B1 Intermediate US 958 Folder Collection
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Understanding Art Case Study: Inside Out
Western culture has a long history of emotional anxiety,
by which I mean anxiety about emotions.
Thinkers from the Classical period to the Modern
have pitted emotion against reason
as opposing forces vying for the mind's control.
An emotional person was seen as weak giving in
to the path of least resistance to base desires
ruled by capricious feelings.
Yoda: "Fear is the path to the Dark Side."
The strong on the other hand would rule their emotions with reason.
"Everyone feels pressure; the point is don't let it show."
Disney personified this struggle in a short 8-minute cartoon
from 1933 called, aptly, 'Reason and Emotion'.
"Within the mind of each of us, these two wage a ceaseless battle for mastering."
The short is a lightly disguised propaganda piece
hardening Americans against fear tactics
used by the Axis powers in World War 2.
But it was nonetheless a point of reference for
the Pixar team led by director Pete Docter,
responsible for the film 'Inside Out'.
Docter's film is a far more nuanced take on the
inner workings of the mind,
appropriate for a post-40 and post-culture evolution age
when we're encouraged, ostensibly at least,
to embrace emotions
rather than urged to master them.
The film tells the story of the eleven year old Riley
as she navigates a move across the country
and, more centrally, how five emotions
Joy, the leader,
Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger
balance the control of her mind
from a mission control-like headquarters
In this model, each day consists of discrete moments
colored by one of the five emotions
which are sent during sleep to a vast archive
of long-term memories
Very rarely, an experience is so formative
that it creates a core memory which
goes on to form the basis of Riley's personality
imagined as theme park islands
When Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected
from Headquarters, the film chronicles
their cathartic journey through several other mental regions
including Imagination Land,
a Dream Production company
that looks like the Paramount lab,
Abstract Thought,
and a Subconscious Jail.
The catharsis comes when Joy realises that
Sadness is not only useful,
but essential, perhaps even more essential than she is
to Riley's harmonious mental functioning
and overall happiness.
The film itself and its message to embrace
sadness, to feel what needs feeling
is surely a token of progress against
our long standing emotional anxiety
But is this model of the mind and its emotions
an accurate one ?
'Inside Out' bases its theory of emotions
in large part on the work of Paul Ekman,
an influential scientist in the psychology of emotion
Ekman posits that there are seven basic emotions
with universal facial signals,
the ones featured in the film, plus two
that were cut: surprise and contempt.
These basic emotions are ubiquitous,
the world over, Ekman says, and can be read
on the faces of anyone,
whether that's by an astute listener
or facial recognition software like those
Ekman has helped develop controversially
for security and marketing uses.
Ekman and other consultants on the film
have praised Inside Out for providing a model
for kids that is engaging
as well as scientifically sound.
But though Ekman's model may be
the dominant one in the psychology of emotion
right now, it's by no means the only.
Indeed, the field is a far more fractious one
than the film scientific consultants let on.
'Inside Out' seems to suggest that
a child's experiences will be defined by
whichever emotion is at the helm.
What's more of that overall personality
determined by colored core memories
has an emotional driver.
This model stands opposite to the key insights
of psychoanalysis for example, which holds that
emotions can be transferred, transformed
or distorted expressions of unconscious ideas
and repressed experiences.
In other words, feelings of sadness or joy
or fear, are frequently far removed
from their causes.
Understanding them as specific entities is
troublesome because they are often not
what they seem to be,
which is to say that understanding emotion
as the driver and not the expression of ideas
and experience may ignore underlying causes.
Indeed, the idea that emotions or memories can be
separate or discrete in any way is a dubious one.
The film itself begins to challenge this
at the end when the control panel in Headquarters
is expanded to fit all the emotions
and when the memory orbs start to reflect
mixed experience.
But a sense that experience can be quantified,
pervades the film.
And, like anything, that may reflect more about
our culture at the moment than the science itself.
For Joy and Sadness, the scariest place in the film
isn't the subconscious prison
that houses Riley's worst fears,
but a giant pit in the centre of Riley's mind
where memories are forgotten forever
without any hope of recall.
In an increasingly data-driven culture
where more data equals more truth,
the greatest anxiety of all,
is the loss of information.
And the headquarters of Riley's mind
does feel a bit manajurial
with its control panel and user manuals,
and Riley a bit like an automaton,
controlled by a highly sophisticated
technocratic operation.
The decision-making process is a bit wonky too,
since the latest neuroscience tells us
that the frontal lobe enacts a kind of executive function
that mediates between the emotions
in the limbic system, and higher cognitive functions
like reflection and critical thinking,
obviously not always in favour of the latter.
Maybe at this point you're saying the same thing
as the voice in my own head:
it's a kid's movie, it's a comedy!
and that's very true.
And the director, Pete Docter,
has never held this film up as an academic
or therapeutic tool.
He admits the need for poetic and comedic licence,
adding an executive function like
the kind I just mentioned for example,
would no doubt made the film too complex
as would any number of other things,
like the two basic emotions he left out,
or any other emotion.
I don't think his dramatic instincts
can be questioned here
Under the premises of the emotional model
that 'Inside Out' presents,
the narrative unfolds with grace, subtlety,
and intense pointiancy.
I'll leave the formal critique to someone else,
but there's no doubt that this is masterful filmmaking.
I had the tears to prove it.
But it does raise questions about the effect
of popular models of the mind.
Pixar tells stories so mythic and archetypal,
and so well, that it's all but impossible
not to internalise some of their elements,
especially for kids.
If the result is that kids learn earlier and better
why it's important to accept and expect
sadness, then I think it's unquestionably a good thing.
But Sadness and Joy and Fear and Disgust and Anger,
are not discreet things, or self-contained,
or even fully internal.
Neither are personality traits, or, for that matter,
personalities.
Any model of emotion is going to reflect a split
between biology and culture,
between neuroscience and theoretical psychoanalysis.
Don't let anyone tell you that that debate has been decided
one way or the other.
There are as many emotional theories
as there are emotional psychologists.
What's interesting and ironic about 'Inside Out',
is that Riley may come of as a bit robotic,
but a more complex and complete framework
for the inner workings of the mind
can be found in Joy herself:
a character who questions and reflects,
who turns inward, not to another smaller headquarters,
but a cauldron of indistinct compounds of feeling,
influenced by chemistry, situation, and other people.
'Inside Out' may not be perfectly accurate,
but the film inspires something more important
than that, something that doesn't require
scientific exactness.
Emotional intelligence.
It is a sunny day outside right now, hey everybody!
Thanks for watching! Uhm, I love Pixar generally but I love this movie just cause it gives you so much
to dig into and explore and I had a lot of fun making this and putting this together.
Uhm, if you think that the Nerdwriter and what I'm doing here is something that you're not seeing elsewhere
on youtube, you can pledge to my channel by clicking here and going to my Patrion
it's what funds this project and helps me improve the quality, there's so much more I want to do,
there's more series that i'm going to be introducing soon, uhm, and the funding is what makes it possible
I mean, that's the unique relationship between you and me, there's nothing in between us
and what you give me, the money you give me, helps me to make this project better and more in-depth
and I hope that you trust that I will do that by, you know, by the quality of the content that I've made so far.
So thank you so much again for watching and I'll see you next Wednesday.
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Inside Out: Emotional Theory Comes Alive

958 Folder Collection
irene Hu published on January 30, 2019    irene Hu translated    Evangeline reviewed
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