Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's a Morality Thing

Do Filmmakers Have a Moral Responsibility? Such is the question posed to us by blogger extraordinaires Ronan of Filmplicity and Julian of Dirty With Class. At first, I thought this seemed a rather simple question. Duh, of course they do. Regardless of whether or not they like it, or feel the need to act upon, all human beings have a responsibility to be 'moral' - you know, as long as they prefer their world with a little bit less fire and brimstone.

Then, I thought about it. What does it really mean to have a 'moral responsibility' anyways? Well, at least with respect to publicly present artistic methods. It's an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, there really is no single thing as 'morality.' For the most part we all agree on a core group of dos and don'ts, but there's hardly consensus. Not to mention the dreadful confusion people experience on a daily basis - unable (or unwilling) to accept that moral can represent something greater.

Morality encapsulates a wide range of ideas, beliefs, and notions. Some are seemingly built on nature, while others tend towards nurtured perception (this is where you beg me to avoid a Deontology vs. Consequentialism rant). So, with all that hullabaloo going on, the question of moral certainty becomes rather vague. Movies have the potential to expose our greatest flaws, or inspire our highest form of social decency. But no matter how you slice it, interpretation and personal believe is going to muck up the joint.

Heck, even a film as seemingly innocent as Wall-E received heavy backlash from certain groups for pushing a 'liberal anti-capitalism agenda.' Of course, to a less shocking extent, when 300 came out it was blacklisted by anti-violence groups. When Milk came out it was hit by anti-homosexual groups. It's an ongoing parade of sporadic anti-ism that passes as moral certainty, and is more self-fulfilling superiority with a vague idea of what it means to be moral. Then again, who among us really knows how to be moral without debate?

The only real event that film's often (enough) portray that seems to retain a consistent reception is rape. As touchy a subject as there ever was, but on the whole people look down on any film that portrays such an act in either a positive (i.e. she 'enjoyed' it) light, or fails to enact some real level of justice against the perpetrator. Even then, the more vehement activists get, so seems to get the steadfast apologists and defenders.

So, perhaps the real crux of the question is "can filmmakers be truly 'moral.'" In all honesty, probably not. In recent years the fine line between moral righteousness and moral wrongness has become increasingly vague. Movies have the potential to explore the darkest depths of morality, and leave it to the viewer to decide what is right and what is wrong. Movies like Gone Baby Gone present ambiguous moral decisions and each viewer interprets and embraces/rebukes/contemplates the film's decisions as they see fit.

Sure, people like to debate about the 'awesomeness' of ideological killers like Jigsaw, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a legion of followers enacting their ways. Same things go for movies like the Fast and Furious series. There's a disconnect, and while some like to cry about an increasing loss of real-world awareness, it's still there. The real challenge is, will the disconnect remain? Especially when you factor in the one seemingly indestructible force in the universe - 'coolness.'

If you can sell something as cool, people will inevitably try and do it. So, we find ourselves at an impasse. Yes, filmmakers have a responsibility to be aware of the potential consequences of the morals they purvey. But at the same time, people have a responsibility to know the difference between right and wrong - even if that requires the admittance that in some scenarios there is no right and wrong.

4 better thoughts:

ruth said...

Wow, this write-up is getting better from one to the next. Very eloquently-written, Uni, it is indeed hard to measure morality in a pluralistic world.

I think Gone Baby Gone is a good example of a filmmaker leaving it to the viewer to decide what is right and what is wrong, without being overly sensational about it. Can't say the same about those SAW films as their motive seems to be to shock the audience instead of provoking a dialog of some sort. Can't imagine someone being confused whether what Jigsaw does is right or wrong, at least if they are being honest w/ themselves.

Jess said...

I love the movie from your first photo - Something the Lord Made. Definitely morally ambiguous.

Ronan said...

The common the thread of the views I've read so far seem to pull at the idea of moral relativism. That each person's perception of what is moral or not is inextricably linked to their world view or belief system. Someone may have a set of beliefs which informs their opinions and determines to a degree their judgements and subsequent actions but knowing what is "right" or "wrong" and recognising something as good or bad and making a decision about it are not the same thing. I think you're onto something when you mention nature. The nature of the human person is crucial to any understanding of morality because we are all, by our nature, flawed individuals and whether you aspire to a particular ideal or not, people frequently and perhaps inevitably fall short of that ideal. The individual, the filmmaker, has a responsiblity to persevere in trying to do what he/she feels is the right thing to do, but whether or not what is right for them correspnds to commonly accepted ideas of "morality" is to a large extent irrelevant because 'our deeds go before us' and when it comes to it, our conscience will be our judge.

5plitreel said...

Great post! This was a very interestng write-up, was cool to see so many people think about this.

The problem with 'moral responsibility' is that by assigning it to someone, we're assuming that other people's actions can be manipulated by art or movies or videogames in a way that leads to them doing something immoral, and that's not in anyway a given.

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