societal outcome as a substitution for education.


I was with you until this which just explicitly states the straw man you're operating on, the same one I've been fighting against since the onset of this discussion. I have not argued for censorhship at all in this thread. I am merely asking if there's such a thing as morally objectionable art. If your question is "Well, then what should we do about it?" (which is what you should ask instead of jumping to a straw man), then I would say that we need to create a cultural shift in criticism/theory that adheres toward a more sociopolitical moral lens.

Criticism =/= repression.

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2018, 09:30:11 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).


Bad example then. There's better examples out there.

valmz

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2018, 11:12:19 PM »

Now, the follow-up question not being posed: What is the best way to combat the real-world implications of damaging ideas that may be instigated by a piece of art, especially a piece of art that communicates directly (as these are surely more effective than densely allegorical work)? The answer in the past has certainly been to restrict access and provide a solid publicly funded educational foundation for all citizens to have the capability to resist the pernicious effects of such art or propaganda and make moral decisions of their own, thus nullifying the pernicious effects of such works and rendering the question of their "moral character" both philosophically and practically irrelevant. I can't say that this practice is working with flying colors, although I do think that the better answer is to invest more in education and not in censorship, since repression has never been shown to lead to a positive societal outcome as a substitution for education.


I was with you until this which just explicitly states the straw man you're operating on, the same one I've been fighting against since the onset of this discussion. I have not argued for censorhship at all in this thread. I am merely asking if there's such a thing as morally objectionable art. If your question is "Well, then what should we do about it?" (which is what you should ask instead of jumping to a straw man), then I would say that we need to create a cultural shift in criticism/theory that adheres toward a more sociopolitical moral lens.

Criticism =/= repression.
I wasn't really referencing your point on censorship, as I do think that a society that doesn't invest in education is extremely vulnerable to the pernicious effects of "dangerous media", be it through art that its citizens are unable to contextualize or through propaganda or through unregulated influence. It's essentially how terrorist organizations operate in broken states, and how totalitarians take over modern states: destroy education, manipulate. It's not a straw man but a "demonstrated and very real threat to human civilization". Censorship is a sub-optimal solution, but cheaper than education. It's also very old and widespread, because it is effective to some degree, especially if you don't insulate people from nonsense with knowledge.

In an open society, I don't think "criticism", as in "negative comments directed toward an artist", is meaningful or effective in any way. After all, most great artists hear nothing but negative comments directed toward their work by the general public, as most people are unwilling to even attempt to understand or interact with the great majority of the artistic mediums existing in the world. To be an artist is essentially to face persistent negative commentary, whether this is in regard to quality or moral character it hardly matters, as the most essential tool is self-belief, not the ability to engage with commentary. Additionally, since this is already the case, negative commentary will surely not make them go away. Since I personally think that a well educated populace is entirely immune to the pernicious effects of morally compromised artists, I don't think there's any value in even engaging in negative commentary. This is more likely to give them publicity at the expense of the quality artists a person does find valuable. As such, there's no practical or philosophical basis for such an endeavor. We obviously disagree on whether art can be morally objectionable, and on the role that such art and artists play in society, so it makes sense that our thoughts on the role of censorship differ drastically, as well.

I agree that criticism =/= repression. I also think criticism =/= effective or even coherent. As for "a cultural shift in criticism/theory that adheres toward a more sociopolitical moral lens", I think the modern world is so shallow in its culture and so bifurcated in its culture that any widespread cultural shift is entirely impossible, especially as so few people have even a working knowledge of art criticism/theory, so it would be a very small drop in a very large, very tumultuous bucket. I also don't trust any one person or group to guide everyone to a single sensible "sociopolitical moral lens". That sounds dogmatic and dangerous. A base of knowledge and intellectual competency is far more effective and lasting than any singular professed "sociopolitical moral lens" will ever be. Censorship would be far more effective, but still highly sub-optimal.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2018, 11:55:21 PM by valmz »

AliceGuyBlache

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #15 on: January 14, 2018, 12:16:30 AM »
Critical receptions of movies at festivals can make or break distribution deals. Critical receptions to movies in a limited release can make or break further distribution. Saying critics are ineffective to cultural change is utter nonsense. Film has a lot of hands that go through it during its process of creation and distribution. Hell, one film receiving bad reviews can make or break a filmmaker's future career.

valmz

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2018, 08:12:37 PM »
Critical receptions of movies at festivals can make or break distribution deals. Critical receptions to movies in a limited release can make or break further distribution. Saying critics are ineffective to cultural change is utter nonsense. Film has a lot of hands that go through it during its process of creation and distribution. Hell, one film receiving bad reviews can make or break a filmmaker's future career.
Nothing about distribution strikes me as a component of cultural change, especially when the films that get the widest distribution are the blandest, least interesting, and least likely to impact the world at large. It's an awfully indirect way of making that argument, anyway - "Even though the criticism only has an impact on economics and not culture, the film itself can then be distributed to the wider culture - unless it is actually rich and complicated, in which case it will be deemed too esoteric for widespread indulgence, and so really the only films that can be distributed widely are those that are either entirely incapable of impacting the culture to begin with or those that are both appreciated in festival circles and bland enough to not impact the culture." Doesn't sound promising!

Filmmaking is also the most expensive art, and hence why it is often the most bankrupt (culturally and intellectually).
« Last Edit: January 14, 2018, 08:16:24 PM by valmz »

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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2018, 10:30:49 PM »
I find it very difficult to think of a coherent way to ascribe morals to an inanimate object or concept or action. There are certain pieces of art that we say are immoral, but is that what we actually mean, or is it just shorthand for a different idea?

This is a great post. I don't have much of anything to add directly to it, but I just wanted to appreciate it.

I think another wrinkle we can add into this question is what happens when some people think a piece of art is morally objectionable while others don't share that particular belief?

One extreme example might be CleanFlix, the Christian video rental company that edits Hollywood movies to take out the sex and swearing and stuff. Clearly they find that content morally objectionable. But I don't, and I'd guess nobody here does either. So what happens? Does anything change, should anything change? Are we a bunch of sinners for enjoying the unedited movies?

Because I'm a bad boy and I don't follow rules, I'm gonna talk about mother!. My professor studies horror movies and wrote this really great review of mother!.

She hated it. She thought that there was no criticism in the film of the way that the Mother character is treated or responds to her situation. She did not see any meaningful ideas about the necessitity of that sacrifice and she saw the cyclical nature of the film as a declaration of that necessity. I get it. Based on what she responded to in the movie, it's a pretty misogynist hunk of garbage.

I saw the movie shortly after she wrote that. I loved it and wrote a pretty long review where I talked about why I specifically thought that there was a critical component to what was being portrayed in the film. I believe that the criticism lies in the Christian allegory that the whole movie is wrapped around. Scholars have written endlessly about how misogynist (and racist and...) certain stories in the Bible are. We know that the story of Adam and Eve has been a large part of the basis for (some, many?) Christians' beliefs about a women's place in the world and in marriage. We get an Adam and Eve here, and we get Mother being criticized for not playing her role of wife/potential mother correctly by both. But audiences know that they're wrong, basically, and so we know that their demands upon Mother are wrong, and so we start to call into question all the things that happen to her.

So for me, Mother is a movie about how a patriarchal religion can CINECAST! up pretty much everything in the world. People don't listen to Mother (the sink!), people take over her space, people take her newborn baby and CINECAST!ing eat it. Bardem's Him isn't blameless in this. Indeed, everything bad comes from him.

So. I see it as a feminist criticism of the influence of patriarchal religions and she sees it as a misogynist piece of trash. I read her review and could see her points, she read my review and said the same to me. Who's right? Is she obligated to like it because of what I say it does? Am I obligated to hate it because of what she says it does? Or do we both continue to have our opinions, perhaps even bolstered by our conversation and grappling with opposing viewpoints. Do we hate each other? No. In fact, I respect her even more now because I see just how strongly she felt about a movie she thought was pretty messed up. I also appreciate that she (seemingly) hasn't declared me a misogynist for liking the movie. She can see where I'm coming from, she understands that art means different things to different people.

So whenever a piece of art is getting morally based criticism I take it very seriously. I try my best to see what the person objecting to it is seeing and criticizing. If I find their arguments compelling, I will very likely change my point of view on it. This happened with Mindhunter because of OAD's complaints about how offputtingly male it was--how it treated the women in the show and how unquestioning it was of the sexual criminals it was portraying. I reconsidered my take on it (Zodiac-lite, basically) and began to agree more with her. I think there's more to the women than she saw (she basically didn't get to the major female role that comes in about halfway through), but I get the point about the other stuff, and the women are still not great characters either way.

Sometimes, though, I won't change my mind. mother! is one such example and I'm still not sure where I fall on 3 Billboards. Some people think mother! is about how crappy women have to be treated for men to create art, some people think 3 Billboards is about how even violent racists can be forgiven pretty easily. All we can do as individuals is express what we think a movie is doing or saying and the rest is up to everybody else to figure out. If I think a piece of art is morally objectionable, I'll say so (It Comes at Night is disturbingly xenophobic, I think, and it feels like The Fate of the Furious features a female villain just so she can use sex as a weapon and to give the good woman character an excuse to call her a "bitch"). But I don't think I'm the final arbiter on things like that. I think my role is to express how I understand the world and the art made within it. I don't pretend to be perfect, but I do hope that I'm true to myself and my experiences so that they can help others understand themselves and their experiences better.
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Re: Some pieces of art can be morally objectionable: True or False
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2018, 08:54:46 AM »
Is there truly a need to state the fact that people experience art differently and should be allowed to have their own opinions, even when they violently differ from one's own? Isn't that something people are supposed to come to terms with in high school? How did we get to a point where this warranted to be said? To me this forum is a place where I don't need to worry about someone thinking I am racist for not being crazy about Get Out and where I can trash Silence all day without anyone calling me out for hating the Portuguese, Japanese culture, or people with better hair than me. pixote thinks In Bruges is the movie equivalent of an STD (pix is cray) but I've never thought for a second that made him think less of the everyone else in the forum who loves that movie.

That said, I do think less of people who edit stuff out of movies to protect their special snowflake sensibilities. Being an adult is being able to deal with stuff that upsets you. If you cannot handle thirty seconds of yucky in a two hour movie you should spend less time in church and more in a shrink's office. I am not even going to comment on the disfigurement of art. Do those people also cover their eyes when they go to an art museum? Is there a VR app that blurs all the penises now? Also, what does it say about you as an adult if sex and swearing are the things you choose to focus on as objectionable?

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Your teacher sounds lit. She's wrong about mother! though.
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