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- It was Plato's contention that works of dramatic sensationalism encouraged men to be irrational or hysterical, to lose control of their feelings. These philosophers were writing of poetry and theater, not animated skin flicks. And the "feelings" they referred to were those you have in your heart, not the ones that rise in your loins. Regardless, this ancient sparring of thees is the foundation of a very modern debate. Does violent art and entertainment instill in each of us a greater need or desire for real violence? Or do such works offer a healthy, harmless, and periodic outlet for anti-social behavior, a play fantasy way to get all those messy impulses out of our system?
The latter notion, referred to today as the Theory of Catharsis, was revived and popularized for the Media Age by Seymour Feshbach. His 1955 essay, "The Drive-Reducting Function of Fantasy Behavior," offered a fervent defense of television and movie violence, suggesting that such materials defuse latent aggression by placating viewers with small and safe doses of vicarious violence. In other words, those that occasionally stoke their own biological bloodlust with the power of make-believe are then less likely to take it out on the "real world." Sounds reasonably convincing, except a number of theories spring up afterwards that actively challenged Feshbach's finding. There was Leonard Berkowitz's Theory of Disinhibition, which stated, in affect, that violent media lessens our inhibitions about behaving aggressively and can also confuse our sense of what is or is not "aggressive behavior." This is somewhat related to the Theory of Desensitization, wherein prolonged exposure to fake violence conditions us to think of real violence as "normal" or "natural." And then there's Social Learning Theory, a.k.a. the hypothesis that since we all learn how to behave from observing others, watching dollops of violent media-especially at a young and impressionable age-teaches violence as an acceptable mode of interpersonal relations (Nancy Signorielli, Violence in the Media: A Reference Handbook, pp 16-22).
Those last three, roundly summarized as the Anti-Violent Media theories, have gained a lot of traction in the last few decades. Catharsis, on the other hand, has been rather roundly dismissed by psychologists and cultural theorists alike. B.J. Bushman and L.R. Huesmann, two vocal proponents of the Disinhibition Theory rather brashly asserted that "there is not a thread of convincing scientific data" to support the Catharsis theory ("Effects of Televised Violence on Aggression," Handbook of Children and the Media, p. 236). What they meant, of course, is that controlled group studies of catharsis, the kind that virtually "proved" the Anti-Violent Media theories yielded no such accreditation from the medical or psychiatric community. As far as most of academia is concerned, catharsis just doesn't fly. And yet it still routinely pops up in the critical conversation, a few rogue theorists fighting the good fight on behalf of this (mostly) discredited theory.
- Andrew A. Dowd, “Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Sex and Were Afraid to Watch", ch. 17, Textually Transmitted Diseases, in “Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder” edited by Josef Steiff, Tristan D. Tamplin, (2010)
- “How would you feel about your ex boyfriend getting a robot that looked exactly like you, just in order to beat it up every night?”
It’s a shocking idea, isn’t it? On the one hand, it’s a machine - it isn’t you. But then, it is you, because it stands for you, and who you are.
Whitby added: “I mean, it might be alright, it might mean he can be calmer and more normal with you - think about Aristotle’s theory of catharsis. But we really haven’t discussed this as a society.
- Tabi Jackson Gee, “Why female sex robots are more dangerous than you think “, The Telegraph, (5 July 2017)
- In the context of our reaction to being frightened, it means the removal of pent-up extreme emotions through the experience of them. In other words, it means you first need to get scared in order to stop being scared. Once you get the fear out of your system, so to speak, you become emotionally balanced, ready to go on with your life. . . at least until your emotions get pent up again and you need a new cathartic release. Think about how catharsis can apply to superhero stories, especially ones involving monsters: The superhero - the absolute pinnacle of human nobility and virtue - takes on the monster - the physical manifestation of humanity's irrational fears. And when the superhero triumphs over the monster, not only has the world been saved, but the readers' fears and anxieties have been relieved.
- Stan Lee's How To Draw Superheroes, by Stan Lee, co written by Danny Fingeroth, Keith Dallas and Robert Sodaro, Waston-Guptill Publications New York, (2013), ch.8 “Monsters”, p. 140.