A For Amoral, Or Artistic

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-09-19 12:00:00 No comments

After my post the other day, I wondered some more about the validity of additional taboos against escapes that themselves feel amoral, e.g., violent action movies. And again, I think this is misplaced, if only because we tend to single out the wrong things to get upset about.

A common go-to example for this is violent action movies that allegedly spur real-life violence. I've long felt this is a red herring: most people find such things either absurd fantasy or repellent, not models to emulate. The few people that see cinematic violence as a blueprint for real-world violence already have a degree of detachment from reality and human concern that can only be remedied with professional help, not the absence (or presence) of some other media. If anything, I've felt it's romances and Hallmark movies that do more discernible damage. They construct unrealistic and unsustainable views of human relationships, and those are things far easier to enact in one's life (and more insidiously so) than your average action movie gun-down.

The relationship between media violence and real-world violence seems more complicated we would like to think. One of the best analyses I heard in this regard was about how violent entertainments rooted in real-world violence — war films, or war-simulation video games — affect us. They don't make us individually more violent, but they acclimatize us collectively to the idea that warfare is actually kinda fun, and not an abhorrence to be avoided except as a last resort. François Truffaut famously disdained war movies for that reason, with a few shining exceptions. Similar arguments have been made about pornography and their collective effects, and I think those are also true up to a point, but not to the point where I think censorship is a suitable solution.

Ideally there should be no conflict between the moral aspirations of a work and its quality, because the two don't have much to do with each other anyway. The presence or absence of a moral conceit in a work of art is not something that guarantees failure or success. I know of much fiction that is studiedly moral, but not much good as fiction. But the best works I know, certainly those with narratives, have some moral viewpoint embedded in them — or maybe better to say, they do the best job of seamlessly embodying the moral convictions of their creator that ennoble everyone else as well.

Tags: fiction morality