Noël Carroll. 1998. A Philosophy of Mass Art

Emotion and art

Feeling emotion vs judging emotion

Collingwood's false dichotomy

Emotion in narrative

Emotion is the metaphoric glue that links us to mass art

"Speaking metaphorically, we might say that, to a large extent, emotions are the cement that keeps audiences connected to the mass artworks that they consume — especially those mass artworks of a narrative variety, which include not only TV programmes, movies, pulp fictions, and comic strips, but also popular songs whose lyrics often tell a story outright, or presuppose one underlying their dramatic (often romantic) monologues (Carroll 1998:248).

"With much mass art, especially narrative fictions (including song lyrics), eliciting the appropriate emotional response from the audience is generally a condition of our comprehending and following the story successfully as it unfolds. For example, if we do not hate certain characters, then the trajectory of a narrative bent upon punishing them may not only be unsatisfying, but even unintelligible. What, we may ask ourselves, is the author's point in detailing their come-uppance at such length? Why is so much time and elaboration being spent on showing us how this vicious character gets his just deserts?"

"In both life and in art, the emotions have the function of focusing attention (as well as of mobilizing responses). And with mass fictions, the emotions keep us focused on the plot on a moment-to-moment basis. They organize our attention in terms of what is going on in a scene, and they also prime our attention to the kinds of things to expect in future scenes.
"Our emotional responses to earlier scenes will generally contribute to organizing the way in which we attend to later scenes. If we are indignant about a character's behaviour when we first encounter her, then, when she next appears, we will be on the look-out for more evidence of nastiness on her part. Emotions organize perception. Emotions shape the way in which we follow character behaviour, just as in everyday life they enable us to track the actions of others" ( Carroll 1998:249).
"Our emotional involvement alerts us to the potential dangers in situations which we might otherwise ignore. Indeed, such emotions quite frequently alert us to dangers in situations that the characters overlook. Small animal-bites on the neck might mean little to them, but they loom large emotionally in our attention" (Carroll 1998:250).
"If emotions are susceptible to being changed by reasons and to being modified by cognitive states, such as belief states, then we must conclude that, contra the Platonists, the emotions respond to knowledge.[...] The emotions are not necessarily irrational. They have rational criteria of appropriateness that are open to logical assessment. They are naturally responsive to reason and to knowledge. [...] Indeeed, the emotions may serve reason in general by effectively guiding our attention to important information. Therefore, there are no grounds for worrying that the emotions — such as the emotions elicited by mass art — will necessarily subvert reason (Carroll 1998:256).
"Only those that encourage defective cognitive states, like false beliefs or inaccurate patterns of attention, are affronts to reason — and not because they are emotional states, but only because they are epistemically defective( Carroll 1998:257).
"The notion of identification cannot provide us, contra Plato and his contemporary avatars, with a general theory of our emotional involvement with dramas in particular or mass art in general" (Carroll 1998:261).
"The emotions are intimately related to attention. It is this feature of the emotions that should be important to art theorists, rather than the action-mobilizing feature of the emotions, since artworks, in the typical case, command attention, not action" (Carroll 1998:261).
"We are in the position of observers; we do not 'become' the agents in stories. The objects of our emotional states standardly differ from the objects of the emotional states of characters in stories. For generally the characters in said stories are the objects of our emotional states in a way that these characters are not objects of their own emotional states. We pity characters beset by misfortune, though these characters are not generally self-pitying" (Carroll 1998:261).

We are not the characters

"Identification [...] fails as a general account of how we are emotionally engaged by narrative fictions. [...] We do not become the character or acquire her goals. The character's emotion does not transmigrate into us. Rather, our pre-existing dispositions to certain values and preferences are mobilized by the text's providing an affective cement that fixes our attention on the text and shapes our attention to ongoing situations" (Carroll 1998:269).

Emotion = attention

"The real function of the emotions for narrative fictions and mass art, on my account, is, first and foremost, the management of the audience's attention. Of course, successful management of the audience's attention may be economically beneficial. But this may be regarded as a secondary effect and not the primary reason that emotions are indispensable to fictions, including the narrative fictions of mass art. Attention management is the central function of the emotions with respect to fiction" (Carroll 1998:269).

Thoughts can generate emotions

"Arachnophobes can send a chill of fear down their spine by imagining that a tarantula is in their underwear, and most of us can make ourselves gag with disgust, if we imagine the food in our mouth is someone else's vomit. Thoughts, that is, can play a role in generating emotional states " (Carroll 1998:273).
"If thoughts, as distinct from beliefs, can also support emotional responses, then we may have emotional responses to fictions concerning situations, persons, objects, and things that do not exist. For we can imagine or suppose that they exist" (Carroll 1998:274).

Emotional responses relatively generic

"In so far as mass art gravitates toward mass accessibility, mass art will tend toward engaging emotional responses that are relatively generic" (Carroll 1998:276).

Mass art emotions

Carroll lists several emotions typical of mass art, among them:

Note: Not sure where the TV series Luther would fit into this schema: we know from the start who commits the crime(s) and that Luther will catch the villain. How is the puzzle.

Mass art film techniques

Carroll mentions point-of-view editing, noting the estimate in 1994 by Paul Messaris that eyeline matching (its other name) accounts for 97% of the cuts in contemporary television(Carroll 1998:283).

"People from different cultures, are able to identify certain rudimentary ranges of affect — including enjoyment/joy; surprise/startle; distress/anguish; disgust/contempt anger/rage; shame/humiliation; and fear/terror — on the basis of facial expression" (Carroll 1998:285).

Inappropriate emotions

"A mass artwork can be judged to be emotionally inappropriate, for example, if it mismatches the emotion it propones with an unsuitable object, as it might if it encourages race hatred (for example, Nazi propaganda fictions that portray Jewish people as insects or vermin for the purpose of eliciting disgust).
"Or, a work may be open to criticism, if the level of emotional intensity that it engenders is out of proportion with its object. Many mass artworks that are called sentimental (in the sense that the emotions they invite are excessive) may offend in this direction; too much angst over the death of a dog might be an example here (though not one apt to persuade doglovers).
"And, undoubtedly, many pop love songs may lavish too much fervour over slight infatuations. Lastly, in addition, emotional episodes in mass art can also be criticized on the grounds that they elicit certain emotions for the wrong reasons — by, for example, intercutting images of Stalin with battle scenes so as to suggest that the grounds for cheering the defeat of fascism is simply that it makes Papa Joe happy" (Carroll 1998:290).

Note: It is easy to argue that pop songs regularly conflate infatuations into love songs (I want to hold your hand). Hence the pleasures of Cole Porter's sly love songs.


"Propositions implied, presupposed, or suggested by artworks are generally truisms. They are not interesting and informative.[...] Indeed, it may even be a condition of comprehending [a narrative] that the ideally informed, implied viewer already have [a] proposition at her disposal." (Carroll 1998:309).

Note: These are two separate arguments. I am not sure it helps with analysis to bring them together.

Identifications with whom?

"With respect to the moral values of fictional characters, identification seems to be an infelicitous explanation of the responses of readers, viewers, and listeners to them. Almost all fictions present audiences with a range of moral values and ideas, including — very often, if not typically — ones that are conflicting and even contradictory" (Carroll 1998:313).
"I do not think that [the] projection model of identification provides a very plausible picture of audience response. In fact, it appears to me that, if it ever happens, it involves a failure to pay attention to the fiction. It is more like daydreaming than attending to the fiction. Perhaps after a movie is over, people ask themselves questions about how they would have responded to the circumstances in the fiction. But I hardly think that they can be doing much or any of this sort of speculation during the fiction and be paying attention to the fiction at the same time" (Carroll 1998:313).
"The simple theory of identification [...] lacks the means to say how it is that we may morally endorse only certain of a character's moral attributes and outlooks, but not all of them" (Carroll 1998:315).
"We have ample reason to believe that there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as character identification, even if there were such a process it would be of no use for explaining how artincluding mass art — functions to promote moral education, if we suppose that education involves the acquisition of new moral beliefs and emotions" (Carroll 1998:318).
"Consequentialism, propositionalism, and identificationism, though widely held views of the relation of art, including mass art, to morality, all appear to fail. Propositionalism and identificationism are especially problematic as putative models of moral education" (Carroll 1998:318).

Emotions indispensable

"To understand a text successfully [...] involves mobilizing the emotions requisite for the text. One does not understand Trilbyunless one finds Svengali repugnant, whereas anyone left unmoved by the experiences of the members of the Joy Luck Club would find the point of the novel incomprehensible" (Carroll 1998:322).

Moral power

"Narratives[...] provide us with opportunities to, among other things, exercise our moral powers, because the very process of understanding a narrative is itself, to a significant degree, an exercise of our moral powers. [...] In so far as narratives necessarily depend upon activating our moral beliefs, concepts, and feelings, it comes as no surprise that we should want to discuss them and to share and compare (with other audience members) our moral reactions to the characters, situations, and overall texts that authors present to us with the clear intention of eliciting — among other things — moral responses. That is, it is natural for us to think about and discuss narratives in terms of ethics, because narratives, due to the kinds of things they are, awaken, stir up, and engage our moral powers of recognition and judgement" (Carroll 1998:325).

Learning from narratives

"If we suppose [...] that learning is a matter of the acquisition of interesting, non-trivial propositions, heretofore unknown, and/or of freshly minted moral emotions, then [...] we may be sceptical about whether there is such a thing as moral education when it comes to mass narratives, since, in the standard case, there is no moral learning of this sort. For in the vast majority of narrative artworks, and especially in the case of mass artworks, such narratives depend — as a condition of their very intelligibility — upon our antecedent possession of knowledge of various moral precepts, and of concepts of vice and virtue, and so on. Nor do such narratives invest us with, and thereby teach, new emotions; rather, typically they exercise the emotions that we already possess.

Deepening grasp of moral knowledge

"And yet, it does seem that the operative sense of learning in the preceding sceptical argument is too restrictive. For there is another sense of learning — both moral and otherwise — that is being ignored and that applies to the kinds of activities that narrative artworks abet. It is this: that in mobilizing what we already know and what we can already feel, the narrative artwork can become an occasion for us to deepen our understanding of what we know and feel. Notably, for our purposes, a narrative can become an opportunity for us to deepen our grasp of the moral knowledge and emotions already at our command( Carroll 1998:325).
[...]"Texts may become opportunities for enhancing our already existing moral understanding. Thus, the direction of moral education with respect to narratives is not from the text to the world by way of newly acquired and interesting moral propositions, as the propositionalist suggests. Rather, antecedent moral beliefs about the world may be augmented in the understanding by commerce with texts. That is, the pertinent direction of moral education for the clarificationist is, so to speak, from the world to the text" (Carroll 1998:340).

Revising our categories

"In the course of engaging a given narrative, we may need to reorganize the hierarchical orderings of our moral categories and premisees, or to reinterpret those categories and premisees in the light of new paradigm instances and hard cases, or to reclassify barely acknowledged moral phenomena afresh — something that we might be provoked to do by a feminist author who is able to show us injustice where before all we saw was culture as usual. the course of engaging a given narrative, we may need to reorganize the hierarchical orderings of our moral categories and premisees, or to reinterpret those categories and premisees in the light of new paradigm instances and hard cases, or to reclassify barely acknowledged moral phenomena afresh — something that we might be provoked to do by a feminist author who is able to show us injustice where before all we saw was culture as usual" (Carroll 1998:326).

Abstractions to particulars

"Narrative artworks can supply us with vivid examples that enable us to see how to apply abstractions to particulars" (Carroll 1998:331).

Misleading narratives

"Michael Crichton's recent, morally frivolous novel Disclosure[...] pretends to explore the issue of sexual harassment through a case that really has more to do with thriller-type cover-ups than it has to do with sexual politics. The particular instance of alleged sexual harassment is actually a gambit in a corporate take-over. It is hardly a productive case for thinking about sexual harassment. In other words, it focuses attention on the wrong kind of particular. Here, the problem with the novel is that it is essentially digressive, and, in that respect, it misdirects our moral understanding on the issue of sexual harassment. Likewise, narratives that pervert and confuse moral understanding by connecting moral principles, concepts, and emotions to dubious particulars — as often happens in political propaganda — also fare badly on the clarificationist model, since they obfuscate rather than clarify. [...] In many fictions about psychotic killers, like the film (as opposed to the novel) Silence of the Lambs, the murderers are presented as gay. Gayness is advanced as part of their monstrosity, and the audience is encouraged to regard these killers with horror. Gayness is thus represented as literally unnatural. Gayness and monstrosity are superimposed on each other.[...]
"In the movie version of Schindler's Listin the scene where Schindler leaves the factory, director Steven Spielberg strong-arms our emotions by trying to force us to accord Schindler a level of moral admiration that the character has already won from us. As Schindler whines about his Nazi lapel-pin, we are coerced into virtually subvocalizing 'It's okay Oskar. You're a hero and the pin probably helped you fool the SS officers anyway.' Here, our moral emotions are engaged, I think, excessively. Spielberg asks for too much, too late. But, of course, this flaw is rather different and nowhere as problematic as the case of the gay serial killers. In that case, the emotions get attached to morally unsuitable objects for the wrong reasons. At least Schindler appears to be the right kind of object for the emotion in question" (Carroll 1998:337).
Note that in the first example, the judgement of the narrative is made not on aesthetic grounds by from our experience of life: if we believe homosexuality is unnatural, we might see nothing to object to in this framing of the story. But if we do not, the association may seem disgusting and the power of the story over us may be lost. I say may, because narrative works to subdue questions of this sort in our minds, and can appeal to deeper feelings of prejudice (as with Nazi propaganda films).
In the second example, given Spielberg's Jewish background, it seems likely that he was attempting to put across the message that many Germans may have also become disgusted with the Nazi party towards the end, though earlier supporters. This seems to be the experience of the Israeli secret service agent in Spielberg's Munich.
It does not excuse the mis-calculation. Schindler was always aware of the fate of other Jews under Nazis) and his disgust may seem completely inadequate. But Hollywoodian dramaturgy makes a symbolic gesture often stand in for an adequately effective action in real life. It might be called the Hollywood talking cure: a change in attitude is as good as any other form of reparation.

Simulation theory

"Simulation theory in the philosophy of mind is the hypothesis that we predict, understand, and interpret others by putting ourselves in their place, that is to say, by adopting their point of view" (Carroll 1998:343).
"As Kant says: 'It is obvious that, if I wish to represent to myself a thinking being, I put myself in his place, and thus substitute, as it were, my own subject for the object I am seeking to consider (which does not occur in any other kind of investigation)'" (Carroll 1998:345).
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1st edn., trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan, 1953), 336.
Simulation theory is associated particularly with Gregory Currie. See particularly: Gregory Currie, "The Moral Psychology of Fiction", Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 73 / 2 (June 1995), 250-9; and Gregory Currie, "Imagination and Simulation: Aesthetics Meets Cognitive Science", Mental Simulations, ed. Martin Davies and Tony Stone (Oxford: Blackwell, 995.
Simulation theory, to me, seems hardly adequate as an account of how we imagine the minds of others. We are often struck by how different their values are, how various their reactions can be, without necessarily judging them for these differences.
Nor does it seem at all viable as an explanation of our response to cultural products. Do we simulate in our minds the experience of painting an abstract canvas? In narrative, though we may empathize with characters, do we really do so by putting ourselves in their place? Narrative intelligibility largely depends on it.
We may recognize, say, the anger of the protagonist and approve or sympathize with this anger. But there remains a distinct separation between the protagonist's anger and our feelings towards him/her and even the object of the anger. Indeed, the emotional effect of the narrative depends on this distance and is usually a product of the author's skill at predicting/manipulating our reaction and is subordinate to the author's aim in shaping events and scenes.


Carroll himself says: "We respond to fictional situations as outside observers, assimilating our conception of the character's mental state into our overall response as a sort of onlooker with respect to the situation in which the character finds himself; whereas for Currie, when we are involved in simulation or secondary imagining, we are centrally imagining that we are the characters [...] or, as Richard Gerrig and Deborah Prentice call it, [we are] side-participants. [...] With most narratives, especially mass narratives, omniscient narrators tell us what is going on in the minds of the characters. [...] So what need do we have for simulation?" (Carroll 1998:350).

Richard Gerrig and Deborah Prentice, "Notes on Audience Response", in Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, ed. David Bordwell and Noël Carroll (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 388-403.

"A character looks off-screen, and in the succeeding shot we see molten lava streaming toward the camera. Do [...] we feel fear because we are simulating the character's response? I don't think so. We know that molten lava is dangerous without imagining ourselves to be in the character's position" (Carroll 1998:352).
"When a fast movement toward the camera in a point-of-view schema startles us, it startles us directly without our simulating the character's being startled" ( Carroll 1998:353).

Against simulation

"Currie says that when we watch a character walking down a dark street, perhaps in a detective thriller, we enliven the situation by simulating the character's mental state. But I think that this is not usually the case. Rather, we are onlookers" (Carroll 1998:353).


"Most often when we consume fictions our posture is that of expecting the characters to surprise us rather than that of simulating them.
"I question how useful simulation is for following narratives. Simulation is supposed to be a device for predicting behaviour. But very often, the cognitive stock of characters is beyond what the average audience member can simulate" ( Carroll 1998:354).


"There is a question about how much prediction actually goes on in following a narrative[.] When a character is surrounded by the villains, are we predicting what he will do, or waiting to see what he will do?
Also, it seems to me that when we follow a narrative, we more often than not are keeping track of possible future lines of action — for example, will she be captured or not — rather than making exact predictions about the outcomes of earlier events, since the later events in the narrative are generally so underdetermined by the previous events in the story that precise predictions are out of place" (Carroll 1998:354).


"I think that we do have reason to believe that our relation to characters is less often a matter of simulation than of what I have called elsewhere assimilation" (Carroll 1998:354).
Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror , 95-6.


"It is my contention that, in the main, central imaginings, such as simulations, have little to do with our typical response to fictions. That is more a matter of acentral imagining where, on the basis of acentrally imagining the situation of the character (i.e., entertaining it in thought) from the perspective of an onlooker, we go on to formulate our own emotional response to it, often assimilating the character's emotional state as part of the object of our more encompassing emotional state" (Carroll 1998:355).

Jeremy Tambling. 1991. Narrative and ideology

Narratives are 'natural'

"Narratives construct ways of thinking for us — which we accept as natural, and take for granted. They give ways of seeing and ways of representing reality in an imaginary form; Althusser argued that in ideology, people represent not their real conditions of existence, but an imaginary relationship" ( Tambling1991:66).

Narratives keep us reading

"Narrative exists on the basis of certain codes (e.g. Barthes's hermeneutic code) which are designed to keep the reader reading. Any narrative works by interpellation, affirming its way of seeing things — its ideology — to be a natural and inevitable way of reading reality. Narrative is thus artificial, and its rhetorical drive is only part of what Althusser means when he speaks of ideology giving the 'imaginary relationships of individuals'. In narrative, as in ideology, the reader is placed at the centre and made to feel personally addressed. Both ideology and narrative offer individuals pleasurable images to identify with. We have seen this in the stress laid on character in narrative. Writers and critics encourage readers to identify with certain characters — and to demonize others — and to see fictional characters as people they might meet in 'real life'" (Tambling 1991:67).

Narrative and gender

"Laura Mulvey, arguing specifically about film, contends that women are forced into a set of misrecognitions[...]. Texts construct them as the objects of representation, not as subjects: in watching popular cinema, are women forced to identify with male doers? In mainstream literature, journalism, cinema and television, consensual ideological models prevail, confirming certain sexual, racial and gender codifications" (Tambling 1991:70).

Narrative and scopophilia

"The desire to know what is happening on the other side of the door in Tom Jones, and what is behind the rug, where Square is hidden, suggests that the detective novel (based on the use of the hermeneutic code) may well act as a paradigm for many types of narrative, accounting for a kind of pleasure, which psychoanalysis has discussed — a pleasure in looking (scopophilia in Freud's terminology) and in knowing, not free from covert, voyeur-like pleasures, as if the novelist is the intrusive policeman who knows the truth about everybody and the truth about what happened in the past. Plots often work on that basis" (Tambling 1991:72).

Endings are ideological

"The detective in fiction has a function to contain anxiety altogether by providing the illusion that what is wrong in society is traceable to one person [...] the concept of an ending is indeed ideological: a pretence that issues posed by 'the narratable' are capable of resolution. [...] The detective novel commonly characterizes those who resist codification — social deviants of all kinds — as villains" (Tambling 1991:78).

Pleasures of repetition

"Pleasure in the containment of anxiety relates to the pleasure of repetition, since repeating something familiarizes it, makes it safe [...] the same type of narrative and the same language is applicable to each: that such stories are narrativized in ways that make them familiar to each other, and reinforce our ideologically-derived sense that we know how the world is, that its issues are familiar and can be cast in forms which make its narratives already read {déjà: vu or déjà: lu). What cannot be so narrativized is in great danger of not being reported at all" (Tambling 1991:78).

Life is not narrative

"Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) and Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), who wrote with him, themselves felt the absence of life as narration: 'we saw that Life did not narrate, but made impressions on brains'; 'a novel must therefore not be a narration, a report'.1 You could add to this Virginia Woolf's objections to conventional narration, as quoted earlier (p. 7), James's comments in 'The Art of Fiction' (p. 55) and E.M. Forster's distaste for 'story'" ( Tambling1991:96).

Narrativity is moralizing

"In his essay 'The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality', [the historian Hayden White] argues that where 'narrativity is present-- morality or a moralizing impulse is present too'. Writing history as a narrative imposes a goal, a sense of an ending on events taken as part of an Aristotelian plot" (Tambling 1991:98).

Narration makes time human

[Paul] Ricoeur "argues that 'time becomes human to the extent that it is articulated through a narrative mode, and narrative attains its full meaning when it becomes a condition of temporal existence' (i. 52, Ricoeur's emphasis)" (Tambling 991:103).

Trapped in TV narrative

"For [the sociologist Jean]Baudrillard it is not just a matter of metanarratives having lost their ability to persuade, as Lyotard argued; rather, there is no possibility of finding a narrative that will stand outside [the postmodern world's] crazy interchange of narrative signals, where people's lives are narrativized on precisely the same terms as a television programme. People look at images (say on a television soap or on advertising) and form their lives on that basis, while the television forms its own images on the basis of looking at the people. In this swapping of narrative signals, we have the complete triumph of narratives that explain nothing, and the loss of any truth content in the narrative" (Tambling 1991:110).

Sartre and the reader

"Sartre's What is Literature?(1947) is an attempt, on the basis of Existentialist philosophy, to answer the question posed by his title. Barthes was later to state, in an interview in 1975: 'Sartre brought me into modern literature' (GV: 327). To understand Barthes's early work we have to look at the text which, above all others, provided Barthes with the foundation upon which he began to build his own career. What is Literature?posits literature as an exchange between writer and reader. The writer demands that the reader call upon his freedom to read authentically (rather than in some socially preprogrammed manner) and the reader in turn demands that the writer make this demand upon him (Sartre 2001:41). Authors write, Sartre argues, 'so that free men may feel their freedom as they face it' (Sartre 2001:47). This model of writing hinges on the notion of commitment, the writer's (and the reader's) commitment to address, to call upon, their own and other people's human freedom."
"According to the disposition theory, a necessary condition for suspense is that the viewer witnesses the conflicting forces (Zillmann, 1996) without being able to intervene in the goings-on. If viewers could influence the plot, for example, the fate of the characters, their experiential state would change into actual fear or hope. Televised, literary, and cinematic drama, however, clearly does not imply interventions on the audience's part and therefore meets this condition for suspense" (Tambling 1991:64).
"Is it intelligible or at least plausible to follow such a story for weeks or months, only to finally experience relief and merriment through excitation transfer within a few minutes or seconds? Do viewers follow lengthy suspenseful movies with fearful negative consequences for their beloved heroes, only to see them finally succeed within the last two minutes (Vorderer, 1994)? And what about movies and books that leave recipients sad, irritated, or depressed? Is it not true that individuals often seek these negative experiences through the media, and that they are disappointed when drama evokes only weak sentiments? The given lack of insight into this paradox may be due to a fundamental error in reasoning. Theorizing about entertainment so far has implicitly taken for granted a dichotomy that differentiates between entertainment (that may lead to escapism and suspense) and aesthetically valuable, 'serious', ambitious literature, film, and TV programs. According to this dichotomy, only 'high culture' provides users with a possibility to reflect on their own lives. Entertainment, in contrast, has nothing to offer but 'shallow' merriment and enjoyment. Surely, some types of texts and media content support instead a reflective (analytical) or an escapist (involved) mode of reading. In fact, these prototypical examples of texts fit this dichotomy very well" (Tambling 1991:68).
"While there is little data to directly support the sensory delight explanation with respect to media VMH, Kagan / (1996) has recently noted wide agreement among psychologists that one of the primary goals of human behavior is to maximize 'sensory pleasure'. If some individuals do experience sensory delight from these media themes, it could be a powerful motivator for repetitive consumption of this type of media content"(Zillman and Vorderer 2000:75-6).
"Perhaps some of the appeal of images of VMH (violence, mayhem and horror. ) can be explained by the fact that they are unusual or novel. The orientation to novel stimuli may have some evolutionary significance. Dangers often arise from a disruption of the status quo and those who survive best are those who can efficiently and quickly identify new and unusual events in the environment, Novelty seeking, of course, has been identified as a fundamental dimension of personality on which individuals vary." (Zillman and Vorderer 2000:77).
"One of Zuckerman's most recent statements on sensation seeking (Zuckerman, 996) defines the concept in the following way: 'Sensation seeking is a trait defined by the seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experience' (p. 148)" (Zillman and Vorderer 2000:78).

No satisfactory theory

"Psychology, film theory, and communication research have not provided a satisfying theory to describe and explain what suspense actually is, how exactly it is caused by films or books, and what kind of effect it has on audiences" (Vorderer, Wulff, and Friedrichsen 1996:vii)

Focus on text or viewer?

"Concentration on the text implies the danger of underestimating viewers' activities and might support the assumption that the text determines its understanding. An exclusive analysis of the understanding, on the other hand, overlooks the importance of the text and fails to explain the cause of the specific reception" (Vorderer, Wulff, and Friedrichsen 1996:viii).

The elements of anticipation

"1. Given information should not only be understood as such, but should also be regarded as the starting point for future developments in a story, social situation, or course of events.
2. It is necessary to draw up a scenario of what is coming from what the text has informed viewers and what viewers know outside of the text--about life, physics, and psychology in general, but also about genres and modes of narrative.
3. The future situations in the plot are an ensemble of alternative possibilities that are more or less probable--and it is in the acts of anticipation that the degree of probability with which the story can develop in one or another direction can be calculated.
4. Finally, the individual possibilities can be evaluated and possible counteractions by the protagonist conceived. Only this scenario will create the conditions for the feeling of suspense: There is no experience of suspense without anticipation!" (Wulff 1996:1).

Plot is instruction rather than representation

"One should inquire less about how the plot is represented in the text than how readers are guided through the plot: It is instruction, rather than representation, that is the basic textual semantic function" (Wulff 1996:2).

Only foreshadow what will happen

"It is one of the conventions of storytelling that one only foreshadows things that actually happen, and that actually become a subject of the situation" (Wulff 1996:4).
[In Psychowe see the] chance meeting of Marion Crane with her boss. Marion is on the run to her lover with the $40,000 that she had been entrusted to bank. She has to wait at a traffic light in the town, where pedestrians jostle over the crossing in front of the cars. One of them is Marion's boss, who is under the impression that she is ill and at home, because she had left with a migraine a few hours before. He recognizes her and stops in confusion and in thought, but is then pushed on by the other passersby. [...]
We do not know whether the chance meeting has aroused his suspicion. If he really had become suspicious and had called the bank, Marion's robbery would have been discovered and the police would already be on her trail. The meeting with her boss thus forms a possible element of uncertainty for the protagonist: Perhaps her situation has been aggravated, perhaps she is no longer on the run by herself, but pursued by others. Then the police would be involved. Hitchcock clearly picks up on this in Psycho: Marion has slept in the car after the terrible journey through the night. A policeman wakes her up, a dramatic idea that once more stresses the heroine's possible uncertainty. He is, however, unsuspecting. The diversion that the meeting with the boss had made possible does not come about" (Wulff 996:5).
Korte (1987) on [ Jaws]:
"Even the most important detail for the solution of the "shark problem" [!] is presented beforehand almost in passing: Brody mistakenly undoes the wrong knot. The oxygen tanks roll overboard. He has almost caused a catastrophe, as Hooper angrily declares. The observer now knows that they are explosive, but doesn't attach any further importance to all of this at this stage. Quint mocks: "I just wonder what this bastard of a shark would do with them. Perhaps he'll swallow them. I once saw how one of them ate up a rocking chair." (p. 2)
In fact, such narrative long-range references play a significant role in many suspense films, because objects of the narrated world, which can be functionalized in the final problem solving, are being presented in the film's exposition strategy (Hartmann, 1992)"(Wulff 1996:6).
"The disregard of taboos and bans is one of the most elementary approaches of narration. Viewers can always reckon, in their anticipatory activity, on the infringement of the law, the breaking of the rules, and the consequences of such a deed" (Wulff 1996:6).
"A scene is often not fully developed, but only realized to the extent necessary to give an impression of the relevant information that a protagonist must respond to, which the protagonists or antagonists themselves do not even have to be aware of. It is important to give viewers a picture of the situation so they can see a field of dangers, resistances, and obstacles. It is not necessary for a possibly dangerous situation actually to come about. Complications in actions are, for example, often only hinted at" (Wulff 1996:7).
"In the dramaturgy of suspense, all the elements of the text should be examined to see how one can use them to exert influence on the viewer's expectations. In particular, the world of objects is used to present the viewer with a world that is interspersed potentially with meanings and dangers. The fact that the world of objects cannot be left neutral, but is incorporated into the film's discourse and strategies to establish meanings, is perhaps one of the most elementary principles of cinematic signification and communication. No landscape is serene, one might agree with Eisenstein. The landscape loses its innocence in cinematic narrative, turns out to be full of threats and profound thoughts, and is filled with meaning because people act in line with the environments (Wulff 1996:12)."
"Viewers construct the problem-solving area in which they can interpret the course of the plot, evidence, and other exhibits, and so produce their own plot scenarios"(Wulff 1996:12).
"The experience of suspense does not come from something exciting being shown in a film. Rather, it results from the extrapolation of possible events from a given situation; it is the result, or concomitant, of the anticipating activity. It is not what the film shows, but what it discloses, that is the subject of the analysis of suspense" (Wulff 1996:16).
"The nature of human subjectivity is such that it predisposes us not only to the experience of suspense, but, in the case of reading and cinema, actually causes us to seek it out, and, in a manner that is both instructive and problematic, actually enjoy it, despite the level of anxiety and discomfort normally associated with this experience" (Leonard 1996:19).
"Lacan (1988a) wrote, 'the ego is structured exactly like a symptom. At the heart of the subject it is only a privileged symptom, the human symptom par excellence, the mental illness of man' (p. 16). In reading or viewing suspense, the subject puts this symptom into play. The ego and identity, normally experienced as at the base of reality, are put into doubt. In a vicarious position, the subject watches as apparent presentations of reality turn out to be illusion. Such a conflict is represented in every subject's conscious experience of reality. He also argued in Lacan (1988b) that, 'the ego is never just the subject . . . it is essentially a relation to the other . . . it finds its point of departure and its fulcrum in the other' (p. 177). In Lacanian film theory, this supplies the basis for talking about how the gaze constitutes identity for the subject. The movie screen is like the mirror; it offers the subject a way to organize the fiction of identity: 'The human being only sees his form materialised, / whole, the mirage of himself, outside of himself . . . It is through the exchange of symbols that we locate our different selves in relation to one another' (Lacan, 1988a, p. 140). In short, subjectivity is not an essence but a set of relationships. Suspense begins by offering a symbolic system that appears to be natural, in relation to which readers or viewers are invited to constitute their identity, and then this natural order begins to crumble, galvinizing an identity crisis that is unacknowledged by the subject, but not entirely unknown. For an extended discussion of this and other Lacanian terms, see Leonard (1993) entitled 'Reading "Dubliners" Again: A Lacanian Perspective'" (Leonard 1996:19-20).


"The explosion of new types of media in the twentieth century and their ever-increasing role in our daily life have led to a strong sense that 'understanding media' (McLuhan) is key to understanding the dynamics of culture and society. Media are widely credited with the power to shape opinions and to participate in what has been called the 'social construction of reality' (Berger and Luckman). But where, might we ask, does this power to construct social reality come from? For narratologists, the evident answer from media's ability to transmit stories that shape our view of the world and affect our behavior. The stories transmitted by media do not have to concern the real world to produce real behaviors. Indeed, one only needs to look at the fan cultures that develop around the sprawling fictional narratives of film and television or at the distinctive social habits of the diverse groups of players who immerse themselves in increasingly complex game worlds to find examples of a much more direct interrelation between 'fictional' narrative representation and 'real' social interaction."(2)

Not just technological

"Aiming to expand media theory beyond the purely technological approach that currently dominates the field in the United States — an approach that, for example, cannot justify regarding comics as an autonomous medium since they rely on the same technological support as print literature — [Marie-Laure] Ryan suggests that medium is best understood as an inherently polyvalent term whose meaning involves a technological, semiotic, and cultural dimension" (5)
"Oral storytelling does not need any technology at all" (Ryan 28).
One of the key devices of drama is narration without an explicit narrator. Soliloquies give us insight into a characters thoughts, but the playwright is free to insert or withhold this privileged knowledge. The more modern device of voice-overs similarly frames our understanding of the sequence of events (see Blade Runnerfor an example of where the commentary was inserted later). In drama, scenes to which the main character(s) is/are not privy can be shown, sometimes as explanation, sometimes as knowledge shared only with the viewer.However, this non-diegetic use of dramatic possibilities is considered a failing in conventional drama, though acceptable in thrillers ( Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
"Arguing against the prolonged use of terms such as point of view, perspective,and focalization, which have become increasingly vague and open to misunderstanding over the past four decades, [Jan-No&emul;l Thon [makes] a heuristic distinction between subjective, intersubjective, and objective modes of representation that allows for a bottom-up analysis of local, as well as global, structures of subjectivity" (7)
"The choice of medium makes a difference as to what stories can be told, how they are told, and why they are told" (Ryan: 25)
"A necessary condition for suspense is that the viewer witnesses the conflicting forces (Zillmann, 1996) without being able to intervene in the goings-on. If viewers could influence the plot, for example, the fate of the characters, their experiential state would change into actual fear or hope. Televised, literary, and cinematic drama, however, clearly does not imply interventions on the audience's part and therefore meets this condition for suspense. Given these restrictions, the question arises: Why should one get involved with the welfare of fictional strangers?" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:64).

Against identification

"The concept of identification is very popular in publications about media use; it claims that respondents believe they are the protagonists. Therefore, identification exceeds mere admiration and imitation. It includes an adoption of features, or at least an attempt to do so. Yet, simple considerations point out the shortcomings of an application to media use. Usually the viewer or reader keeps clearly in mind the distinction between his or her person and the character in a drama. Very often cues in the drama will prevent the audience from feeling as the protagonist does, through information that the protagonist does not have (such as who plans to kill the hero or where the ticking bomb is hidden) (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:64).
"In contrast to this idea of identification, Zillmann (1991, 1994) suggested the concept of empathy, which has been elaborated in psychology primarily within different contexts, but that seems to be applicable to the cognitive and emotional processes of audiences:
Empathy is defined as any experience that is a response (a) to information about circumstances presumed to cause acute emotions in another individual and/or (b) to the bodily, facial, paralinguistic, and linguistic expression of emotional experiences by another individual and/or (c) to another individual's actions that are presumed to be precipitated by acute emotional experience, this response being (d) associated with an appreciable increase in excitation and (e) construed by respondents as feeling with or feeling for another individual. ( Zillmann, 1994, p. 40)" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:64).
Neither of these concepts seems adequate to realistic audience reception. Does empathy mean anything more than recognizing the emotion of the characters being witnessed? Sometimes audiences are encouraged to identify with characters. At other times, we are consciously supposed to recognize and then approve or reject the characters' behaviour. At other times still, we are meant to struggle to understand what the characters are feeling, and fail, sometimes with concern, and at others with conscious rejection. The flow of empathy is likely to go back and forth as the drama creators plan.
In any case, this recognition does not take us very far.
Motivation: why does the audience seek suspense?
"As long as the emotional effects on the viewers are positive, the question can be answered easily. In fact, most of the research in media psychology has been based on the assumption that media users are hedonistic. They seek circumstances that serve their general well-being and they generally avoid distress (cf. Vorderer, 1996)" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:65).
"Many (if not most) of the stories categorized as drama, however, portray rather undesirable vicissitudes. As described earlier, these depictions often lead to empathic distress, at least during exposure. Therefore, drama often fosters a rather unpleasant form of emotional experience for the viewers. The more likely the protagonist is to fail or the antagonist to succeed, the more intensive distress will be felt. But by the same token, more suspense usually also leads to a more positive assessment of the drama" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:65).
"Many (if not most) of the stories categorized as drama, however, portray rather undesirable vicissitudes. As described earlier, these depictions often lead to empathic distress, at least during exposure. Therefore, drama often fosters a rather unpleasant form of emotional experience for the viewers. The more likely the protagonist is to fail or the antagonist to succeed, the more intensive distress will be felt. But by the same token, more suspense usually also leads to a more positive assessment of the drama (see above). This apparent paradox calls for an explanation. Research provides at least the following four possibilities.
"The oldest explanation for the often observable fact that many viewers seek exposure to drama, despite its potentially noxious effect, is the so-called catharsis doc- / trine. This doctrine goes back to Aristotle's attempt to deal with the redeeming value of tragedy. Aristotle's basic idea concerning tragedy was that exposure to it may in fact evoke undesirable experiences. But these experiences, nevertheless, help to diminish such negative emotions in the real life of the observers. Therefore, Aristotle thought that the audience seeks aversive experiences through tragedy and finds relief afterwards (cf. Scheff, 1979. There is hardly any other notion in drama theory that is as popular as this catharsis doctrine. It nevertheless has failed to gain any empirical support. It is similar to another popular explanation, which has also ignored the genuine enjoyment through drama and focused on its side effects: that is, the idea of escapism. Assuming that life can and will only be unsatisfactory and that individuals have only limited capacities to arrange themselves within their circumstances, the idea that people have to escape from reality was born [...]. Although traced back to Montaigne (1958), this notion became most popular within media research in the 1960s and 1970s" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:65-6).
"This type of entertainment is said to seduce and distract the public from the real problems of life and keeps people busy with what the entertainment industry has to offer (Katz & Foulkes, 1962; Pearlin, 1959). Entertainment, therefore, is regarded as an appropriate means by which to forget the shortcomings of everyday life, fulfilling both a psychological and a social function (cf. Loewenthal, 196)" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:66).[I have not bothered to identify the sources further.]
"Following this perspective, the psychological function is important enough to dominate the short-term effects of distress, which is part of entertainment. In other words, watching a sad movie might imply emotional distress, but it also enhances involvement with a fictional story. By being involved, the viewers are distracted from what is much more undesirable in their own life. Unfortunately, this explanation is, just like the catharsis doctrine, as much speculative as it is plausible. Very little research has been conducted to show whether, how, and with what effect individuals use the media for that purpose" ( Vorderer and Knobloch2000:66).

Excitation transfer

"An empirically supported explanation is provided by Zillmann's idea of excitation transfer (Zillmann, 1978, 1983). According to this idea, physiological arousal during exposure is crucial for the appreciation of drama at its conclusion. Throughout exposure, arousal derives primarily from watching favorable agents who are in trouble. As the story approaches its final outcome, the viewers' arousal increases and is felt as empathic distress. With the final presentation of the desired, although unlikely, outcome, the environmental conditions change from negative to positive. The viewers' cognitive adjustment to this changing situation is very fast, whereas their excitatory adjustments are rather slow. Therefore, the residual excitation from the preceding distressing emotions is transferred into the subsequent euphoric emotion, based on the resolution of the drama. The intensity of the positive emotion is increased and experienced as extraordinarily positive" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:66).
"But does "excitation transfer" also explain the reason why people undergo rather long periods of suffering in order to gain a comparatively short moment of positive feeling? Is the audience really ready to suffer throughout the reading of an entire novel or throughout the watching of a long and suspenseful movie only to briefly feel good afterwards (cf. Vorderer, 1994)?

Social camparison theory

"A fourth explanation is provided by Mares and Cantor (1992), who used social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) to explain the selection and appreciablockquoteion of a short movie by elderly viewers. Social comparison theory states that people in general need and wish to compare themselves with others in order to gain information about themselves. Mares and Cantor concluded that onlookers prefer TV programs that describe a setting comparable to their own life circumstances but that display this setting in an unfavorable manner. This situation provides the onlookers with an opportunity to compare themselves with characters on the screen. In particular, a so-called downward comparison is made, that is, a comparison with less-fortunate others, and contrasts the viewers' own circumstances positively with those depicted in the movie. This results in satisfaction with one's own situation and leads to greater well-being, based on the observation of an otherwise negative and distressing life. As we have seen, drama is often characterized by conflicts. The sheer observation of characters suffering from conflicts gives the audience a positive manipulation of their moods and well-being" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:67).
"Some problems still remain unsolved. / Is it intelligible or at least plausible to follow [...] a story for weeks or months, only to finally experience relief and merriment through excitation transfer within a few minutes or seconds? Do viewers follow lengthy suspenseful movies with fearful negative consequences for their beloved heroes, only to see them finally succeed within the last two minutes (Vorderer, 1994)? And what about movies and books that leave recipients sad, irritated, or depressed? Is it not true that individuals often seek these negative experiences through the media, and that they are disappointed when drama evokes only weak sentiments?" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:68).
"The given lack of insight into this paradox may be due to a fundamental error in reasoning. Theorizing about entertainment so far has implicitly taken for granted a dichotomy that differentiates between entertainment (that may lead to escapism and suspense) and aesthetically valuable, "serious," ambitious literature, film, and TV programs. According to this dichotomy, only "high culture" provides users with a possibility to reflect on their own lives. Entertainment, in contrast, has nothing to offer but "shallow" merriment and enjoyment. Surely, some types of texts and media content support instead a reflective (analytical) or an escapist (involved) mode of reading. In fact, these prototypical examples of texts fit this dichotomy very well. Oatley (1994) followed this distinction in a way by also differentiating between what he called "internal" and "external" emotions. Internal emotions are those that occur when the reader enters the world of the text, depending on how strongly he or she is involved (p. 57). In contrast, external emotions are those a reader feels when approaching a text from an aesthetic distance. Cupchik and László (1994), as well as Vorderer, Cupchik, and Oatley (1997), found empirical support that so-called action-texts instead lead to a suspenseful and rapid reading, whereas so-called experience-texts, although less suspenseful, are evaluated more positively by readers. But despite all of these differences, there is no immanent distinction between aesthetically valuable cultural products and those that entertain. There is nothing that would determine how much suspense and how much self-reflection is possible" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:68).
"The implicit assumption of the dichotomy 'entertainment versus reflection' may be a pitfall. We suggest another starting point here. From our perspective, viewers or readers do not use what has been categorized as entertainment only to be amused shallowly. Just like dreams, daydreaming, memories, and anticipations, mediated experiences and interactions in drama are imaginary (Caughey, 1978) in the sense that the individual internally exceeds his or her actual situation. Although fictional, drama nevertheless relates closely to reality. Social interactions and relations in dramas are similar to real interactions and relations; they function with the same social 'grammar.' Certain dramatic genres like fantasy or science fiction deserve their names by being distinctly unreal at first glance, but draw their attractiveness from the interesting relationship between their presentation and what exists and what is, or will be, possible in real life. Social conflict and structures (e.g., war and hierarchies) are also easily recognizable in these subtypes of drama. As drama exceeds or exaggerates rules and structures of real life in social or physical matters, it reveals often overlooked aspects of re- / ality. In order to understand the characters and the plot of a drama, readers and viewers apply rules of their everyday life and culture. During the decoding of fiction, they empathically feel with and feel for the protagonists of the stories presented, and often this empathy goes along with or is followed by contemplating about oneself. Literary studies and reader's psychology have repeatedly described how exposure to drama provides readers with cognitive and emotional states that cannot easily be experienced otherwise. It is assumed that these states, though sometimes distressing, have their own redeeming value for the reader, as various authors have outlined" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:68-9).
"Oliver (1993) has offered an explanation for sad movies that are apparently appreciated by a large, often female, audience. Since emotions are based on evaluations and appraisal processes, she suggests that meta-emotions provide the pleasure of these films. According to this perspective, viewers appreciate the fact that they are capable of experiencing certain emotional states, even negative ones, and they therefore evaluate a distressing movie positively. In addition to positive assessment of empathic suffering, sad movies deliver an opportunity to express negative feelings that are already there" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:69).
"Vorderer (1998) differentiated between socioemotional and ego-emotional aspects of electronic media use, implying that socio-emotional experiences dwell on the viewer's moral assessments and empathic relationships with characters, while ego-emotional aspects refer to the personal and individual relevance a drama has for the viewer. He assumes that the audience selects and sticks with TV programs for different reasons. One reason is a TV program's potential to enhance the viewers' moods by using their socio-emotional bond with the characters on the screen. Another reason is to provide the onlookers with information relevant to their own lives, using their ego-emotional attention for specific contents. And exposure to such content may include unfavorable experiences" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:69).
"In audience research it has been implied that people can either entertain themselves or reflect on their own lives. But because this dichotomy is no longer based on psychological research, we must disagree strongly. We have learned from social psychology that positive moods may also foster information processing" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:69).
"Entertainment may be considered as a process in which individuals fluctuate between involvement with other worlds, which is rather escapist in nature, and a possible reflection of what this means to them personally. In fact, both tendencies may have negative consequences for the individual if not controlled by the respective other: Escapism may lead to a permanent alienation from the social world if not mediated by reality. By the same token, continuous selfreflection without the possibility of a transient escape from one's own life will be too demanding and exhausting for most individuals" (Vorderer and Knobloch 2000:70).

One problem with this article is that it does not grapple with the reason why audiences will see 'suspenseful' dramas again and again, or critics write of finding something continually new in classic works. It might be thought that a work is designed to achieve a particular effect, but it is then revisited for effects that clearly differ. There are also many popular works of mass art (e.g. the Sherlocktelevision series, that play with memories and references to earlier sources.


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