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Emotion Porn


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When something horrible happens, the media is all over it.

This is as it should be, since whether the horrible event affects one person (like, the mother of a child who's been murdered), or thousands (as in a natural disaster like an earthquake), it is something  we all should know about.

 

What bothers me about the reportage of these terrible events is not the recounting of them, or an update on what's going on. It's the way the journalists stick a microphone into the face of the family member or friend who's just found out their loved one has died, probably terribly, in pain and fear, and asks them "how they're feeling?"

 

There seems to be an obsession now with this kind of vicarious grief. People who never even knew the one who's died weep profusely, and the way the news is covered encourages it.

Strangers wallow in others' grief, and reporters almost voyeuristically  insist on interviewing people who've just lost everything, while the cameras close in on their agonized faces.

 

It was ever thus, up to a point, but in recent years this kind of proxy-emotional response has been on the increase.

 

What does all this have to do with movies? Well, I was thinking about all this recently in the aftermath of the massively destructive earthquake in Nepal. It occured to me that while such excessive interest in the personal grief of those who've experienced great loss in real life offends me, the exact same kind of "emotional voyeurism" is what engages me in a movie.

 

The difference is, one is just an  inappropriate craving to know the depth of another's misfortune, (complete with a close-up of their face in tears) while the other is intended to draw us in and get us to experience grief and all kinds of other emotions. The difference is, one is real, the other is fiction. Guess the fictional version is called catharsis.

 

I dunno, it just struck me as interesting that the very thing that disgusts me in real life -eg, an almost prurient fascination with the emotional distress of people we don't know - is the very thing that engages me in a film.

 

Anyone else think the coverage of those affected by natural disasters, plane crashes, murder of a family member, fire, etc. is often over-the-top and invasive of their privacy? (This is the emotional porn I was talking about.)

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I really kind of agree with that.  Also, as in the case of that cop who shot the fleeing black man, we really didn't need to have the provacative tape footage played and REplayed over and over again.  We got the point the first time.

 

I also agree that they could at least wait until the news of whatever tragedy had befallen some unfortunate family has been proccessed before they start shoving microphones into grieving faces.

 

The only sort of positive I notice could be that reporters also hassle neighbors about it.  Asking if THEY maybe noticed any "red flags" or unusual behavior that might have tipped them off to whatever.  And, of course the neighbors all claim to have not noticed anything, sadly reminding all of us how we ignore one another TOO much.  But then again, one runs the risk of having those people telling them to mind their own business, and possibly in a violent manner.

 

 

Sepiatone

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Richard Kimble:

Good example. The desire to exploit the public's "need" to vicariously experience another's fear or grief is depicted to cynical perfecton in Ace in the Hole  (aka The Big Carnival.)

 

Billy Wilder really understood this.

Of course, like I say, when it happens in a movie I don't mind at all, I even expect and want it. It's the shameless delving into others' privacy and grief in real life that disgusts me.

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MissW, perhaps the primary difference between your, and yes, my reaction to these tragic news items and that of watching movies which will depict such things is that in the movies we usually get "the backstory" and the events which preceded these tragic events presented to us, and thus have perhaps gained more insight into the causes and then the ultimate effects of these situations.

 

I would think that it is only natural for most people to become more empathetic to the unfortunate in the world, be they actual people or merely characters in some fictional story, the more information we have of them. And thus because news sources seldom delve and seldom have delved into these "backstories" and often due to them moving on to the next breaking news item, I would think that this might be the very reason for the different emotional reaction that you, and yes once again, I get from them.

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MissW, perhaps the primary difference between your, and yes, my reaction to these tragic news items and that of watching movies which will depict such things is that in the movies we usually get "the backstory" and the events which preceded these tragic events presented to us, and thus have perhaps gained more insight into the causes and then the ultimate effects of these situations.

 

I would think that it is only natural for most people to become more empathetic to the unfortunate in the world, be they actual people or merely characters in some fictional story, the more information we have of them. And thus because news sources seldom delve and seldom have delved into these "backstories" and often due to them moving on to the next breaking news item, I would think that this might be the very reason for the different emotional reaction that you, and yes once again, I get from them.

 

Darg, ol' buddy, with genuine respect, I think you slightly misunderstood what I was trying to say.

 

Of course people who have experienced a terrible loss, or undergone some kind of horrific event, have every reason to be extremely emotional, grieving, crying, wailing, or whatever way they naturally express their feelings. I'd almost have to be some kind of sociopath to be annoyed at their grief.

My complaint is not with them, it's with those who in my view exploit their grief and desolation by asking them intrusive questions and expecting them to talk about their feelings, often within hours of whatever has happened to them.

 

I don't agree with the "background" or "context" point, because that suggests that if I had a "context" to the grieving person's reason for their feelings, I'd be more understanding of them.

But I'm already understanding of them, I already know they've undergone something terrible, and the details of how and what it was are none of my business. It's their personal story, and I feel uncomfortable seeing their anguish displayed to the world in front of a camera. I don't need to hear the details, or their "backstory", to feel for them.

 

The reason I don't feel this same discomfort in a film is because the film is fiction, a made-up story whose purpose is to draw us in to the emotions ( and "story") of its characters.

Art imitating life, I suppose.

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The news media, and TV, in general, always look for high emotions, the hotter, the angrier, or, the more anguished it is, the better. I always get infuriated when I see a newshound fling his/her microphone in the face of a weeping family member following a personal tragedy, "Thinking leave them alone in their sorrow, you vulture."

 

When I took a journalism course many moons ago, one of the theoretical questions we were asked in class was if we could place a microphone in the face of a woman as she was awaiting reports on a mine disaster that involved her husband (or if we could do it after she knew he was dead). I had great difficulty saying that I would. Perhaps it just as well that I never did become a journalist.

 

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The news media, and TV, in general, always look for high emotions, the hotter, the angrier, or, the more anguished it is, the better. I always get infuriated when I see a newshound fling his/her microphone in the face of a weeping family member following a personal tragedy, "Thinking leave them alone in their sorrow, you vulture."

 

When I took a journalism course many moons ago, one of the theoretical questions we were asked in class was if we could place a microphone in the face of a woman as she was awaiting reports on a mine disaster that involved her husband (or if we could do it after she knew he was dead). I had great difficulty saying that I would. Perhaps it just as well that I never did become a journalist.

 

In this age of the selfie I don't think the media needs to be a vulture (in most cases).   Instead today many (most?) people involved in personal tragedy seek the media.  They want to put it all out there.  They want to exposed themselves.   They crave the attention,

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In this age of the selfie I don't think the media needs to be a vulture (in most cases).   Instead today many (most?) people involved in personal tragedy seek the media.  They want to put it all out there.  They want to exposed themselves.   They crave the attention,

 

I doubt the survivors of the Nepal earthquake were seeking attention, unless it was for the medical kind.

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Darg, ol' buddy, with genuine respect, I think you slightly misunderstood what I was trying to say.

 

Of course people who have experienced a terrible loss, or undergone some kind of horrific event, have every reason to be extremely emotional, grieving, crying, wailing, or whatever way they naturally express their feelings. I'd almost have to be some kind of sociopath to be annoyed at their grief.

My complaint is not with them, it's with those who in my view exploit their grief and desolation by asking them intrusive questions and expecting them to talk about their feelings, often within hours of whatever has happened to them.

 

I don't agree with the "background" or "context" point, because that suggests that if I had a "context" to the grieving person's reason for their feelings, I'd be more understanding of them.

But I'm already understanding of them, I already know they've undergone something terrible, and the details of how and what it was are none of my business. It's their personal story, and I feel uncomfortable seeing their anguish displayed to the world in front of a camera. I don't need to hear the details, or their "backstory", to feel for them.

 

The reason I don't feel this same discomfort in a film is because the film is fiction, a made-up story whose purpose is to draw us in to the emotions ( and "story") of its characters.

 

Perhaps I did misinterpret the primary intent of your original post here, MissW. However, my intent in offering up some explanation with your expressed disgust with news reporters who place their microphones in the faces of people who have just experienced some tragedy in their their lives was done in efforts to present the differences between what we see on "the news" and what we see in movies.

 

And I have to admit, and perhaps because I've become so "numb" to the real tragedies in the world, and yes, most often "facile" reporting of them, I will usually have much more of an emotional reaction to what I see in well executed movies than I will of what I see on the CBS Evening News each and every night, and primarily because, and as I mentioned in my earlier posting, those very "backstories" I see in the latter and which as I also earlier mentioned, the lack of same by news sources.

 

In other words, this lack of "discretion" we see exhibited by reporters today, and perhaps since the first day of radio and television news reporting, is something I've probably become accustomed to seeing and so have perhaps "built up a resistance" to letting it get to me, and perhaps primarily because I haven't been given sufficient enough information about the backstory of those involved in these tragedies in order to elicit the requisite empathy for them that I should perhaps have.

 

(...I mean, I can't tell you how many times I've seen some pushy reporter place a microphone in front of the mother of some nutcase murderer and the clueless woman blurts out something like, "But he was always such a good boy!"...ya see, now THAT will always get MY ire up...and no, NOT at the reporter, but at that clueless freakin' WOMAN!!!!) 

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Well Darg, specifically what I was getting at in my original post here is the insensitive and intrusive custom of interviewing people who've recently experienced a horrible ordeal- often involving a disaster such as an earthquake or plane crash. But it could be more individual than that, such as the parent, spouse, or family member of someone who's been murdered.

 

It's as though the journalists think we ( as in "the public") won't be moved by the person's tragedy unless we see their tears and hear their anguish. Tom here mentioned that it was almost a requisite of a journalism education, to be able to stick a mike in the face of a grieving person and ask them questions.

 

Aside from the obvious disrespect for privacy, I always wonder why the reporters think it's necessary to extract this kind of expression of grief and loss from the bereaved one as part of the "news". In spite of what you say about becoming inured to such stories, I think most of us ( probably you also) are sufficiently sentient and empathetic to comprehend someone's loss without turning it into entertainment.

 

And here's where I was going with this thread: What is (to me, anyway) inappropriately callous and self-serving in real life is exactly what we want in fiction.

In fiction - let's say film, since this is a film website (but it applies equally to literature and even music), we vicariously experience a character's life, including whatever good and terrible things happen to them, in the space of the story. This is supposed to happen, if we don't feel the character's emotions, even in a second-hand way, then the movie (or perhaps the actor) has failed.

 

At the risk of getting all pedantic,  I want to say that this vicarious experience of a fictional character's emotions is called catharsis, and it plays an essential role (no pun intended!) in most movies.

 

Just to refresh everyone's memory, here's a definition:  (from Wiki, predictably):

 

Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art[1] or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.[2][3] It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of spectator

 

That's a fancy dancy way of saying one of the reasons for the emotional journey we take when we engage in a film (or play) and its story and character is to temporarily experience that character's emotions, thereby freeing the audience members of some of their own emotions, at least for the time they're watching the film.

 

This kind of "emotional wallowing" is completely different from the vulture-like gleaning of emotion from real life people.

One's art, the other's just excessive nosiness and an odd desire to "feel" somebody else's sadness.

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In this age of the selfie I don't think the media needs to be a vulture (in most cases).   Instead today many (most?) people involved in personal tragedy seek the media.  They want to put it all out there.  They want to exposed themselves.   They crave the attention,

I really can't agree with this generalization, James. Huge difference between a person who loves selfies (and, yes, I see this all the time, particularly with young girls, it seems to me) and a parent that has just lost their child in a terrible accident, for example. It's not just the reporter with the microphone but, perhaps even moreso, the accompanying cameraman zooming in for a closeup to capture that parent's anguish for the Six O'Clock News that will cause me great disgust. I doubt very much that many parents in this hypothetical situation would want their tears on display for all to see.

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I really can't agree with this generalization, James. Huge difference between a person who loves selfies (and, yes, I see this all the time, particularly with young girls, it seems to me) and a parent that has just lost their child in a terrible accident, for example. It's not just the reporter with the microphone but, perhaps even moreso, the accompanying cameraman zooming in for a closeup to capture that parent's anguish for the Six O'Clock News that will cause me great disgust. I doubt very much that many parents in this hypothetical situation would want their tears on display for all to see.

 

Notice I say 'many' and not all.   

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Notice I say 'many' and not all.   

Duly noted, James.

 

"Many" is a pretty ambiguous word, though, as far as percentage is concerned. I strongly suspect that a very small percentage of people want to see their personal tragedy played out on the media.

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Duly noted, James.

 

"Many" is a pretty ambiguous word, though, as far as percentage is concerned. I strongly suspect that a very small percentage of people want to see their personal tragedy played out on the media.

 

Well I'm not so sure,  but on a percentage basis you could be right.   All I know is that when I do see someone going on about their personal tragedy I say to myself 'if XYZ had occurred to me or my family,  I wouldn't be on CNN,  Dr Drew or the Nancy Grace show!'.

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(...I mean, I can't tell you how many times I seen some pushy reporter place a microphone in front of the mother of some nutcase murderer and the clueless woman blurts out something like, "But he was always such a good boy!"...ya see, now THAT will always get MY ire up...and no, NOT at the reporter, but at that clueless freakin' WOMAN!!!!) 

 

I am reminded of Wednesday in one of the: Addams Family movies in which her Halloween costume is normal clothes because she is masquerading as a serial killer and all know that serial killers look like normal people.

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The difference is, one is just an  inappropriate craving to know the depth of another's misfortune, (complete with a close-up of their face in tears) while the other is intended to draw us in and get us to experience grief and all kinds of other emotions. The difference is, one is real, the other is fiction. Guess the fictional version is called catharsis.

 

 

I believe the difference is one of relationship and that your terming it: 'porn' is perceptive.

 

We form relationships with characters in movies by identifying with them and learning details of their life and situation beyond the moments of tragedy.

 

That relationship is absent in: shove-a-mike-in-their-face reporting.

 

I feel it is an exact parallel that an intimate act performed by a loving couple in the privacy of their bedroom has meaning far different from the same act performed by two strangers on a stage in front of a paying audience.

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Did you say the "Nancy Drew" show?

I didn't know she'd retired from crime investigation and switched to talk show hosting.

 

If Nancy Drew was still working we would have a lot less crime,  but sadly she did retired a long time ago.

 

Dr. Drew and Nancy Grace are talk show host.    Dr. Drew used to be a local ratio host long ago on KROQ,  but he went mainstream about 10 years ago.    Nancy Grace is a quack with the worst hairdo on T.V.!

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I am reminded of Wednesday in one of the: Addams Family movies in which her Halloween costume is normal clothes because she is masquerading as a serial killer and all know that serial killers look like normal people.

 

Yeah Sans, but I'll bet Morticia was cognizant of Wednesday's usual UNusual behavior!

 

And whereas I often suspect that the mothers of those serial killers out there don't have one freakin' CLUE about how their OWN offspring, and often through either neglect or indifference OR sheer stupidity, grew to be such monsters inside their "normal looking" skin, and sorry, but THAT I will never understand.

 

And now I'M reminded of that clueless woman in Connecticut who began taking her KNOWN mentally ill son to the gun range and taught him how to operate firearms. And I think we all know what came of THAT, now don't we?! AND, now I'll ALSO bet that IF that clueless woman HADN'T been her son's first victim on that fateful and sad day, then five'll getcha ten that SHE would have been one of those mothers who after what happened would have stuck her clueless freakin' face in front of one of those microphones and said, "But he was always such a good boy."!!!

 

Wanna BET?!!!

 

(...aah, but now of course we're gettin' into that whole "Nurture vs Nature" thing, aren't we?!) ;)

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...This is rather simplistic, but characters in movies are not the same as

real people, so our reactions to them will be different. I've never really

grasped the concept of catharsis. I may  Maybe catharsis is more

appropriate to Greek tragedy. From what I recall, there was a lot of blood

and guts in those plays and other weird sh*t going on. Maybe they especially

leant themselves to strong feelings that could be "purified" in comparison

to movies. I'll just have to continue to enjoy films without my emotions being

"purified." I can live with that. :)

 

Perhaps it was all the garlic in their souvlakis that generated all that weird sh!te going on.

 

Oh, what the frig, I'm no expert in ancient Greek dramatic theory.

 

Of course we don't start out watching a film, all messed up emotionally, and find psychological calm by the end of it.

 

But if I am determined to experience some kind of emotional frisson from another person's ordeals, I'll take the fictional kind. At least in movies we're expected to share in the character's pain, whereas in real life, I can't help but feel that it's none of my business. (This is not the same as feeling no compassion for the person who's suffering.)

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