Getting this out of my system…
I read an interesting quote from Stephen King the other day:
I don’t know why [violent] movies like The Brave One (even the title suggests tacit approval) should appeal to me and so many others. I can only hope they serve as a mental gutter through which our worst fears and impulses are channeled safely out of our emotional systems. The Greek word is catharsis, and I have used it many times to justify my own violent creations, but I have never entirely trusted it. —Stephen King [Entertainment Weekly, 10/12/07]
Regardless of what you think of the movie in question, the genre in question, or Stephen King–the quote raises a number of interesting questions and observation. For our discussion, though, I’ll just mention one of each. Observation: At least in our culture, people like to think that we can get some undesirable behavior, thought, desire, emotion (etc.) “out of our system” by enacting it, rehearsing it, thinking about it, or talking about it in some controlled, safe environment. Question: Does that ever work? Or are we fooling ourselves so that we can continue doing what we want to do, but are ashamed of?
Chances are, the answer to this question is not black and white. Here are some possible examples:
1. Teenage boy, frustrated with his uncooperative family, runs to his room and pounds away on his drum set (or blasts away on his trombone).
3. Two friends confide in one another about frustrations in their respective marriages
4. Disenfranchised employee writes graphic fiction about the gruesome imagined deaths of her coworkers
Is any of this behavior appropriate? Is any of it inappropriate? When and what makes the difference between appropriate and inappropriate/helpful and not helpful? Can you think of a time when catharsis worked for you? Can you think of a time where you used it as self-justification to continue behavior you were ashamed of?
For those of you who sometimes wonder about the philosophical pedigree of the topics on this blog (as I myself do), keep in mind that this question is a key point of disagreement for Plato and Aristotle. Plato thought that individuals should be raised on stories that tell of noble characters. He also thought that poetry would make men less capable of controlling their emotions. Aristotle, on the other hand, advocated poetry as an appropriate way for people to purge inappropriate emotions, and tragedy as a way to learn to respond to awful situations with appropriate amounts of fear and pity. It’s an ethical question, and it’s a question about the nature of human beings.
But, despite the fact that this indeed is a philosophical and ethical question, I don’t think the discussion will go very far without bringing in some real life into the mix. So bring your experiences along with your philosophical musings. Fortunately, we’re good at that, which is why I’m looking forward to Thursday.