What can film and television can teach us about virtues and vices?

06 December 2021

Fictional films and television programs can entertain, uplift, distract and educate us, but could they also help to make us better people? This and related questions were explored at the recent two-day online workshop Screening Virtue, Screening Vice, hosted by the University of Notre Dame Australia.

The workshop is part of an ongoing project titled Screening Virtue – Cultivating the virtues through screen fiction, a collaboration between Dr Sylvie Magerstaedt in the School of Arts and Sciences and Professor John Lippitt, Director of the Institute for Ethics and Society. In line with the interdisciplinary nature of the project, the workshop included speakers from film studies, philosophy, law, theology and education. A broad international interest in the theme was also evident, with registered participants from across Australia, ten different countries and five continents.

The keynote by Professor Joseph Kupfer (Iowa State University), explored the theme of vanity in the 2011 comedy-drama Young Adult. Kupfer’s insightful talk highlighted the ways in which the film shows self-deception and vanity leading to vicious behaviour and hindering the recognition and development of virtue. Other presentations explored topics as diverse as virtuous behaviour and international law in Official Secrets (2019); restraint in Casablanca (1942); and the links between the Desert Fathers and Breaking Bad (2008-13). Dr Magerstaedt and Professor Lippitt jointly presented on loyalty and intellectual humility in the TV detective show Endeavour (2012- ).

“Almost since the arrival of cinema, theorists have tried to demonstrate the distinctive quality of cinematic storytelling and its capacity to explore moral issues”, said Dr Magerstaedt, who specialises in the connections between film, philosophy, ethics and religion. “Given their accessibility, film and television are great ways of engaging more people in reflecting on issues of character and virtue.”

For more information on the research activities of the Institute for Ethics and Society or the School of Arts and Sciences visit www.notredame.edu.au/ies and https://www.notredame.edu.au/about/schools/sydney/arts-and-sciences/research.

Media Contact: media@nd.edu.au