The first episodes of the popular American television series Breaking Bad illustrated development Walter White’s staid teacher to the brutal drug baron, which was staged as a pleasurable personal liberation, however, met despite their artistic appreciation by various prizes on fierce criticism, which only calmed down when Walter White’s bustle in the later episodes in the personal and a family disaster. The animal painting and more shows the narrative that is there.
The Present Choices
Now, one may think this is a wrong approach to artworks. But does the moral critique of the “false message” (the reward of the bad guys) that could emanate from such narratives really represent a fundamental moral imposition on these (film) narratives? In individual cases this may certainly be the case when works of art are subsequently censored because they do not conform to the new norms of political correctness, or when the criticism starts from an anxious conventionality that neither the complexity of film art nor the moral maturity of the audience does justice.
What in narrative like Breaking Bad
However, scriptwriters, cameramen, actors and directors always come to terms with the expectation of the moral reactions of the audience, as film and art are taught. Their anticipated shock or alienation is incorporated in the narrative construction of the modern series as well as in the plays from antiquity and the modern novel. Morality (in the sense of both the thematized morality and the anticipated moral responses of art consumers) is always part of the whole of meaning, not something that is alien to meaning.
This also applies to other eras and other genres and genres. The ancient tragedies invite no less for reflection on ethical conflicts than the “realistic” theater of the 18th and 19th centuries or contemporary television series.
- How is it to be estimated that Antigone even defies the command of Creon at the cost of his own life and buries her brother?
- Is she an admirable resistance fighter against a tyrannical regime or a stubborn and incapacitated person who cares more about the dead than the living?
- And what is Nora’s decision in Ein Puppenheimto leave her husband and children to understand?
- Does she set an emancipatory role model, a new ethical standard, or is Nora simply self-centered and irresponsible in comparison with her friend Frau Linde?
- What is to be said about the violence staged in the Game of Thrones series it is a great art to show us the usually covert but omnipresent power in human relationships, or a reflectionless and irresponsible indulgence in the blood that appeals to the lowest instincts?
The important Kantian insight that the aesthetic criteria of appraising art are different from the moral one is therefore not to be confused with the mistaken idea that art is a field shielded from social, moral and political issues. There is no doubt that there are good reasons to protect art from certain societal and political influences.
Art as a moral threat and moral cure
While the idea of the autonomy and moral neutrality of art has developed rather late, the question of the value and utility of art for morality is almost as old as poetry itself.