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Carl Plantinga

Abstract

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.

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Malcolm Turvey

Abstract

This article questions the priority that Carl Plantinga accords to the viewer's emotions in his theory of the rhetorical power of screen stories, and makes the case that reason, in the sense of practical reasoning, plays just as important a role as emotion in our ethical response to such fictions. Practical reasoning is the form of reasoning concerned with the actions of agents and what they should do in specific situations. The protagonists of screen stories often engage in practical reasoning, articulating and deliberating about the reasons for their actions, and secondary characters around them regularly question their reasons. In this way, these stories prompt us to understand and question their reasons too and thereby to engage in practical reasoning, a species of which is moral reasoning. Screen stories also often stage a confrontation between divergent ethical perspectives and ask audiences to reflect about which one is more morally compelling.

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Carl Plantinga

Abstract

This article is a discussion of and rejoinder to the comments of three respondents on my book, Screen Stories: Emotion and the Ethics of Engagement. Jane Stadler argues that the book would profit from more attention to the “temporal prolongation” made possible by multi-episode television, especially as it relates to the nature of character engagement. While I have reservations about the notion of medium specificity in relation to television and film (and thus prefer the term “screen stories”), I agree that temporal prolongation in relation to an ethics of screen stories is a vital topic. Malcolm Turvey argues that Screen Stories promotes moral intuition and emotion at the expense of moral reasoning and that an ethics of engagement should pay equal attention to reasoning. In my response, I enumerate four reasons why, despite my belief in the importance of reasoning, I focus on emotion and intuition. I do agree that, once we can decide just what moral reasoning is, it should become a focus of an ethics of engagement. Cynthia Freeland focuses her remarks on various aspects of the third part of my book, “The Contours of Engagement,” in which I examine how the features of screen stories can lead to viewer experiences with ethical implications. In response, I discuss three issues: medium specificity once more, the supposed tension between conceptions of the active and passive spectator, and the psychological underpinnings of various sorts of character engagement.

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Damien Smith Pfister

In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the Trump Administration floated the creation of a new governmental agency named HARPA, the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that could explore novel ways of curtailing gun violence. For an administration unwilling to entertain serious legislation to address the problem of gun violence in the United States, HARPA offered a way to appear to be doing something about gun violence. HARPA, advocates maintained, could house a project called SAFEHOME, an acronym for “Stopping Aberrant Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.” SAFEHOME would use “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence”; the proposal would draw on data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo, and Google Home to predict when someone might be on the cusp of mass violence (Alemany 2019). The guiding assumption of SAFEHOME is that surveillance of this biophysical data, combined with extant surveillance of textual messaging, search patterns, social networking sites, and discussion boards would alert law enforcement officials to a prospective shooter. Think Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) with digital surveillance technology playing the role of psychic precogs. SAFEHOME is probably (hopefully) a nonstarter in serious conversations about gun violence, given the tenuous link between mental health, physical disposition, and violence; the inevitability of data-profiling being articulated to minoritized subjects and false positives (imagine the first time SAFEHOME flags a SWAT team on someone having sex) and obvious concerns about such an invasive surveillance regime. But the very fact that a program like SAFEHOME is posed as a potentially credible solution points to a dimension of surveillance that complements this forum’s discussion of ubiquity: granularity.

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"The Theatricality of the Emulsion!"

Queerness, Tactility, and Abstraction in the Hand-Processed Films of Roger Jacoby

Benjamin Ogrodnik

This article reexamines the career of Roger Jacoby (1945–1985), an abstract painter and gay liberation activist who became renowned for processing film in his darkened bathtub and for films that featured his partner, Ondine, the Andy Warhol Superstar. Through a consideration of film shorts made in the 1970s and 1980s, the article argues that Jacoby’s principal innovation was the exploration of hand-processing, which resulted in films that resembled abstract expressionist paintings in motion. Additionally, it considers hand-processing as an overlooked, albeit powerful, vehicle for expressing non-normative sexuality in American avant-garde film. It situates Jacoby alongside gay filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos, and Jack Smith, and considers how hand-processed media can generate a “corporealized” spectator and disrupt patterns of filmic illusionism and heterosexist protocols of sexual/gender representation.

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"This Video Call May Be Monitored and Recorded"

Video Visitation as a Form of Surveillance Technology and Its Effect on Incarcerated Motherhood

JWells

This article argues that the implementation of video visitation in correctional facilities is a mechanism of control used to enact punitive measures for regulating mothers who act outside the dominant paradigms of motherhood. Because prisons were designed to surveil and mothers have historically been surveilled by institutions, incarcerated mothers are often overlooked when we discuss the surveillance methods used to keep institutionalized motherhood intact. This article builds on existing scholarship characterizing surveillance technology’s role in criminalizing poor mothers of color, and considers the ways in which surveillance technology is used to normalize these mothers during their incarceration. Applying a Foucauldian framework, this article explores how adapting Video Visitation (VV)—a Skype-like video chat program—enables correctional facilities to extend the role of “watcher” and expand the panoptic gaze, which prompts mother-to-mother surveillance and intensifies self-surveillance. The article concludes by drawing attention to VV’s structure and its ability to expand correctional facilities’ surveillance to the children of incarcerated mothers.

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Toward a Naturalized Aesthetics of Film Music

An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Intramusical and Extramusical Meaning

Timothy Justus

Abstract

In this article, I first address the question of how musical forms come to represent meaning—that is, the semantics of music—and illustrate an important conceptual distinction articulated by Leonard Meyer in Emotion and Meaning in Music between absolute or intramusical meaning and referential or extramusical meaning through a critical analysis of two recent films. Second, building examples of scholarship around a single piece of music frequently used in film—Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings—I follow the example set by Murray Smith in Film, Art, and the Third Culture and discuss the complementary approaches of the humanities, the behavioral sciences, and the natural sciences to understanding music and its use in film.

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Altered Landscapes and Filmic Environments

An Account from the 13th Asian Cinema Studies Society Conference

Tito R. Quiling Jr.

It’s just past 10:00 am on a humid Monday in Singapore, and the streets seemed to have settled after a workday rush. My walk from Arab Street to McNally Street was rather placid, punctuated by moments at intersections, and surrounded by people heading somewhere. Minutes later, I was looking up at the postmodern buildings of LASALLE College of the Arts—a panorama of reinforced concrete, glass, tiles, and steel gleaming under the morning sun. In cinema, spaces and landscapes are primary features. At times, the setting goes beyond the overarching narrative, as it conveys its own story. Given their impact, Stephen Heath (2016) infers that a process occurs in identifying spatial connections to the characters, since “organizing, guiding, sustaining and reestablishing the space are the factors that reveal this process.” The audience absorbs the familiar images or experiences onscreen. However, embodied objects of varying iterations contribute to how environments in films are concretized. On this note, one can ask: in what ways do filmic environments thus project narratives and discourses?

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Biased Render

Indigenous Algorithmic Embodiment in 3D Worlds

Joshua D. Miner

This article explores the digitality of Indigenous bodies within contemporary 3D video games by mainstream and Indigenous developers. Its analysis relies on a critical examination of digital image synthesis via real-time graphics rendering, which algorithmically generates the visible world onscreen from 3D geometries by mapping textures, generating light and shadow, and simulating perceptual phenomena. At a time when physically based, unbiased rendering methods have made photorealistic styles and open-world structures common across AAA games in general, Indigenous game designers have instead employed simplified “low res” styles. Using bias as an interpretive model, this article unpacks how these designers critique mainstream rendering as a cultural-computational practice whose processes are encoded with cultural biases that frame the relation of player and screen body (avatar). The algorithmic production of digitally modeled bodies, as an essential but masked element of video games, offers a territory where Indigenous developers claim aesthetic presence in the medium.

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Elemental Imagination and Film Experience

Climate Change and the Cinematic Ethics of Immersive Filmworlds

Ludo de Roo

Abstract

In an age of ecological disasters and increasing environmental crisis, the experience of any cinematic fiction has an intrinsic ethical potential to reorient the spectator's awareness of the ecological environment. The main argument is that the spectator's sensory-affective and emphatically involving experience of cinema is essentially rooted in what I call “elemental imagination.” This is to say, first, that the spectator becomes phenomenologically immersed with the projected filmworld by a cinematic expression of the elemental world, and second, much like there is no filmworld without landscapes, the foundational aspect of elements are revealed as preceding and sustaining the narrative and symbolic layers of film experience. While suggesting the existential-ethical potential of this fundamental process of film experience, the second aim of this article is to show that this form of elemental imagination complements more mainstream “environmentalist” films, such as climate change documentaries and blockbuster apocalyptic genre films.