Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange: Appropriate for College Viewing?

In Ethics this term I am showing Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange (1971). After viewing the first half of the film Tuesday, I received the following email from a student (quoted with permission):

Dr. Kaplan,

I am in disbelief that you made a choice to show that movie. Although it may not be offensive to some it may be to others. Some may not want to waste their time watching such garbage. You should consider how different each individual is. Some may be older and not accustomed to what society feels acceptable today. Others may be Christians and my be blown away by such immorality. Some may even be very young and even in high school considering that our college accepts high school students. Some may have never had a sexual experience and do not need to learn from this. I personally do not understand the purpose of this movie. I also believe that any content you felt was relevant to ethics could have been taught by the choice of another film. I sacrifice precious time with my children daily for my education. I do not think this was educational to me. I would never give up a moment with my children to watch such garbage. I had gained such respect for you because you had been so understanding but now my feelings have changed. I do not expect to be counted absent for leaving early nor do I expect to be counted absent on Thursday because I will not watch any more of that film. If you would like I will attend class once the movie is over. Please let me know.



I answered:

Dear Student:

I fully understand your concerns. As I said before we viewed the film, students could leave if they wished. If you examine the notes for this week and otherwise compare the content of the film and the course material, I think you should agree that the film brings together the central topics of the discussion we've been having since March. Also please keep in mind the college trains people to work in nursing, mental health, corrections, law enforcement, and social work. The film certainly addresses issues that are core to these fields. Don't let the nature of the film as a work of art distract you from a clinical consideration of the film. And as for that matter, the film is, if you examine it carefully, directly addressing the concerns you are vocalizing. That is, the problem of decadence in modern society and the effects of that decadence upon culture. Also, please consider that the director/producer of this film is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and A Clockwork Orange is often considered to be his best film. When the film first came out it was considered science fiction. Now it seems the film is rather about our current times. A student in the Monday evening class pointed out that many of the problems in the film are not only happening in America, but are in the Ohio Valley as well.

I should remark, too, that the material on broadcast television these days is as challenging as that presented in the film. Moreover, the film seeks to expose and criticize such decadence, while television instead seeks to exploit it. And I think that's a point we should do well to consider.

But as I said, you are of course excused if you do not wish to view it. We will finish with the film around 1:45 Thursday if you wish to join us for discussion. I do hope you will finish the film, however, as I would like you to consider it and contribute your views to the class during discussion having viewed the film in its entirety. Otherwise, please see the notes on the course Web site.



This afternoon we finished the film and in the remaining class time discussed the various themes that have bearing upon the course. Some of my class notes can be viewed by clicking here.

Here are some of the discussion points. We will continue to address these next week:

Dystopian Literature and Film
A Clockwork Orange: Dystopia or Satire?
A Clockwork Orange: 1971 and 2011
The Power of the State
Human Nature: Hobbes vs. Locke
The "Human Condition"
The Genealogy of the Totalitarian State/Police State: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany
Hooliganism: Chavs and Neds
Elite, Underclass, Working Class, Middle Class
Recruiting police from the "hooligan" class
Police Powers, the 4th Amendment
Romanticism and Revolution: Napoleon
Beethoven and Rossini
The 60s and 70s--what happened to the Summer of Love, the Flower Children and "Let it all hang out, baby?"
The dark emergence: Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and Charles Manson.
Good vs. Evil
Social Control
DSM-IV: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the power of big pharma
The role of education in cultivating and preserving a free and open society

The student visited me after class and recapitulated some of the arguments from the email. Our conversation was amicable and productive. I asked the student to raise some of these questions in class next Tuesday as we continue our analysis of the film.

1 comment:

Magical Melvin said...

This is what I love about university.

You get people with different tastes and opinions under one roof, and then they talk, and suddenly the world around you is condensed into one room.

The matter was solved amicably, from what I can gather, and I am glad of that too. It's nice to see people engaging and understanding other people's views.

I'd argue that 'A Clockwork Orange' is suitable for college viewing, but then I'm biased towards Kubrick. It brings up important questions about justice and the justice system, about mental health and knowing ones 'self', as well as bringing together dystopias - that of the anarchic with the totalitarian in a postmodern pastiche.

I think in a way that the dialogue between you and your student shows, rather well, how diverse and multivalent morals, justice, and beliefs are. I think it would be interesting to get a summary of views from all of those that watched the film to see how they all interpreted the scenes in it. I think it would only go to show how difficult transcendental morals are.

'the choice of another film'

I think there are other films that could be chosen, but there are differences between showing/telling and feeling/living. I think that many other films that play with this subject end up showing, or informing rather than bringing the audience into the world. I feel that 'A Clockwork Orange' is, in a way, a test. It's trying to make you angry, Kubrick is trying to offend you, he's trying to break down your moral code so you can 'live' the film.

It's a test, it's a difficult film, and I certainly couldn't call it garbage, but it's also not for everyone.