Research, Values

Values and Everyday Heroism, via Movie Review

A minute for a movie review. A+ for writing, and interesting morsels on values and everyday heroism.

Pre-justification #1: The focus of this blog is art, but artists, curators and critics can be concerned with culture at large.

Pre-justification #2: Movie reviews can be useful examples of beautifully concise, insightful writing. See David Denby of the New Yorker Magazine.

I don’t know which offense is more pervasive and exasperating: the issue of the portrayal of women and men in movies, or our age of irony and immaturity. Below, A.O. Scott elegantly sums up big ideas in a few sentences, in a movie review of “Knocked Up.”

“…The absence of a credible model of male adulthood is clearly one of the forces trapping Ben and his friends in their state of blithe immaturity.
Mr. Apatow’s critique of contemporary mores is easy to miss — it is obscured as much by geniality as by profanity — but it is nonetheless severe and directed at the young men who make up the core of this film’s likely audience. The culture of sexual entitlement and compulsive consumption encourages men to remain boys, for whom women serve as bedmates and babysitters. Resistance requires the kind of quixotic heroism Steve Carell showed in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or a life-changing accident, like Alison’s serendipitous pregnancy….”

Bye-Bye, Bong. Hello, Baby.
June 1, 2007
New York Times

I have always resented how male bonding often privileges dumbed-down culture, and the permission that males seem to have in associating women with growing up, the loss of innocence and by extension, evil. Look closely and you’ll find many examples in popular culture–music (including rap and rock), movies, comics, etc. One can find similar attitudes in contemporary art — art by men-boys for men-boys, and the women who don’t mind.

Citizenship, Research, Values

Inspiration: Philip Zimbardo & The Heroic Imagination

In contrast with the “hostile imagination,” in which warring countries dehumanize their enemies, Philip Zimbardo promotes the “heroic imagination”–and I love this idea.

Have you wondered if your fellow citizens would come to a stranger’s aid if needed? Have you ever witnessed a chance to do the right thing, and seen people’s reluctance to get involved? I’m tired of seeing bystanders simply stand by — from kids on a bus mutely hoping someone else will tell the bus driver he took a wrong turn, to people gawking at others obviously in need of assistance.

How can we foster the heroic imagination? In “The Banality of Heroism,” from the Fall 2006/Winter 2007 issue of Greater Good, Philip Zimbardo and Zeno Franco suggest:
1. Develop our “discontinuity detector.”
2. Don’t let a fear of interpersonal conflicts get in the way of standing up for your principles.
3. Think beyond the present.
4. Resist inaction.
5. Don’t be afraid to go left when everyone else goes right.

Zimbardo’s ideas are from his new book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Zimbardo is the man behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, which demonstrated how quickly people abused their power over others. The subjects tortured and humiliated ‘prisoners,’ in shockingly similar ways to the events at Abu Gharib. What Zimbardo emphasizes, however, is that “there are no bad apples, just bad barrels.” That is, context is key–Zimbardo takes a “public health” approach (concerned with conditions), rather than a medical one (concerned with pathology). What were the conditions that made it possible for Abu Gharib to happen, for abuse in prisons and covert detention facilities around the world to continue?

I think the steps towards developing the heroic imagination sounds like cultivating critical thinking, courage and integrity. These are key ingredients, of course, towards becoming better citizens and resisting all forms of injustice. (How is it that “patriots,” in the U.S., often refers to people who support their government without question? Can’t we be active, critical citizens and patriots?) It’s significant for me to see this clear connection between everyday attitudes and an approach to larger, more complex issues.

If we cultivate the heroic imagination, if we maintain our integrity and courage in this age of irony and pessimism, if we did what we really knew was right—What would be possible?