Evaluation and the Tangle Among Aesthetics, Ethics and Science

I just came back from Toronto this weekend. I love Toronto. In fact, there are going to be about 3 or 4 posts coming from ideas I had from my two-day trip. This is the first.

One of the things I got to do from my hotel room is watch cable television. See, I don’t watch much TV other than what’s on the CBC, and even then my watching consists mostly of kids shows like Poko and the occassional episode of the Simpsons. Restricting my cable TV is a good way for me to save money and an even better way for me to keep focussed on the things that really matter to me like my son and the occassional tinkering with Xforms, PHP and the like.

So, with the cable ready and available I watched an episode on Much Music and there was this top ten show about the best choreographed videos of 2006 or something. The winner was a video by the Pussy Cat Dolls, which appeared well-choreographed (for all my knowledge of choreography). But here is the catch. The announcer was praising a belly-dancing scene in the video and claiming that it was so hot that the floor set on fire.

Ok. I’m all for hyperbole, but this irked me. I watched the video and, of course, the floor sets on fire while the Pussy Cat Dolls are doing their belly dance.

Of course there is no cause-effect relationship between the belly-dancing and the fire. The fire was “caused” by a special effects artist putting fire onto the video as the Pussy Cat Dolls did their sexy dance. I was appalled at this ridiculous claim, presumingly added to the transcript of the show to forward a heroic or even mythical status on the artists, as if somehow their dancing skills could provide some enhanced sexual experience compared to that of anyone else.

There is an element of a “so-what” here though, since primarily the critic was making an aesthetic judgement. The critic can be part artist, and why wouldn’t we accept a certain amount of embellishment tied to the music industry. That’s how they make their money afterall, selling an image. And, as far as the audience goes, well, caveat emptor.

But this was not artistry, but straight-forward selling of an image developed by the industry. The critic did not use her own metaphor to describe the situation, but presented a causal link between the choreography of the video and the imaginary effects produced by the video itself. In short, this is a lie, and a malicious one at that.   One can only guess that the authors of this scenario intend to use its audience as a means to create a mythology around their music video stars.

The same cross-connects occur on the web, most obviously with spam.   One wonders how a democratized web can handle the injections of such memes in the wide scope.   We know that people create hoaxes simply to gain attention.   Urban myths spread across the net like wildfire.   Then again, so do the de-bunks, if the myth happens to cross the path of someone with a critical mind and sufficient time to do the proper research.

But with aesthetic questions the critical bar gets raised.   Can an aesthetic judgement outmode an ethical one?   For instance, are Kimbo Slice’s street fights as “amazing” and “awesome” as I’ve heard expressed in discussion groups?  And if they do have aesthetic value coming from its popular base (and perhaps reinforced by “ratings” on the content), can those aesthetic choices be reasonably mediated by the ethical judgement that creating a market for violence is morally wrong?   While many a writer (eg. Joyce Carol Oates, Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer) have provided aesthetic grounds to justify Boxing, Bullfighting and other quite violent sports, are there ethical limits to these decisions?   Can we expect the Kimbo crowd to provide a safe environment for their bare-fisted boxers in perpetuity?   Does the apparent disconnect between the aesthetic value of a youtube video and the reality of a bloody nose provide any help here?

And what about the costs related to the simple idea that fewer and fewer resources that we can truly trust (99.9% of the time) will be available to the masses if we continue on a “popular knowledge” train.

Or maybe internet access is a mediator to the sort of thing I saw on Much Music.   It’s really hard to tell.    There is a study here for some humanist or psychologist.

 

 

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