Screen Stories: Emotion and the Ethics of Engagement

Opening Remarks

in Projections
Carl Plantinga Calvin University

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In this overview and discussion of my recent book, I outline its major topics and arguments and ruminate on its purpose, its implications, and possible objections to the very idea of an ethics of screen stories. Screen stories are narratives that appear on screens, and in this book I focus on long-form screen stories. The book has three parts. Part I develops a theory of the persuasive or rhetorical power of screen stories. Part 2 argues that while one dominant response to that power in film and media studies has been what I call “estrangement theory,” it is in fact an “engagement theory” that offers more promise for the development of an ethics of screen storytelling. Part 3 examines some of the contours of engagement, or, in other words, some of the means by which screen stories engage the viewer in ethical thinking and moral persuasion. There, I focus on character engagement, narrative structure (and especially endings), and narrative paradigm scenarios.

Contributor Notes

Carl Plantinga is Professor of Film and Media at Calvin University. He is author of three monographs: Screen Stories: Emotion and the Ethics of Engagement (2018), Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience (2009), and Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film (1997). He is also coeditor of The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film (2009) and Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion (1999). His current book project, Alternative Realities, examines the relationship between realism and the human imagination in screen stories. E-mail:

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