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"Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear."


I've written somewhat jokingly in other venues of aesthetic evil--a notion put forth in some philosophic circles, in David Bowie's Outside, and in the very notion of a 'clip artist'--something I've been thinking about applying to some extent, albeit in an amoral light, in a story about the disenchantment of a hitman with violence. So the idea that morals and aesthetics can be intertwined in complex ways is nothing new.

It is often the case in fiction that evil, good, and the characters which represent them are, perhaps in melodramatic fashion, simplified and distilled to be viewed through a distorted 'less is more' sort of lens. When this is done poorly, we get the stereotypical, lowest-common-denominator sort of product we expect from summer blockbusters and best selling novels sold by the checkout lines of your local supermarket. But it is not out of necissity that such an aesthetic produces lackluster material. One might argue such an approach has resulted in fine children's books, epic poems, and the majority of great and stirring political rhetoric. Regardless, it is true that many of us are pleased by such reductionist perhaps even abstract (as embodied in the examplee of a fully developed Agent Smith, the only truly worthwhile philosophic 'thought' in the Matrix trilogy) accounts of both good and evil. That is to say that we are not just pleased in some way by proper ethical action, but also by wrongful, hurtful, and villainous doings, if only as entertainment, if only as fiction.

Does this implicate us in the wrongdoings? Does this account paint us as perverse, or at least conflicted, imperfect creatures? Well, so what? Is that news?

Maybe. A lot of people hold their aesthetics, their tastes, their dearest fictive loves close to their hearts. They identify themselves with, by, and through that which they enjoy or appreciate. So do morals become entangled with aesthetics in another way. Now, taste is made into a means of measuring oneself and judging others. Elitists and those who despise them (for what reason other than the aesthetic?) both fall in to this practice. Is it wrong, a mistake, irrational? Not so fast.

Ethical and aesthetic claims share some important properties. They are both nomological in nature; they are value judgments. As such, they may very both be mere matters of preference, and if not, if they are relative to something else or even objective, the two might be so for the same reasons. This is often the thinking of moral philosophers who do not want to discard an objective philosophy of art, taste, and the like for fear such an act might snowball into their own field of inquiry--and then into all structured thought, all philosophy, cry the alarmists--leaving us without a definitive right or wrong. If this worry is correct, there is something importantly similar about the types of claims about ethics and about aesthetics. I tend towards the opinion that both are arbitrary and preferential, but are also important, and can and often should be used in a manner similar to that of moral and aesthetic objectivists.

There is no reason that one should not be able to judge an act, product, or person on moral or aesthetic grounds just because such matters are subjective.

And judge people do. You should see how heated some people get when I tell them I thought Gladiator was a mediocre film--or how happy others are when they hear someone agrees with them on that point. If you tell videogame fanatics their pasttime of choice lacks substance and style when it comes to plot, story, or general writing, many will be at your throat. This shouldn't surprise anyone, but perhaps the implications, as discussed above, should.

I dunno.

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