Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Emotionalism - the new chic

In my post about the first episode of the new PBS series "Masterpiece Mystery", "Inspector Lewis", I made the following speculation:

Now this might be a great leap in my reasoning here, but I do wonder if Lewis's decision does not reflect the new British ethos, the one we have seen oozing out of the tight seams of British iron control over their emotions (in itself something of a myth, but still..) ever since Princess Diana's death. Away with the stiff-upper-lip tradition, the "fair play" principle. Emotions take over the phenomenal coldness and restraint of the British people. And emotions are expressed in raw justice, that is, revenge as an acceptable and legitimate response to injustice inflicted upon you.

Today, I came across this post by Martin in the Margins which speaks to the same phenomenon:

But I think it's also a symptom of the increasing emotionalisation of everyday life (other signs include roadside shrines, crowds weeping at funerals of dead royals). One Scottish parent quoted in the piece says 'I am not sure where the hysteria starts, but when it does it spreads very easily and it is difficult to stop.'

The post goes on to explore the presence of homophobia in the classroom. That the two issues, extreme emotionalism and prejudice are somehow connected is the reason why I find Inspector Lewis's moral choice so disturbing. It speaks of a deeper kind of transformation. Societies that surrender too willingly to romanticism and a rawer type of emotional self-indulgence are insecure and therefore in grave danger of becoming ever more intolerant. Prejudice is directly affiliated with subjective feelings and disinclination for self-examination or critical thinking.

3 Comments:

At 10:01 AM EDT, Blogger bob said...

I absolutely agree with you (and Martin) about the emotionalisation of British public life. I associate it with the influence of American popular cultural forms, and specifically with pop psychology as disseminated by self-help manuals, women's magazines, "mind, body, spirit" books, and, especially, day-time television.

Diana's death opened the floodgates for the plebianization of the phenomonon Christopher Lasch described in The Culture of Narcissism and Richard Sennett in The Fall of Public Man.

However, I saw that Lewis episode (it's a great series) and am not sure if that is a good example. I'll think about it some more!

 
At 12:53 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

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At 12:57 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

As I said, it was a leap from Lewis' decision to my (cautious) conclusion. I would have to work out the rational in greater details but I do see a certain different ethos at play, which worries me not just because I like Lewis but also because I have an instinctive fear of pity trumping justice.

(And an aside, it's not as if pity cannot serve as a mitigating factor in a court of law. But justice must be seen to be done, before pity is admitted. It is a well-entrenched concept in Jewish law, btw, "lifnim mishurat hadin", stopping short before the full extraction of the punishment by law, but I digress).

 

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