Originally uploaded by macropoulos
Way, way, way before TV was ever invented, philosophers were debating the effects of entertainment on society. Today poetry has a marginal effect on American culture, but back before TV (and novels), poetry and rhetoric were major cultural forces.
Note: a fellow anti-TV person, “Dry Lips” who is much more conversant on Greek culture, pointed out that:
“Poetry didn’t mean the same back then as today. “Poetry” did in fact include a whole number of different genres. Epic poetry, for instance, is a genre that has completely disappeared today, but was the historic forerunner of today’s novels. Theater was also in bound form, (dramatic poetry) and continued to bound until (I think) as late as the 1700’s. I think modern people who don’t know too much about literature, could misunderstand what you quoted in that wikipedia article… I think if you substitute “fiction” for “poetry”, you would probably be closer to the intention of Plato.”
Thanks Dry Lips! Also added to the end of the post are a couple of links delving further into what Plato and Aristotle meant, or at least what scholars believe they meant.
“Plato proposed to ban poets from his ideal republic because he feared that their aesthetic ability to construct attractive narratives about immoral behaviour would corrupt young minds. Plato’s writings refer to poetry as a kind of rhetoric, whose “…influence is pervasive and often harmful.” Plato believed that poetry that was “unregulated by philosophy is a danger to soul and community.” He warned that tragic poetry can produce “a disordered psychic regime or constitution” by inducing “a dream-like, uncritical state in which we lose ourselves in …sorrow, grief, anger, [and] resentment.” As such, Plato was in effect arguing that “What goes on in the theater, in your home, in your fantasy life, are connected” to what you do in real life.”
And in a way Plato has been vindicated. If you think of modern media as a new, updated and more powerful form of poetry and rhetoric, then yes, the scientific evidence is pretty overwhelming, entertainment does have an effect, for good or for ill.
“Aristotle, though, advocated a useful role for music, drama, and tragedy: a way for people to purge their negative emotions. Aristotle mentions catharsis at the end of his Politics , where he notes that after people listen to music that elicits pity and fear, they “are liable to become possessed” by these negative emotions. However, afterwards, Aristotle points out that these people return to “a normal condition as if they had been medically treated and undergone a purge [catharsis]…All experience a certain purge [catharsis] and pleasant relief. In the same manner cathartic melodies give innocent joy to men””
Aristotle, on the other hand, argued for catharsis, the idea that drama or poetry that elicits strong emotions, helps to purge the audience of those same strong emotions, giving them a “pleasant relief”. Since then, the idea of catharsis has expanded to mean that expressing ones negative emotions will help to purge them from your system.