In Chapter 6 of Film, Art, and the Third Culture, Murray Smith argues for a biocultural account of the emotions, which treats them as an interaction between universal and cultural dimensions. He goes on to test this approach in relation to the representation of emotions in films by considering an example from the tradition of modernist filmmaking. This article suggests that, while Smith’s case is broadly convincing, there are several ways in which it could be presented more forcefully. In particular, his discussion of the challenge of modernism to a biocultural account could be strengthened by emphasizing rather than downplaying the role that various types of cultural knowledge play in our interaction with modernist works.
A Naturalized Aesthetics and the Challenge of Modernism
This article analyzes the psychological and neurological underpinnings of crime fiction and discusses the interrelation between cultural and biological-evolutionary determinants of fictions of detection. It argues that although crime fiction is a product of modern life conditions, it is also centrally fueled in the minds of viewers and readers by the mammalian dopamine seeking/wanting system developed for seeking out resources by foraging and hunting and important for focused mental and physical goal-directed activities. The article describes the way the working of the seeking system explains how crime fiction activates strong salience (in some respects similar to the effect of dopamine-drugs like cocaine, Ritalin, and amphetamine) and discusses the role of social intelligence in crime fiction. It further contrasts the unempathic classical detector fictions with two subtypes of crime fiction that blend seeking with other emotions: the hardboiled crime fiction that blends detection with action and hot emotions like anger and bonding, and the moral crime fiction that strongly evokes moral disgust and contempt, often in conjunction with detectors that perform hard to fake signals of moral commitment that make them role models for modern work ethics. The article is part of bio-cultural research that describes how biology and culture interact as argued in Grodal's Embodied Visions.
Bioculturalist approach can be fruitfully employed to explain why fictional violence is such an integral part of both our art and entertainment. In any cultural context aggression related biological traits are controlled and shaped in order to ensure both the internal order and the security of a community. William Flesch has argued that his process is guided by the tendency to admire altruistic punishers, who without self-interest assume the task of punishing evildoers. Spectators of such actions tend to react to it emotionally, both spontaneously and via reflection, thus giving the experience both an emotional and a meta-emotional aspect. This plays an important role in relating to the ways in which resorting to violence is justified in mainstream films. This scenario has a strong emotional appeal, even if the spectator would deplore such means in real life contexts. This discrepancy emerges even more strongly in the revenge scenario, which in a fictional context can appear satisfying and empowering despite the moral qualms the spectator might have concerning the ethics of revenge. Because of the deeply ingrained cult of individuality and doubts about the efficacy of government in maintaining law and order, these narrative patterns have developed especially strongly within American popular culture. However, judging by the worldwide success of such films, their appeal is nonetheless quite universal.
Hayder Al-Mohammad and David Lempert
There Is No Such Thing as a Social Science: In Defence of Peter Winch. Directions in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. Phil Hutchinson, Rupert Read and Wes Sharrock, Surrey: Ashgate, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7546-4776-8, 148pp., Hb. £50.
Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook. Luisa Maffi and Ellen Woodley, Washington, DC: Earthscan Publishers, 2010, ISBN 9781844079216, 282pp., Hb. £34.99.
The Heritage-scape: UNESCO, World Heritage, and Tourism. Michael A. Di Giovine, New York: Lexington Books, 2009, ISBN: 9780739114346, 519 pp., Hb. $95, Pb. $45.
Social, Historical, and Ecological Intersections between Asian Elephants and Humans
Humans and elephants have lived together and shared space together in diverse ways for millennia. The intersections between these thinking and feeling species have been differently explored, for different reasons, by disciplines across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Such disciplinary divisions, predicated on oppositions of human-animal and nature-culture, are integral to the configuration of modernist thought. However, posthumanist and biocultural thinking questions the underlying epistemological conventions, thereby opening up interdisciplinary possibilities for human-animal studies. In relation to issues of conflict and coexistence, this article charts the emergence of an interdisciplinary research program and discursive space for human-elephant intersections under the rubric of ethnoelephantology. Recognizing continuities between the sentient and affective lifeworlds of humans and elephants, the mutual entanglements of their social, historical, and ecological relations, and the relevance of combining social and natural science methodologies, the article surveys recent research from anthropology, history, and geography that exemplifies this new approach.