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Catharsis and cathartic effect
Related: Aristotle - audience - emotion - mass media - violence - aestheticization of violence - sex crime - violent film - mimesis
Catharsis in psychotherapy
Catharsis is a form of emotional cleansing first defined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It originally referred to the sensation that would ideally overcome an audience upon finishing a tragedy. The fact that there existed those who could suffer a worse fate than them was to them a relief, and at the end of the play, they felt ekstasis (literally, astonishment), from which the modern word ecstasy is derived. While seemingly related to schadenfreude, it is not, however, in the sense that the audience is not intentionally led to feel happy in light of others' misfortunes; in an invariant sense, their spirits are refreshed through having greater appreciation for life.
The term catharsis has been adopted by modern psychotherapy to describe the act of giving expression to deep emotions often associated with events in the individuals past which have never before been adequately expressed. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis#Catharsis_in_psychotherapy [Dec 2005]
Catharsis (or Cathartic Effect): The idea originated with the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who believed that the experience of watching tragedy is cathartic, i.e. it purges the spectator of certain strong emotions. As a result mainly of experiments by Feshbach and Singer, this idea has been developed in media effects research. Watching aggressive media output, it is proposed, does not make viewers more aggressive; quite the contrary -- since the vicarious aggression experienced through the media purges the viewer of aggression, the result of watching violence is less aggression. The same argument is sometimes adduced in defence of pornography. Some researchers have taken the example of Japan, where there is far more violent sex in the media than in Europe, yet a much lower incidence of violent sex crime, to support the view that media experience can be cathartic. (Underwood) --http://clcwebjournal.lib.purdue.edu/library/definitions(communicationstudies1).html [Dec 2005]
Cathartic effect of pornography
In the article, Mr. Peters notes that pornography defenders claim pornography "provides individuals prone to sexual violence with an outlet for their sexual desires. In other words, it has a cathartic effect on individuals who would otherwise commit sexual crimes." And then he punches holes in that theory:
--http://www.obscenitycrimes.org/news/Porn-Crime-Link-RWP-NR.cfm [Dec 2005]
- "If the so-called cathartic effect were working, then the incidence of sexual abuse of children should be decreasing - in proportion to the expansion of traffic in child pornography on the Internet. But experts are concerned that the opposite is happening. . . .
- "If the so-called cathartic effect were working, then the incidence of violent sexual crimes committed by children should be decreasing, because never before has hardcore pornography been so readily available to children. But there is evidence that the opposite is occurring. . . .
- "If the so-called cathartic effect were working, then women should feel safer than ever because never before in human history has so much hardcore pornography been so readily available to persons of all ages. When asked in a 2003 national survey what their 'top priorities' were, however, 92% of women 18 and older said reducing domestic violence and sexual assault. . . .
- "If the so-called cathartic effect were working, then the incidence of violent sexual crimes in general should be rapidly decreasing, because there has been an explosion of web sites featuring bondage, domination, gangbangs, rape, rough sex, and torture. But if Vernon Geberth [NYPD Lt. Cmdr. (retired) and author of Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation] is correct, there has also been an 'upsurge in sexual violence, stranger rapes, and stranger sex murders.' "
Cathartic effect of mediated violenceThere are two approaches towards violence in the media. The cathartic effect theory states that viewing violence alleviates anxieties, the second theory states that viewing violence incites violence. Below is a round-up of documentation found on Jahsonic.com, the internet, Wikipedia and books.google.com.
Media effects discussionFor several decades, discussion of popular media was frequently dominated by the debate about 'media effects', in particular the link between screen violence and real-life aggression. David Gauntlett's article "Ten Things Wrong With the Media Effects Model" (1998), outlines significant problems with the way previous research had been conducted; in subsequent work, Gauntlett instead proposes new creative research methods in which participants are invited to make media artefacts themselves, a reflective process which is said to produce more nuanced insights. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_studies#Development [Dec 2005]
Early research into media audiences was dominated by the debate about 'media effects', in particular the link between screen violence and real-life aggression. Several moral panics fuelled the claims, such as the incorrect presumptions that Rambo had influenced Michael Robert Ryan in commit the Hungerford massacre, and that Child's Play 3 had motivated the killers of James Bulger.
In the 1990s, David Gauntlett published critiques on media 'effects', most notably the "Ten things wrong with the media effects model" article. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_audience_studies [Dec 2005]
Effects theory is the sociological or media studies theory that exposure to representations of violence in any of various media causes (or tends to cause) increased aggression or violence in the audience / consumer. It appears in 'folk wisdom' and newspaper editorials as the claim that x or y media product must be banned in order to avoid the violence it depicts being acted out in society, notably by young people.
Some argue that it is not really a theory, as it lacks a meaningful theoretical grounding; instead it is more like a hypothesis.
The most influential studies on the debate around media studies have usually been headline-grabbing 'proofs' of Effects theory. Subsequent attempts to replicate, modify, refine or reject these headline studies have proven of less interest to the mass media.
This classic study, in 1961, exposed two groups of nursery children to a new play area, containing a selection of toys with which they were unfamiliar. One of the toys was a three-foot inflatable Bobo Clown with a weighted base, designed as a self-righting 'punchbag' toy. As they played, the non-aggression (control) set observed an adult playing quietly with certain toys and ignoring Bobo. In the aggression set, the adult 'model' performed a distinctive set of violent moves on Bobo, such as sitting on its head and punching its nose, striking it with a toy mallet, and kicking it into the air, while uttering aggressive phrases such as Punch him in the nose!. Independent observers later scored children's behaviour for aggression when left alone to play with these toys. Those exposed to the 'aggressive' adult demonstrably imitated many of the adult's moves. (See Bandura et al)
Congressional Hearings, 1981
These hearings were called in response to rising awareness of crime, and the widespread belief that television was at least partly responsible. The National Institute of Mental Health argued forcefully that a broad review of the then-existing literature confirmed Effects theory. Other organizations, eg CBS, submitted contrary position papers - CBS's was entitled "Research on Television Violence: The Fact of Dissent"
Criticism of Effects theory takes three broad strands. Methodological criticisms focus on hidden assumptions, flawed experimental design, and prejudicial interpretation of results of studies claimed to support Effects theory. Historical criticisms situate the 'meta-narrative' of Effects theory within a long history of distrust of new forms of media, dating as far back as Socrates's objections to the deleterious effects due to the written alphabet. Political criticisms pose an alternative conception of humans as rational, critical subjects, who are alert to genre norms and adept at interpreting and critiquing media representations, not passively absorbing them.
* Bandura et al, 1961, Transmission of Aggression Through Imitation of Aggressive Models, in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582 
--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_effects_theory [Dec 2005]
Clarens makes fascinating observations about the mythical value of these films and their cathartic effect on viewers. --Carlos Clarens
Catharsis and pornography
Danish criminologist Dr. Berl Kutchinsky's findings "that there had been a 30 per cent decrease in sex crimes in three European countries since the legalisation of adult erotica were opposed to his personal beliefs that non-violent adult sexual depictions lead otherwise normal human beings to rape or even to kill."
The scientific foundation of the "cathartic effect" has in recent years been refuted, yet anti-ordinanace/pro- pornography supporters continue to promote ...
See also: Berl Kutchinsky
Sobchack, Vivian, “The Violent Dance: A Personal Memoir of Death in the Movies” in Graphic Violence on the Screen ed. Thomas R. Atkins, New York: Monarch Press, 1976
Vivian C. Sobchack finds that graphically violent movies perform a service for the viewer—they exorcise fears of chaos and senseless death. Discussing such early 1970s films as A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs, she suggests that the stylization of violence, achieved through slow motion and squib effects, elicits the viewer's real-world fears about chance encounters with violence while simultaneously alleviating those anxieties. Sobchack thus suggests that graphic screen violence performs a cathartic effect. Thus, Sobchack suggests that graphic violence performs a useful social function. -- Vivian Sobchack
Feshbach and Singer
In this famous experiment a sample of boys aged from 8 to 18 were observed over six weeks. They were drawn from three private schools and two boys' homes. During the period of the experiment their TV viewing was prescribed for them. The boys were assigned at random to groups, some of whom saw only 'aggressive' programmes, others only 'non-aggressive' programmes. --http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/viofield.html [Dec 2005]
The Accused (1988) - Jonathan Kaplan
In The Accused (1988), Jonathan Kaplan stages a detailed rape scene so that he can consider the moral and legal quality of the spectators who, while not engaging in sexual intercourse, nevertheless shouted encouragement to those that were. Many who saw the film were offended by the brutality of the scenes of the assault. Indeed, in a different type of film, such scenes would have constituted hardcore pornography. But the majority of those who saw The Accused accepted that the violence was contextualised and necessary to reinforce the social and political subtext of the script. Are there any theories that can clarify the issues?
- A film such as The Accused could be considered an example of sensitisation, a form of reverse modelling in which the audience is invited to react strongly against some extreme example of realistic violence so that they are less likely to imitate it.
- There may also be a catharsis. Seymour Feshbach (1955; see also Feshbach & Singer 1971) has argued that fantasy violence can have a cathartic effect on the audience, defusing latent aggression, and reducing the possibility of aggressive behaviour.
Such outcomes would suggest that the depiction of realistic violence can be a public good and that its display should not be limited.
- But, in his "Theory of Disinhibition", Leonard Berkowitz (1977, 1986), proposes that while some people are naturally aggressive, they are usually able to repress this tendency. An obsessive interest in violent imagery in the cinema or on television may weaken their inhibitions and lead to a feeling that the release of their aggression is acceptable.
- This is allied to the "Theory of Desensitisation" which proposes that the consistent viewing of violent imagery gradually conditions viewers to accept violence as normal, i.e. it dulls their sensitivity to aggressive behaviour in everyday life.
- Social learning theorists propose that some individuals learn aggressive behaviour by observing a role model. Charismatic film and TV characters are, by definition, role models and suggestible people may imitate observed behaviour if they identify and empathise with the characters, and if the characters' behaviour is presented as justified. Hence, for example, explicit warnings of the danger of imitation are given before WWE wrestling shows because the narrative context for the action emphasises the good guys and provides vicarious reinforcement; i.e. the acceptability of the violence is reinforced by being shown as benefitting the good guy as the aggressor. Such reinforcement is less likely in shows where the violence is shown as punished or unproductive.
This confusion as to whether there are potential justifications for depicting violence aesthetically should lead us to the conclusion that it would be difficult to compose any set of criteria for judging acceptability in a censorship system. If censorship is nevertheless introduced, its operation would be uncertain and arbitrary, and subject to politicisation and manipulation by interest groups. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aestheticization_of_violence#An_example [Dec 2005]
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