The stories we tell each other, or present via mass media, are important components of the cultural ecology of a place and time. This article argues that 300 (2007), directed by Zach Snyder and based on a comic book series both written and illustrated by Frank Miller, evinces what can legitimately be called a “fascist aesthetic” that depends in large part on the moods and emotions the screen story both represents and elicits. While many other commentators have charged this film with incipient fascism, this article both deepens and expands on the claim by showing how the film’s elicitation of affect contributes to this aesthetic. The article argues that the affects represented and elicited in 300, when taken in conjunction with and in relation to the ideology they support, constitute what can be called “fascist affect.”
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.
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.
Anne Friedberg, THE VIRTUAL WINDOW: FROM ALBERTI TO MICROSOFT. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, xii + 357 pp., $34.95 (cloth).
Most films, most of the time, are affectively unified. What I call “synesthetic affects” are orchestrated in an attempt to provide a holistic affective experience congruent with the film's unfolding narrative and thematic concerns. Yet Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line elicits contradictory or incongruent affects, such incongruence neither being justified by genre conventions, “excess,” irony, nor stumbled upon through incompetence. The Thin Red Line elicits incongruent emotions for the purposes of generating an experience of rumination and wonder. The study of such incongruent emotions, still in its infancy, raises important methodological issues about the study of mixed emotions and the conventions for mixing affects in the cinema.
Film scholars, critics, filmmakers, and audiences all routinely employ intuitive, untutored "folk psychology" in viewing, interpreting, critiquing, and making films. Yet this folk psychology receives little attention in film scholarship. This article argues that film scholars ought to pay far more attention to the nature and uses of folk psychology. Turning to critical work on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the article demonstrates the diverse and sometimes surprising ways that folk psychology is used in criticism. From an evolutionary perspective, the article defends the critic's and audience's interests in characters as persons. It also defends folk psychology against some of its most vocal detractors, and provides some guidance into how cognitive film theorists might employ folk psychology, arguing that such employment must supplement and correct folk psychology with scientific psychology and philosophical analysis. Finally, the article argues that the application of folk psychology to films is a talent, a skill, and a sensitivity rather than a science.
JINHEE CHOI AND MATTIAS FREY, EDS., CINE-ETHICS: ETHICAL DIMENSIONS OF FILM THEORY, PRACTICE, AND SPECTATORSHIP
Carl Plantinga, Jeffrey M. Zacks and Bonnie S. Kaufman
Mark Turner, ed. THE ARTFUL MIND: COGNITIVE SCIENCE AND THE RIDDLE OF HUMAN CREATIVITY. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, xvi + 314 pp., $35.00 (hardback).
Mary A. Peterson, Barbara Gillam, and H. A. Sedgwick, eds., IN THE MIND’S EYE: JULIAN HOCHBERG ON THE PERCEPTION OF PICTURES, FILMS, AND THE WORLD. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, xix + 366 pp., $75 (hardback).
Gabbard, Glen, ed., PSYCHOANALYSIS AND FILM. London: Karnac Books, 2001, viii + 239 pp., $39.95 (paperback).
Sabbadini, Andrea, ed. THE COUCH AND THE SILVER SCREEN: PSYCHOANALYTIC REFLECTIONS ON EUROPEAN CINEMA. London: Brunner-Routledge, 2003, xx + 258 pp., $78.95 (hardback), $33.95 (paperback).