Wednesday, February 16, 2011


     The last form of media that I enjoyed was the film Gaslight. (It was the original 1940 British version, not the Hollywood remake.) Its story was simple and straightforward: Husband makes wife think she's crazy to disguise the fact that he's a criminal. No extraneous subplots or confusing twists - just an entertaining movie with great performances from great actors.
     Is it unethical to present a character as insane when she is not? Cruel, yes, in the sense that she is driven to it by another person; still, it isn't meant to be misleading given the context of the plot. I don't know how people reacted to Gaslight in 1940 but I doubt that anyone would have had a problem after viewing the film. One of the most aggravating issues I have with both critics and moviegoers today is that they tend to have knee-jerk reactions to certain subject matter without necessarily understanding the intent of the material or its maker. I can see it now - both advocates for the clinically insane and various feminist groups would come out of the woodworks just to slander the film. (To clarify, in the film the wife feels she is a burden and that she is to blame for her "illness.")
     Gaslight shows the horrible depths that humans can reach, particularly once they have forsaken all sense of ethical and/or moral obligation toward one another. The story, which is an uncomplicated idea, is executed beautifully. Though it is unclear if the director, Thorold Dickinson, made Gaslight with ethical concerns in mind, I suspect his objective was merely to tell the story as candidly as possible. I don't think I learned anything new from the film but, then again, it wasn't meant to be a teaching tool.
     Getting back to the general question of ethics in media, all ethical concerns are subjective. Sure, most people with brains would abhor Nazi propaganda... but the Nazis thought it was A-OK. (On the other hand, Leni Riefenstahl's work is fascinating from a purely technical point of view.)
     I would rather take part in a project that was made with ethics in mind but discusses a separate topic. I appreciate people sending positive messages but I don't much like when said messages are thrown at me. Obviously, any media discussing - for example - war can't help but be intertwined with questions of ethics and morality. However, I prefer stories to allow the viewer or reader to decide for himself.

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