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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.2 (2003) 73-79



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Does Film Weaken Spectator Consciousness?

R.D. Boyd and S.K. Wertz


The role of spectator is crucial for an actor, for there are "no actors without spectators." 1 At times the success of the actor depends upon the role taken by the spectator. Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" depends upon an active,creative, involved audience. Other artists expect their audience to be passive,almost unconscious. Whether the medium of creativity is film or the printedpage, examples of both dependencies abound. The focus of this essay is ona classic piece in the literature about film. In the Theory of Film, Siegfried Kracauer provides us with a mesmerizing printed discussion of film. 2 In this essay we wish to examine his reasoning that is in a self-contained argument by analogy. Since Kracauer does not use or mention the argument thereafter, we feel that we can isolate the argument from its context and deal with it as it stands. After an extended analysis of the argument, we will relate some of the points to the literature on film. The following analogical argument is our focus.

Films...tend to weaken the spectator's consciousness. Its withdrawal from the scene may be furthered by the darkness in moviehouses. Darkness automatically reduces our contacts with actuality, depriving us of many environmental data needed for adequate judgments and other mental activities. It lulls the mind....Devotees of film and its opponents alike have compared the medium to a sort of drug and have drawn attention to its stupefying effects....Doping creates dope addicts. It would seem a sound proposition that the cinema has its habitues who frequent it out of an all but physiological urge. They are not prompted by a desire to look at a specific film or to be pleasantly entertained; what they really crave is for once to be released from the grip of consciousness, lose their identity in the dark, and let sink in, [End Page 73] with their senses ready to absorb them, the images as they happen to follow each other on the screen. 3

To support his main point, "Films...tend to weaken the spectator's consciousness," Kracauer develops three intermediate arguments (IA's), which support his major argument (MA). If each sentence in the above passage were numbered one through nine, with the last full sentence being broken into two sentences at the semicolon, the following schema emerges.

In English the chain of reasoning is:

IA-1
Some habitues of film are not prompted by a desire to look at a specific film or to be pleasantly entertained. What they really crave is release fromthe grip of consciousness, to lose their identity in the dark, and let sink in, with their senses ready to absorb them, the images as they happen to follow each other on the screen. Therefore, the cinema has its habitues who frequent it out of an all but physiological urge.

IA-2
Some habitues of film frequent it out of an all but physiological urge. Doping creates dope addicts. Therefore, devotees of film and its opponents alike have compared the medium to a sort of drug and have drawn attention to its stupefying effects.

IA-3
Darkness automatically reduces our contacts with actuality, depriving us of many environmental data needed for adequate judgments and other mental activities. Darkness lulls the mind. Therefore, consciousness withdrawal from the scene may be furthered by the darkness in moviehouses.

MA
Devotees of film and its opponents alike have compared the medium to a sort of drug and have drawn attention to its stupefying effects. Consciousness withdrawal from the scene may be furthered by the darkness in moviehouses. Therefore, films...tend to weaken the spectator's consciousness.

The above chain of arguments influences us, the spectators, to embrace his main point. However, before we are lulled into accepting his reasoning, it will be helpful to examine and evaluate each link. [End Page 74]

IA-1
Some habitues of film are not prompted by a desire to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7809
Print ISSN
0021-8510
Pages
pp. 73-79
Launched on MUSE
2003-05-20
Open Access
No
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