05 septembre 2006

Critical Fallacy 2 : Manipulation

Critical Fallacy 2 : MANIPULATION

Unlike the previous installment (Deception), Manipulation purports an agenda, to control and swing the reader's understanding of the film. It's similar in every aspect to Deception, but the writer will resort to other tricks to bend the rendition of the film to suit a particular worldview, be it driven by a religious/political/ideological bias. The manipulation can be positive or negative, respectively to make the film look better (which is the P.R.'s job) or worse (which is gossip trashing) than it actually is.

Manipulation involves several possible fallacies, separately or in concordance :

  • "Ad Hominem" attacks disparaging detractors (free bashing on a personal level of the filmmaker, actor, producer or critics) based on false premise, assumptions, unfounded accusations, gossips.
  • "Poisoning the Well", appeal to spite, bringing back past mistakes or previous bad movies to somehow justify the pan at hand. Or its positive corollary, "Appeal to Pity", recalling a struggling production, last minute cast change, budget cuts, censorship, directorial debut (appeal to novelty), whatever hardship that would justify to overrate the film's achievements and ignore its blatant flaws.
  • "Slippery Slope", dismissing an argument with nebulous arbitrary concepts by dragging them out of context in an endless discussion, to the extent of making one thing mean its opposite. For instance the infamous argument between what is a good film and what is a bad film. Or objective/subjective, popular/elitist, successful/unsuccessful, fun/boring, good/evil, leftist/rightist, timeless/disposable, masterpiece/bomb...

This is the basis for propaganda by shaping up facts on purpose, and pretending that any other interpretation of the film must be wrong. This is very dangerous because a clever and skillful manipulator with an imposing rhetoric can fool everyone. Especially since the source material was only seen by the critics. Thus readers facing a manipulative argument between polarized critics shall take sides with the most persuasive writer, or the one who serves the bias we want to hear, which is not necessarily faithful to reality (what the film actually says).

To engage with a film and confront it with our worldview is really interesting, but this should take place between the viewer and the film, where each can state their own stance very clearly. If this argument is settled by the critic and forced as fact onto the viewer before getting a chance to experience the film... the true dialogue with the film is lost and spoiled by critic. The critic's job isn't to digest and spin the theses of a film, but on the contrary to present its elements as plain as possible to let the readers, and subsequent viewers, to form their own opinions.

Pushing to consumption or influencing viewing decisions should also stay out of (pure) criticism ("go see this" / "don't watch this") because critical scrutiny is meant to bring questions to the reader/viewing, not to give ready-made answers and play the role of a taste-maker.

"A question for all of you — where does film criticism end, and knee-jerk reactionary political diatribe begin? (...) Do Armond's inaccuracies and false charges (which he never bothers to back up with examples) add up to a film review, or is it merely an angry political screed?"

asks Filmbrain at Like Anna Karina's Sweater, describing very well how Armond White manipulates the reality of Winterbottom's film The Road to Guantanamo (2006), for political purpose. Excerpts from his review's review below Film criticism or Op-Ed piece: Armond White and the smugness of torture victims :

"But his contempt for the three young men that exposed some ugly truths about our country's policies is further revealed when he criticizes them for remaining "arrogantly defiant" throughout the whole ordeal. I guess Armond would rather they confessed. To something. Perhaps he forgot that they were released without any charge." [Appeal to spite fallacy]
"Allegations of smugness aside, White also appears to be justifying the use of torture on al-Qaeda suspects, for chaining somebody to a hook on the floor and bombarding them with strobe lights
and death metal is not nearly as bad as the barbaric acts of the Taliban. Huh? Does one have anything to do with the other?" [Straw Man fallacy]

This is a conscious deception to discredit the film based on false premise. This is worse than a mereplot holee argument (like in the Deception fallacy), here the deception goes beyond narrative logic, this manipulation intends to misrepresent the intentions of the filmmakers to build an imaginary charge.

Note : I'd like to add that Manipulation doesn't depend on the stance we assume as a reader. This is a misleading use of a flawed logic. This isn't just the exposition of a (political) view we happen to disagree with. It has nothing to do with a disagreement on content. Here the logical link between one fact and the other is forged and malicious. So the facts brought up might be considered correct under othercircumstancess, but the conclusions drawn from this fallacious presentation of the situation is incorrect and manipulative.

Readers should be cautious of such manipulative techniques. And critics should keep high standards by submitting their thesis to their peers' scrutiny. Or else films and viewers get caught in the crossfire of a wit battle between critics who don't care for whatever films they review as long as they can subdue them.
It's not because critics holds the higher literary ground on their readers that they can get away with clever rhetorical tricks to misrepresent the film and to publicize their own ideological agenda (whatever it is)... for criticism is precisely meant to scrutinize FILMS for flaws and manipulations they commit.

Contributions, disputes, examples are encouraged as always.

6 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Jim Emerson : "(...) But I'm not sure his treatment, or imaginative possession (sexual and otherwise), of his not-at-all-obscure objects of desire is any less tabloid-creepy because it is presented as critical nonfiction rather than as gossip or on some fanatical fan blog, except that Thomson's writing is better. (...)
So, if Thomson is going to write about movie-fed fantasies, and he's decided to focus his on Nicole Kidman, what are his ethical responsibilities when it comes to soliticiting her unknowing cooperation in his enterprise? (...)
I've admired Thomson's criticism -- especially his indispensable "Biographical Dictionary" -- for years, but found his "journalism" (particularly his feigned "insights" into how the American entertainment business and culture works) to be superficial and largely based on speculation and wish-fulfillment."
Nicole Kidman: David Thomson's plaything

HarryTuttle a dit…

via Girish, Adrian Martin on a_film_by :
"Although I myself recycled the word in a recent post, I think we sensible folks at AFB should call a moratorium on dismissing/damning certain filmmakers as 'hip' (or even 'hyp'). Brad said it of the Coens, Mathieu targeted Linklater for this, I turned it on Anderson, etc. But it is a completely meaningless term of abuse, surely. It is below us!
(...) It's like blasting someone for being short, bald, or a pinko. It's always easy code for: 'I think this filmmaker is inauthentic, pandering to an audience, emotionally manipulative, cashing in on fashion', etc etc - and then invariably setting him or her up against some 'visionary', some 'true artist', some spectacularly true-to-themselves human being, who is supposedly the opposite of all that. (And of course, to accuse someone else of being hip means that you yourself are 'above and beyond hip'!) This is just ad hominem abuse. Who knows, finally, whether Linklater (or Coens or Jarmusch or anyone) is busting a gut to be 'hip'? Perhaps they are in fact serious and genuine about what they do! And, by the same token, I bet if Blake Edwards (to cite a director I love) COULD be hip, he would be, in a split second!
(...) Filmmaking - and, er, life itself - is always a messy mixture of authentic and inauthentic motives, 'maverick' gestures and compromises.
(...) We have to say more than that someone is 'hip' to mount a intelligent critique of their work. Otherwise, it's just schoolyard name-calling..."

HarryTuttle a dit…

At Scanners, Jim Emerson quotes excerpts from Renata Adler's jab at Pauline Kael's reviews collection "When the Lights Go Down" in the post : Pauline and Renata Go Showboating (1980)

"To the spectacle of the staff critic as celebrity in frenzy, about to "do" something "to" a text, Ms. Kael has added an entirely new style of ad hominem brutality and intimidation; the substance of her work has become little more than an attempt, with an odd variant of flak advertising copy, to coerce, actually to force numb acquiescence, in the laying down of a remarkably trivial and authoritarian party line."

"The writing falls somewhere between huckster copy (paeans to the favored product, diatribes against all other brands and their venal or deluded purchasers) and ideological pamphleteering: denouncings, exhortations, code words, excommunications, programs, threats."

"All three [citations] involve a perfectly groundless imputation to another (plagiarism, racism, corruption) and a pious personal recoil (mortifyingly, crude, vain). The strategy is characteristic of Ms. Kael's work."

"the book assumes an audience composed partly of people who know nothing about the movies, and partly of people who read only film reviews...."

Hugo Alexandre a dit…

I think I am beginning to understand what you are trying to do. You are deconstructing traditional film reviews as they have been presented to us through press channels. The typical film review, the one which is meant to lightly suggest a sense of what the film is about without giving too much away. The one you read on Friday to plan your weekend outings.

(The critic's job isn't to digest and spin the theses of a film, but on the contrary to present its elements as plain as possible to let the readers, and subsequent viewers, to form their own opinions.)

I have an alternate philosophy on film reviewing, one which does not concord with yours, one which assumes the viewer will form her own opinion anyway so the writer might as well assert his in an elaborate way.

How many times did I have to read that Scarlett was Woody's new "muse" in a review of Scoop? Yet, almost nobody mentionned the obvious fact that it was an hommage to the newspaper films of the 30's, a nostalgic throwback which is so typical of Woody's love of cinema. I think your rigorous standards have good intentions but still severly limit film criticism. I will read more to see what you are up to. I am intrigued.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hi Hugo Alexandre,

yes, what i'm dealing with here is only the weak side of criticism, bad reviewing, and one wrong at the time. So my articles don't define the state of criticism each time, only an aspect of it. But we can find these issues even in the best critics. It's not limited to mindless synopsis...

Maybe the readers can form their own opinion, but since the writer saw the film and the readers didn't, they are dependent on what the critic reports as facts from the film to support his own biased theory... and that's where the key to propaganda sets in. ;)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Ad Hominem in Critical Debate (Adrian Martin)