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October 1998, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Marty Fairbairn <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 17 Oct 1998 16:02:36 -0400
Marty Fairbairn <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (80 lines)
Kate Bowles writes,
> I formed an instant dislike of _Schindler's List_, and quickly learned that
> this was a movie towards which others felt protective.  For these people,
> it seemed to be doing something else than entertaining, and (despite its
> claims) something else than informing.
> This got me wondering about the effect that Joshua describes so well here:
> the added value of feeling morally elevated by approving of a particular
> piece of motion picture entertainment.  Whether or not this was Spielberg's
> goal, it is nonetheless the case that _Schindler's List_ achieved the
> somewhat bizarre effect of making people feel good about themselves,
> provided of course that they watched it in the appropriate manner.
> But I think it's important to remember that in making claims on behalf of
> popular cinema about historical veracity, moral effects, educational and
> other kinds of value, Spielberg is not worth singling out.  He is only
> continuing in the promotional tradition begun by Griffith in his defense of
> _Birth of a Nation_, the function of which is partly to make all movie
> goers feel glorified as members of a humanitarian community, rather than
> just avid (and highly suggestible) consumers of cinematic entertainment.
> Kate Bowles
> Communication & Cultural Studies
> Faculty of Arts
> University of Wollongong, Australia
Here, here, Kate [if I may]
I too formed an instant dislike of S's L the first time I saw it and have
been thinking about the reasons why on and off now ever since.  I am
currently working on an article which attempts to come to grips with this
reaction while analyzing the reasons our culture seems intent on, to
paraphrase Sara Horowitz, aestheticizing atrocity [see her article, "But
Is It Good for the Jews?  Spielberg's Schindler and the Aesthetics of
Atrocity," in Yosefa Loshitzky, ed., SPIELBERG'S HOLOCAUST: CRITICAL
PERSPECTIVES ON SCHINDLER'S LIST (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University
Press, 1997), 119-139].
I couldn't agree more that the function of this type of representation is
moral cheer-leading, or as you characterize it, to "make all movie-goers
feel glorified as members of a humanitarian community."  For example, as
Ms. Horowitz points out, staged scenes of the kind used in S's L find a
discomforting resonance in Nazi Propaganda newsreels in which such
falsified images played an important role in facilitating and justifying
the Nazi genocide [123].
This raises all sorts of questions about why audiences would NEED to be
convinced that the holocaust was a bad thing?!?!  The usual defence for
this kind of excrutiating film exsperience is the need for remedial
education of [especially young] people about these historical events in
response to certain recent [in fact, on-going] racist re-writings of
history that deny, for example, the extent of Nazi atrocities.  But there
seems to be something else going on here.
Steven Spielberg is an emotional button-pusher of unquestionable talent
and expertise.  The question is, Is the Holocaust something about which
emotional buttons need to be, or more fundamentally SHOULD be, pushed?  I
will argue that the pushing of emotional buttons about a real event that
resulted in the deaths of millions and the on-going terrorizing of many
more is obscene.  It is obscene in the etymological sense.  The word comes
to us from the Latin, obscenus, and refers to a representation that is
offensive to decency and morally repugnant.  I will argue that
S's L satisfies these criteria, especially the word's older sense that
characterizes a representation as ill-omened or ominous (OED).
Anyway, I won't bore you with any more of this.  Suffice it to say that
questioning the unassailable morality and PC status of films S's L is a
dangerous business that makes one think that the critical response to the
film is more interesting than the film.
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