This article investigates the varied reactions of audiences to cinematic depictions of the human body as objectified raw material. The investigation proceeds, first, by explicating an ontological distinction between being-in-itself and being-for-itself, which in turn allows for a clarification of the processes involved in the objectification of one human being by another. The article then argues that in films where depictions of bodily objectification are pushed to an extreme—such as The Human Centipede, Nymphomaniac, and Videodrome—a potentially positive, empathic potential is unlocked in audiences. Rather than simply resulting in the humilation of human characters, such films encourage audiences to experience a kind of sympathy for the characters that is related to, but not distinct from, other horrific, humorous, and erotic feelings. The article concludes that the objectification of human bodies in film is both unavoidable and a potentially positive moral exercise.
John Marmysz, PhD, is a professor of philosophy at the College of Marin. His research interests focus on the issue of nihilism and its various cultural manifestations. He is the author of Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism (State University of New York Press, 2003), The Path of Philosophy: Truth, Wonder and Distress (Wadsworth, 2012), The Nihilist: A Philosophical Novel (No Frills Buffalo, 2015) and is co-editor (with Scott Lukas) of Fear, Cultural Anxiety and Transformation: Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films Remade (Lexington Books, 2009). He has served as an NEH fellow and is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.
Mulvey, Laura. 2009. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Pp. 711–722 in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, eds. LeoBraudy and MarshallCohen. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mulvey, Laura. 2009. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Pp. 711–722 in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, eds. LeoBraudy and MarshallCohen. New York: Oxford University Press.)| false