New course has the morality of Hollywood under the spotlight

Students Monty Hill de Monchaux, Marisa Barrie and Paul Sullivan discuss the philosophy of films with Philosophy lecturer, Dr Laura D'Olimpio.

17 April 2014

Investigating the morality, personal ambition and perceptions of the world which underpin Hollywood's blockbuster films is the focus of a new area of study through the School of Philosophy & Theology at The University of Notre Dame Australia's Fremantle Campus.

Devised by Philosophy lecturer, Dr Laura D'Olimpio, whose PhD was entitled 'The Moral Possibilities of Mass Art', the course examines the philosophical areas of aesthetics and ethics, and the moral impact on society of mass artworks, particularly feature films, and their learning potential.

The unit, 'Aesthetics: The Philosophy of Art', provides students with the opportunity to investigate whether immoral messages in films adversely affect their overall aesthetic value and if an author's intention should be considered when deriving meaning from films.

This new course, available to undergraduate and postgraduate students, reflects Notre Dame's commitment to developing ethical and professional graduates who can think critically in their chosen career path.

"Films are created to bring into context and at the same time shatter our conceptions about today's society. They can promote the status quo, they can share a story of someone's life vastly different to ours, and we can practice sympathy and tolerance from imaginatively engaging with the film's characters," Dr D'Olimpio said.

"If contemporary films depict diverse narratives instead of constructing a homogeneous picture of social reality, then audiences are encouraged to think critically. If we can develop viewers who are critical thinkers, this alleviates the 'fear' of passive audiences who unthinkingly consume the given messages portrayed in some of Hollywood's most recognised films."

Deriving meaning from a film when ethical and aesthetic messages clash, for example when a film is a beautiful artwork yet portrays immoral messages, sparked Dr D'Olimpio's interest in this area of study.

She says providing university students with an opportunity to critically assess aesthetic, ethical, economic and political judgments in films can translate into a greater awareness of the messages that constantly surround us in everyday life.

"I hope this unit of study can provide an avenue for students to critically think about an art form that is ubiquitous in contemporary society," Dr D'Olimpio said.

"Ultimately, what is screened reflects someone's values – whether that be the director's, the producer's, or the film studio's. It is our responsibility to challenge these notions and ask philosophical questions of the film medium."

Dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology, Professor Matthew Ogilvie, said the 'Aesthetics: The Philosophy of Art' unit of study is an important inclusion to the School as it continues to promote the discussion of ethics and philosophy in the community.

"Building on Notre Dame's Core Curriculum of study, this new unit uses an everyday medium to explore messages which viewers may take for granted, messages which deserve to be critically analysed. From The Matrix to Lost in Translation, students will complete this exciting area of study knowing more about themselves and the world around them," Professor Ogilvie said.

'Aesthetics: The Philosophy of Art' is available for study in Semester 2 2014.

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;