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A E J M C  Morality    Heroes &  Villains ( Meghan  Sanders)
 

A E J M C Morality Heroes & Villains ( Meghan Sanders)

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Abstract: In his reformulation of disposition theory, Raney (2004) put forth moral disengagement as an important cognitive process in forming an impression. This discussion revolves around the ...

Abstract: In his reformulation of disposition theory, Raney (2004) put forth moral disengagement as an important cognitive process in forming an impression. This discussion revolves around the addition of moral disengagement to entertainment theories, focusing on the process’ application to the hero-villain dichotomy.

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  • Age-old story of good vs. bad. Probably one of the most iconic images/illustrations we see of this is that of the cowboy. Earliest example given in the research is the black and white hat/clothing. Where good is represented by white and evil by black. The hero and the villain are arguably the classic archetypes that permeate every story.
  • See it perpetuated in media created for young audiences. In cartoons it usually takes the form of attractiveness. The good characters or heroes have softer features and are more attractive, while the villains take on the most socially unattractive features, usually being more angular and grotesque in their features. In earliest research and casual conversation we usually see the juxtaposition of the two. And we’re supposed to root for the good guy because he/she represents all that is good and moral. But, we don’t always connect the most with and enjoy the one that we “ought” to. And research from the last decade or so, and the entertainment industry both tell us this.
  • Earlier this summer, USA Today ran a feature on the 12 villains we couldn’t wait to see this summer. This included: Gargamel, Jennifer Anniston’s character in Horrible Bosses, the Decepticon Shockwave, Red Skull from Captain America, and Sebastian Shaw from the X-Men prequel. In the article, the director of Kung Fu Panda 2 said that a movie is only as good as its villain.
  • Arguably, the good and evil is at the cruxt of every story. Maybe two of the most recognizable elements of a story. There is always a person that we identify the most with and its this person that usually has to overcome a hardship or someone else. The dichotomy sets the stage for an enjoyable experience. We have to connect with the characters. Having such relationships is necessary to enjoyment (Vorderer, Klimmt & Ritterfeld, 2004). How we connect, is the rub, though. The connections are complex, and it’s not always the most morally upstanding person that we’re connecting the most with, despite it being what we “ought” to do. Both are equally suspenseful, engaging cognitively and transporting. Stories no longer rely as heavily on the simple, static archetype (except maybe in superhero movies). Characters, especially villains, are much more rounded. In that same article, actor Gary Oldman said effective villainy is all about finding "the redeeming quality" of the characters to make them watchable on-screen. But if there is no tough upbringing to bolster a back story, then there has to be a villain that is just purely evil, bent on destroying the world and harming as many people as possible, with no conscience. I feel like these industry-related sentiments support what where we’ve been going academically, as far as examining moral behaviors and character types and archetypes. They also represent the complexity of the relationships we build with these figures. So, I want to talk a little bit about what we already know then share ideas as to where we could possible go in further understanding the relationships, the cognitive processes we go through in forming them and the affective responses we have.
  • So, here’s what we know generally, As far as liking, we don’t really care about what happens to and distance ourselves from characters we don’t like. But, this dislike isn’t just reserved for villains, or people who do bad things or morally misbehave. Konijn and Hoorn along with others said that we need to move beyond morality to connections like identification and social attraction, to form dispositional alignments. When it comes to heroes and villains specifically, research has found our personalities, preferences also factor into our relationships, as with any other relationship we may form. And these individual differences can interact with the type of character to influence the overall enjoyment experience. In fact, Raney and colleagues found in 2009 that moralitiy can take a backseat depending on the type of character in question. So, it’s not that we always like the good guy and dislike the bad guy. Our reactions are much more complex than that. And so are the stories being told. There are shades of gray for characters, as far as their moral codes are concerned. So, I think that how we process and evaluate moral information about them can range from being cognitively and affectively simple all the way to complex.
  • In line with these thoughts, entertainment scholars have began focusing their efforts on character types, not just the archetypes of hero/good-villain-bad. In regards to anti-heroes, the extant research says that we tend to think of the hero and anti-hero similarly, but for the anti-hero it’s not the moral evaluation that person that connects us to him/her, it’s the ability to identify with maybe their backstory or the circumstances that led them to break from society’s moral norms. For characters who are morally ambiguous, do both good and bad things, people find them overall as enjoyable as heroes and villains (moreso cognitively for villains)—could be a need for cognition—and they can encourage transportation into the story/narrative. Longer exposure polarizes perceptions of them even more, and for neutral/ambiguous characters the perception becomes worse as time goes on. Couple this with appropriate consequences for behaviors and you end up with perceptions that are more in line with conventional values of morality Can like villains, but can also like them to differing degrees depending on what type of villain they are. So, our dispositions aren’t just about liking a protagonist and disliking an antagonist. They are much more variable than that. Impressions are based on trait content, not just group membership. And so, too may be our connections/dispositions. All of these findings represent a sample of the important steps in understanding this area, which becomes an important one if we think about the possibility of story worlds shifting and melding into actual worlds in various ways and to different degrees.
  • Do they only exist at the most basic level, in simpler narratives, or when the story doesn’t really give us an indication as to how they should be evaluated? Do we need a hero and a villain? Story schema would suggest we do. The following results are from a preliminary study.
  • The manipulation was done via a written show summary, as well as through a 5-minute video clip that resembled a character profile. All of the video information about Danny remained consistent across conditions. It was really the information about Jack that varied. Condition 1: We had Danny as this really good guy. Jack was an unjustified jerk, very dissimilar from Danny. In some ways he was very much like an antihero would be. But, he’s not quite a villain because his end goal is not to bring Danny down and destroy everyone around him. But, he was very clearly the antagonist. Condition 2: Jack was less of a jerk, and his jerky behavior was explained. So, we provided an out for the viewers to connect with him, as well as Danny. Condition 3: The two were just similar. Jack wasn’t a jerk. He was a smartass but not a jerk. Danny was also sarcastic, ready with quippy comebacks. So, this is just one of the things that made them similar. Means at the bottom represent the variable “villainous” Character X condition interaction was significant. While it wasn’t perfect, still see that the direction is in the right direction. They did become more similar across conditions, even though Jack was always thought of as the worse of the two. Moreso, when he was identified as a villain, less so when his bad behaviors were justified, and least so when he was just another guy. But, what struck me is what happened in condition three. Even though there wasn’t a clear identification of him as a bad guy, participants placed him in that category.
  • But if we look at the nearly signficant interaction effect, we see something a little interesting happening. The more similar the characters became—when we didn’t identify one as a hero and the other as a villain, the more inline the dispositions towards them became. Now, this may not sound all that interesting within itself, but if we think about the identification findings, despite the fact that the dispositions became more inline, identification didn’t. Identification became more disproportionate as similarity increased. In other words, while the similarity seems to cause an increase in positive dispositions for both, it kind of screws with identification for both. Another thing to note, when we didn’t identify hero and villain, still saw participants impose a dislike onto Jack.
  • No differences in enjoyment levels. Only see slightly more enjoyment when there was moderate disimilarity. This is consistent with previous findings. I don’t see this as a bad thing however, because to me it at least partially implies that some kind of cognitive process took place that allowed people to maintain their enjoyment. So, this is what I mean by, do we HAVE to have at some basic level a hero and a villain? Have to have the basic tug of war to have enjoyment. At least these preliminary results suggest this is a feasible possibility.
  • Can we change our dispostions? If we are constant moral monitors, then it should be possible for a hero/protagonist to fall from grace and the villain/antagonist to rise to the top. When do we stop morally justifying? Does it depend on the type of behavior that’s being examined. Kohlberg talked about micro and macro levels of morality? Something more at the societal level as opposed to more personal in nature? Minor as opposed to major?
  • Again, Not just about the hero and villain anymore. Even though they are the basic foundation for our stories. But, sometimes it’s hard to tell who is the good guy, and who is the bad. A bad guy may be bad for a reason, as m.d. argues for. Just as ADT argues for an affective continuum, I think there is moral continuum on which characters can slide across, and it’s a continuing process throughout the mediated experience. And I think the broad spectrum of characters, if we think of it as a spectrum, actually maps on to the affective continuum at the heart of disposition theory. Allow for us to still study heroes, villains, and ambiguous characters, but also anti-heroes, protagonists and antagonists. Which antagonist doesn’t always have to be a person, but it can be a person, obstacle, challenge or situation that a person may have to overcome. Viewers locate themselves in the story, shift from the actual world into the story world. What role does morality play in this shift? I also think the above ideas have implications for the cognitive process, so…..

A E J M C  Morality    Heroes &  Villains ( Meghan  Sanders) A E J M C Morality Heroes & Villains ( Meghan Sanders) Presentation Transcript

  • August 2011 Meghan S. Sanders Assistant Professor Deputy Director, Media Effects Lab Manship School of Mass Communication [email_address] @LSUMediaMEL
  • 09/22/11
  •  
  •  
    • Having relationships is necessary to enjoyment (Vorderer, Klimmt & Ritterfeld, 2004)
    • Can be equally transporting, suspenseful and cognitively engaging (Krakowiak & Oliver, 2009)
  • Connections with Characters: What We Know
    • Viewers care less about what happens to disliked characters (Hoffner & Cantor, 1991) , and distance themselves from them (Konijn & Hoorn, 2005)
    • Identification, social attraction, and strength of parasocial relationship can influence dispositions (Konijn & Hoorn, 2005; Tian & Hoffner, 2007)
    • Individual differences factor into the dispositions formed and the enjoyment (Oliver, 1996; Raney, 2002; Raney, Schmid, Niemann, & Ellensohn, 2009;Weber et al., in press)
    • Our own personalities can interact with the type of character, to influence identification levels and enjoyment (Sanders, 2003)
    • Anti-hero’s actions similar to hero’s when it comes to moral judgment (Raney et al., 2009)
      • Identification rather than moral judgment drives enjoyment
    • Morally ambiguous characters are just as realistic, and emotionally enjoyable and transporting as heroes, and just as cognitively enjoyable as both (Krakowiak & Oliver, 2009)
    • Prolonged exposure more strongly polarizes virtue perceptions of heroes and villains, while neutral characters less virtuous (Tamborini, Weber, Eden, Bowman, & Grizzard, 2010)
      • The consequences influence how righteous the outcomes are perceived to be
      • Perceived righteousness is more in line with more conventional values
    • Within character type, variability in perceptions and responses exist (Sanders, 2005)
    Connections with Characters: What We Know
  • Where do we go from here? 09/22/11
    • Do we need a hero and a villain for enjoyment?
      • Viewers may impose a moral category on characters, when they aren’t explicitly present
      • Story schemas at play
    09/22/11
  • Wilks’  =.91, F(2,86)=4.45, p<.05, p  2 =.09 Condition 1 N=27 Condition 2 N=30 Condition 3 N=32 Strong dissimilarity No justification for bad behaviors M=2.67 ->M=6.04
  • Wilks’  =.94, F(2,86)=2.95, p=.06, p  2 =.07
  • F(2,86)=.14, p>.05, p  2 =.003
    • Can we change allegiances?
      • Can a hero become a villain, and a villain a hero?
      • At what point does moral disengagement turn into engagement?
      • Does it depend on the infraction?
    09/22/11
    • Moral continuum
      • Encompass the stringent moral virtues, amorality, and everything in between
    • Which characters lead viewers to deitecally shift (Busselle & Blandzic, 2008) ?
    • How is morality used in the cognitive process? (Raney 2002, 2004; Sanders, 2010)
    09/22/11 Sanders & Tsay, in progress: http://bit.ly/pz3Cf3