Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Validation/Prestige - Are they the Same?

The notion of literary catharsis is a common one -- the purging of emotion in literature (including film). This might be the point where, at the end of a film, the audience stands and cheers, applauds, yells, hoots, cries. According to Aristotle, this was a key ingredient to the ending of a story.

Of course, in the last few decades, the notion of "validation" has appeared. This is a psychological term, used to refer a confirmation that perhaps deals with one's ego. For example, purchasing a new television might "require" friends to come by and compliment it (validation -- good choice). Or a choice made might "become" the right choice if someone with experience and knowledge supports the choice. Or, the most common, students who are graded look for good comments on paper -- validation of their work.

In literature, validation takes on a different aspect. Typically, the reader/viewer is not interactive. Instead, she is passive in the art form. This means that the common notion of validation does work, unless the book or film directly speaks to the reader (perhaps by name). Here is the catch. Through literary devices, readers feel sympathy for protagonists. This connects them (0ften) to a character in the story. It allows the reader to invest interest, emotion, hope. In essence, this sympathy links the reader and the protagonist. Therefore, the protagonist's successes are the reader's successes. Basically, it is living vicariously through the literary figures life. The hero of a story does what the reader wants/desires to be done. This is a strong connection; one that brings happiness or sadness at the end of a tale.

So where does validation come in? If a reader (or viewer) is strongly connected with the protagonist, then any success in the story becomes a shared success by the reader/viewer -- perhaps provoking an emotional response. It just so happens, in the film The Prestige, the person collecting tickets at the theater said that "this was a great film." I wondered what the connection between the ticket taker and the magicians in the film was, and why the strong link.

One theory is that the film provides a form of validation for the audience. If the world is known by everyone (including the viewer) to be commonplace -- solid through and through, then, as stated in the film, isn't the audience looking for the illusion, even though we know it is just an illusion? Maybe the validation in this film isn't strong catharsis, but the completion of the magic trick; the changing for the world from the mundane to the magical. After all, a magical world does sound like a better place, one with hope, mysteries, possibilities not limited by society.

I suppose the irony here is that a film that reveals that most of what we view, in relationships, in entertainment, in business, in everyday life is somewhat lifeless is the same film that announces that the audience needs illusion (say the superstructure of society; the fabrication of social constructions such as "social prestige--" recognition among peers, validation -- is the film that delivers these things, all the while explaining that they are not real. It could be argued (quoting the film) that "no one cares about the man in the box," (read as society); rather, everyone cares about the man out front; the one taking the bow; the one who stands out, who is socially validation.

Now there is a concept. Society is a cultural construction, and artificial thing, and yet, members of society need its validation to place us in the proper stratum/status of society. Hmmm.
So what was it that the ticket taker liked so much about the film. Was there personal validation – hope of a world that wasn’t based on greed, competition, anger, hatred (as displayed in the film). Or maybe she was simply tired after a long day of standing on her feet.


Stewart Sternberg said...

Let me try and apply your words to rap music.

I have a group of rural males. Their idea of "the hood" is Sterling Heights. They sag their pants, they wear their hats sideways, and try and talk in with some sort of "ghetto" slang. They listen to the toughest, nastiest gangster rap they can find.

When I ask them what is the appeal, they respond that the music is "real". The rappers, in their words, are talking about the truth.

What, I wonder, is the validation. These kids will leave school and drive by fields with cows, and chickens, and pigs.

Taking your point, let us say that the gangster experience validates their need or desire for power. The gangsters are a manifestation of teen angst. An unhealthy one, if you ask me, but a strong one nonetheless.

I'm just rambling here. Taking your post and trying to apply it to another level of popular culture.

Maybe I should start writing rap.

William Jones said...

I think that pretty close to what I was hinting around at. In your example, the attire, music, and persona combine -- in theory -- to expunge their angst. The real question is: Is that what they are validating?

(Here I go!)

In the case of literature or film, their is less direct interaction. The experience is emotionally active, but physically passive.

But maybe what the group of kids you mentioned is looking for is social identity. That is to say, they are exchanging their indentities for reproductions of social identities. In the most abstract form of the term, they are becoming simulations of another identity.

Jean Baudrillard has a clever book on this subject, titled Simulacra and Simulation. Of course, many other works discuss identity reproduction as well (Marxist theory often refers to it).

So the question is, why would anyone want to reproduce an identity in exchange for an original identity (if that is what is happening). Oddly enough, many people, some of them young, feel the need to rebel against "society." So by taking on the persona of a "rebel" (a pre-packaged, pre-determined, identified, classified, identity) they feel validation as a "rebel." However, maybe they are simply conforming to a social construction of rebellion, all the while believing they are actually rebelling. A "conformity of gangstas"? Perhaps that form of rebellion is the safest form for "society." Afterall, it is society that tends to impose conformity. So why not "sell" a simulation of rebellion? Eventually the simulation destorys the original, and what is left is a simulacra. An identity that is no longer connected to the original concept -- and a socially safer construct to deal with.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Interesting idea. The Gangbanger is a model of rebellion because it is manufactured by the overculture to ensure a safe form of rebellion.

Eminem would seem to fit that model. He is the identity no longer connected to the original concept. Or, to paraphrase Baudrillard:the notion of reality has been complicated by the profusion of images of it. The real exists no longer.

Jeff Edwards said...

When I think of "catharsis" as applied to movies, I imagine audiences cheering when the antagonist is killed at the end of films like "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle."

When I think of "validation," I imagine the "Dirty Harry" series, especially the first, where the audience identifies with Callahan because he is doing what they would like to do: cut through the red tape of bureaucracy and deliver real justice.

But how is this different than catharsis? Isn’t the audience still experiencing an emotional release when Callahan deals with the killer? Or is validation that extra step where the audience lives vicariously through the protagonist, whereas catharsis is just the final release needed at the end of a roller-coaster tale?

As for the ticket taker and "The Prestige," maybe you are reading too much into the comment about the movie being good: Remember that quote attributed to Freud, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Maybe the ticket taker just liked the story, the music and the acting, and simply enjoyed the film as a piece of entertainment...!

William Jones said...


Quoting Jeff:
But how is this different than catharsis? Isn’t the audience still experiencing an emotional release when Callahan deals with the killer? Or is validation that extra step where the audience lives vicariously through the protagonist, whereas catharsis is just the final release needed at the end of a roller-coaster tale?

I think you describe it well. If there is a difference between the two, catharsis and validation, I'd say that one is an emotional release while the other is "affirmation" (living vicariously) through the character(s).

Sometimes literature generates emotions which require "purging," as Aristotle might say, while society/culture (AKA "red tape") create tension that can be handled through validation. Or as some would argue, mishandled through validation -- because such validation removes the "call to action" that might normally exist.

As for the ticket taker, you are certainly right. Maybe she simply enjoyed the film. Getting a word from ticket takers in Michgian (about the film) is not always easy. And in the same week, I'd heard others make similar comments. What captured my attention is that the film wasn't heavy with action, romance, or spectacular special effects, which all seem to be a requirement for "good responses." So I looked for reasons that might appeal to viewers -- all of them are literary tactics.

Vwriter said...

If I didn't know better, I'd think you all were discussing advertizing, or it's poor relation- politics.