Introduction of terms

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Část 6. kapitoly nazvané „Character Structures, Empathy and Interest“ z knihy Eda S. Tana EMOTION AND THE STRUCTURE OF NARRATIVE FILM (Film as an Emotion Machine). Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers: New Jersey 1996, s. 153-171.

Character Structures, Empathy, and Interest

INTRODUCTION OF TERMS

There are various contexts in which the viewer has the sensation of being "in the film," a sensation characteristically experienced by the natural audience of the traditional feature film. As a viewer I do not only entertain the illusion that I am present in the scene —the diegetic effect—I may even feel that to a greater or lesser degree the adventures of the protagonists are actually hap­pening to me. This experience can take many different forms, which makes it somewhat difficult to describe. In La Peau Douce (1964) we fill in Nicole's thoughts after Lachenay has turned his back on her in the street in order to keep their love secret. We have a different experience, when Reuven is struck full in the face by a baseball in The Chosen (1981); we almost feel as if we ourselves are the victim. And watching King Kong (1933), one sympathizes with both the girl and the huge gorilla as the animal majestically undergoes his fate, amid a rain of bullets fired by stupid, insensitive human beings. In describing such experiences, people often speak of identification or empa­thy. Although based on the diegetic effect, these phenomena are clearly dis­tinct from it. It is quite conceivable, for example, that the illusion of being present in the fictional world is absolute without the viewer experiencing any appreciable involvement with the events taking place on the screen. The ex­act meaning of the terms identification and empathy differs according to the context and the field of research; the result is an assortment of widely dif­fering concepts commonly referred to by the same name. (For recent surveys

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undertaken from a broader perspective, see Schoenmakers, 1988; van Vliet, 1991; and Zillmann, 1991b.)

We are fortunate in being able to examine the phenomena of identification and empathy within quite a limited framework, focusing on viewer emotion and, more particularly, interest. Before doing so, however, we must mention one special manner of participating in a feature film. We all know that it is possible to feel drawn into or borne along by the movement of the camera or the objects in the scene, or by the stream of images created by montage and reinforced by the music; numerous lyrical passages in feature films could be cited as examples. By analogy with the use of music and the visual arts in psy­chology, it is possible to speak of empathy. Lipps (1906) referred to the total immersion ("projection") of the self in an object as characteristic of total em­pathy. Michotte (1953/1991) used the term "motor empathy" for the imita­tion of the rhythmic movements observed on the screen. (For a general overview, see also Kreitler & Kreitler, 1972, pp. 264-281). Following on the terms introduced in chapter 3, A—artefact—empathy may be seen as the op­posite of F—fiction—empathy. We will not be examining A empathy here, as this would involve a separate study of not inconsiderable proportions. More­over, according to our model, the processes of F identification /empathy in­volved in the viewing of a traditional feature film in themselves make up a large proportion of the determinants of interest.

As we know from the Principles laid down in chapter 4, interest is deter­mined by the dynamics of anticipations and outcomes, called up and re­inforced by the fictional events. Anticipations and resolution may be seen as a form of costs and benefits. In chapter 5 we saw that one of the sources of expectations and anticipations consists in thematic structures, and we ex­amined their role in the cognitive processing of feature films. A second source of investment and return, (i.e., another determinant of interest), is to be found in the expectations and anticipations that are rooted in the viewer's own knowledge of, and feelings toward, the characters of a film.

Our description of these determinants is based on two simple assumptions. First, we assume that the watching of a feature film is accompanied by ho­mogeneous experiences, (i.e., that the experiences of various viewers are comparable), the reason being that the effects intended by the maker are op­erative in all viewers. The sadness expressed by a particular viewer when a sympathetic protagonist contracts a fatal disease is less relevant for our pur­poses where that sadness is caused by the fact that a close relative has been similarly struck down. While this fact is extremely important for the viewer in question and for the manner in which he or she experiences the film, ex­planations based on life experiences and personality factors can at most help to account for the preference that certain natural viewers of the traditional feature film display for a particular genre. Thus when we speak of identifica-

CHARACTER STRUCTURES, EMPATHY, AND INTEREST 155

tion/empathy, we will be referring to processes that in principle operate in all viewers in response to a certain film. As regards our second assumption, during the discussion of interest in chapter 4 we emphasized the activity of the viewer and the fact that active participation that respects the rules of the game is rewarded. This point of departure clashes with certain views on iden­tification that have attained some popularity within contemporary film the­ory. I would like to begin with a few remarks on this subject.



IDENTIFICATION IN CONTEMPORARY FILM THEORY: THE TRAGIC VIEWER

Under influence of the psychoanalytical orientation in French film studies, which has been evident in the last two decades, identification has become a prominent subject of theorizing (see also the discussion of the etat filmique in chap. 2). Metz (1975a) introduced a distinction between primary and sec­ondary identification: the former refers to the identification of the viewer with him or herself, the latter to the identification with the film character. Identification with oneself has to do with the fact that the viewer is forced to share the perspective of events presented by the camera. You identify with a certain view, which ultimately becomes your own. The basis of the expres­sion "identifying with one's own view" is not entirely clear. We assume that Metz is referring here to the cornerstone of the diegetic effect, the illusion that the viewer is actually present in the fictional world as an (invisible) spec­tator. A similar reading of Metz was put forward by Aumont, Bergala, Marie, and Vernet (1983). According to these authors, primary identification is iden­tification with the camera. On logical grounds, I have chosen to distinguish the diegetic effect from identification/empathy.

In its more general sense, the secondary identification referred to by Metz is an identification with characters. It is possible that what primary and sec­ondary identification have in common is the reflection of an imaginary, ab­sent object, based on a lack of some kind, a shortcoming that is at once com­pensated for and constantly recalled. Film technique denies the existence of this lack, creating the illusion of presence; in this sense it is a fetish, a sur­rogate, which is enjoyed not only by the cinephile, but also by the average filmgoer. This tragic representation of affairs is most clearly defined in the formulation of primary identification by Aumont, Bergala, Marie, and Vernet (1983). The viewer is prompted by a desire the precise nature of which

. . . est certainement a chercher du cote d'un etat d'abandon, de solitude, de manque: le speetateur de cinema est toujours plus ou moins un refugie pour qu'il s'agit de reparer quelque perte irreparable, serait-ce au prix d'une regres-

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sion passagere, soeialement reglee, le temps d'une projection. (Aumont et al., 1983, p. 172)

... is assuredly to seek a state of abandon, solitude, want. The cinema spec­tator is always something of a fugitive, whose concern is to redress some ir­reparable loss, even at the cost of a passing regression, socially controlled, last­ing only as long as a projection, [author's translation].

For Metz, establishing a paradox between what viewers want and what they ultimately get is the crux of the argument, which is in itself an amusing point. In the view of Aumont et al., this obscures the issue of the operations that constitute identification and the circumstances under which they are carried out. Aumont et al. propose several such operations that are quite useful, as we will see. First, there is the operation that consists in following the narra­tive in search of the Restoration of Balance (chap. 3). In chapter 5 we saw that something resembling empathy is involved in understanding the various events, which are themselves governed by themes. This was abundantly clear from the analysis of the process of understanding the film Punishment. Sec­ond, Aumont et al. mention identification with the character through the op­eration of a type; third identification with a character due to the structure of the situation; fourth identification at the level of the surface structure of the film (the decoupage); and fifth identification with the narrative. It is not en­tirely clear whether some of the factors are identical to or merely influenced by identification. I hope that the following exposition will help to clarify this point. One fundamental idea put forward by Aumont et al. is deserving of our attention, namely, the fact that identification requires no in-depth psycho­logical explanation, because, given the diegetic effect, it flows directly from the viewer's attention to, and comprehension of, the film. It may be added that the same goes for other affective attitudes toward film characters as well. Let us begin with the viewer's comprehension of characters.



UNDERSTANDING CHARACTERS

Because viewers have the feeling that they are spectators in the fictional world, a world that has at least some similarity with the real world, it is con­ceivable that many well-known mechanisms of social cognition are applicable to their experience of characters in a film. Thus we are justified in seeing the comprehension of characters as a guided impression formation that extends to the entire film narrative. There is reason to believe that our comprehension of fictional characters takes place in the same way as our comprehension of people in the everyday world or in that of the psychological laboratory (Hoffner & Cantor, 1991). We examine first a number of insights related to fictional characters, and second, impression formation by actual individuals, in an attempt to establish possible similarities.

CHARACTER STRUCTURES, EMPATHY, AND INTEREST 157

Literary Theories on Characterization: Type Versus Person

In narrative theory there have been a number of attempts to arrive at a sys­tem for categorizing the characters that appear in traditional feature films. The proposed systems are in line with recent social psychological views on impression formation. No doubt the best known distinction that has been put forward in the field of literary analysis is that between flat and round char­acters, as launched by E. M. Forster (1927). This distinction also appears in drama theory, for example, in the contrast between one-dimensional and mul­tidimensional characters (Pfister, 1977). According to Forster flat characters or types appear in strong plots, such as those employed by Dickens and Wells. The strength of the plot precludes the possibility of the reader seeing through the shallowness of the characterization. On the other hand, one will search in vain for types in a tragedy. Forster contrasts the type with the round char­acter, who carries within him or her the unpredictability of life itself. Char­acters like this predominate in the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

In general one would do well to exercise a certain restraint in applying this distinction to whole genres. However, the usefulness of such a dimension, say, from type to person to individual (Pfister, 1977), is, in the light of our objec­tives, undeniable, if only because it implies a kind of trade-off, in terms of complexity, between the course of the narrative events on the one hand and the characters on the other. In certain genres, such as the tale or the novel, the complexity of the narrative is concerned mainly with the way the plot de­velops. The themes that feed the plot contain a multitude of possibilities for reversals of expectation, countless shifts and turns, and an abundance of ironic twists (see chap. 5). In other genres, such as novels or tragedies, the complex­ity, that is, the postponement of the major outcomes of the narrative, is rooted in the development of the characters and their interrelationships.

A similar dichotomy in genres is to be found in Barthes (1966). He pro­posed a distinction that recognizes, on the one hand, functional narratives, which rely heavily on linear sequences of action, guided by narrative func­tions, such as those distinguished by Propp and Bremond. The popular fairy tale is a case in point. On the other hand, there are the indicial narratives, such as the psychological novel, in which the emphasis is on atmosphere and characterization.89 This distinction may overlap that between the popular fea­ture film on the one hand, and the quality film on the other.


89Obviously, there are a great many conceivable transitional forms. Thus it is quite possible that what we designated earlier (chap. 5) as a quality film, notably the so-called psychologically realistic drama, meets Auerbach's (1946) description of the great realist literary work dating from before the 20th century, which combines a tragic involvement with the individual, regard­less of his or her particular place in the hierarchy, and a comic interest in society, all of which results in an apt representation of the actual conditions. Examples include Host sonaten/Autumn

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In chapter 5 we said that in the traditional feature film the major focus is on the thematic action, while less attention is given to an insightful exami­nation of character, especially in comparison with the so-called modern art cinema, with its subjective realism (Bordwell, 1985). Pfister (1977) pointed out that the limited psychological treatment of the characters has a long cul­tural and historical tradition, while the opposite approach did not make its appearance until the Sturm und Drang period. This does not mean that the viewer of the traditional feature film in general, and the popular action film in particular, is deprived of in-depth psychological examinations of character. For one thing, even types are to some extent individualized. As Scholes and Kellogg (1966) noted, Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller have quite striking traits of their own, despite their admitted resemblance to other famous literary duos, such as Quixote/Panza and Holmes/Watson. And although it would be misleading to speak of an exploration of character in the strict sense of the word, the viewer must at the very least go along with a characterization that often transcends routine typification. Harvey (1965) maintained that in everyday life "the bore bores us" and we are repelled by the hypocrite (pokrytec), and yet when they appear in the fictional world we cannot get enough of them. In the second place, the interaction between the various types makes possible a greater degree of depth. According to Harvey (1965), the protagonist ac­quires a semblance of depth precisely because there are other characters playing out their roles in the background. Let us look now at an example of relationships between different types. Cards are relatively static and pre­dictable characters, although not necessarily simple, who are often at once comical and pathetic. (For example, the faithful Cheyenne in C'era una volta il West/Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), who is invariably turning up at the side of the hero, the "Harmonica Man," and in the end dies a heroic death, or the faithful Lieutenant Bates in The Third Man (1949), who catches Harry Lime's first shot, intended for the hero Martins.) Harvey referred to Cards as "chemically pure," whereas drama theorist Beckerman (1970) char­acterized them as "narrow," in a reference to the extent of their potential for development throughout the drama as a whole. A second example is the Fi­celle, the representative of the reader/viewer in the fictional world. He or she is contrasted with the protagonist by virtue of the common sense that the hu­man, driven, or spontaneous protagonist lacks or is contrasted with the pro­tagonist in the matter of social background. In 'Round Midnight (1986) Fran9ois, who associates with the "tenor hero" Dexter Gordon, could be a Fi­celle, like Scott Fitzgerald's young alter ego in The Great Gatsby (1974) and Thompson, the journalist in Citizen Kane (1941).

If no great attention is bestowed upon character in film theory, film criti-



Sonata (1978), Dersu uzala (1975), Under the Volcano (1984), The Dresser (1983), The Dead (1987), Smultronstdllet/Wild Strawberries (1957), and A Woman Under the Influence (1974).

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cism does highlight the significance of characters. The bridge between liter­ary theories concerned with character reading and psychological theories re­lated to the comprehension of actual people is formed by Bordwell's account of the interpretation of film characters by professional film critics (Bordwell, 1989b). However, the schemas devised by Bordwell, on the basis of which crit­ics interpret characters, are of such a general nature that it may be assumed that they are also employed by the natural viewers of the traditional feature film.90 The comprehension of characters is a major strategy for lending co­herence to the film text. According to Bordwell, it consists of two compo­nents. First, characters are conceived of as persons in a folk (lidské) psychological sense. They are linked to a body, they display perceptual activity such as self-awareness, they have thoughts and feelings, they are characterized by per­sistent dispositions, and they are capable of self-generated actions. All these qualities are included in the term "intentionality." In the second place, the image that one has of characters guides one's understanding of all the other elements of the film narrative and the artefact. Thus there are various con­nections between character and cinematography. For instance, a threatening villain may be filmed from a lower point of view, or irregularities of physiog­nomy may be emphasized by lighting.


Psychological Theories of Impression Formation: Type Versus Person

Very little psychological research has thus far been devoted to the compre­hension of fictional characters, in comparison with research focusing on the processing of narrative action structures and thematic structures. There is, however, an excellent review study by Hoffner and Cantor (1991), where fre­quent mention is made of research in which real people rather than fictional characters serve as stimuli. The comparison between the formation of im­pressions of media characters and that of real people would appear to be a valid one, according to Hoffner and Cantor (1991). Somewhat ironically, the most recent studies on social cognition have for practical reasons employed mainly imaginary individuals as stimuli, which also blurs the distinction be­tween the two types of research.

Reviewing the literature on the formation of impressions, we see that the earlier mentioned distinction between typological and individual-based cog­nitive structures is the subject of several of the more recent contributions. The picture emerging from the literature involved in what it is to understand other people shows a surprising similarity to current views within the field of literary analysis. However, a major difference is the fact that psychological

90As I noted elsewhere, it is regrettable that Bordwell did not strive for a more general se-manties of characters (Tan, 1990).

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models strive to capture processes instead of looking only at the final results. This means that not only various levels of detail are distinguished but also dif­ferent steps in the categorization of stimulus persons. Let us now take a closer look at these processes.

The categorization of characters is presumably based on our habit of try­ing to organize the rich array of sensory impressions confronting us by link­ing all the different characteristics of the perceived other. It has often been demonstrated that there is a substantial correlation between observed char­acteristics, such as intelligence and dominance, while that between the same objective or measured characteristics may be almost zero and that between observed and measured characters is likewise negligible (Brunswik, 1956).91 If subjects are asked to mentally assess others on the basis of certain char­acteristics, the pattern of correlations between traits is quite different from that reported on the basis of direct observation of others (Pryor, 1986; Shweder & DAndrade, 1980). In categorizing others, people apparently make use of person schemas that describe the connections between traits. It would take very little steering of the categorization process by filmic means to produce a significant halo-effect (Hamilton & Rose, 1980).


Automatic Categorization

At the most elementary level of the encoding of the stimulus, persons are automatically recognized by means of a process that Bruner (1957) called "primitive categorization." It may be assumed that even at this early stage of processing "intentionality" is attributed to the stimulus, thus introducing a distinction between living and inanimate objects. Such basic characteristics as sex and age are also identified. It is more difficult, however, to establish to what extent traits that are important for affect are registered during this stage. But it is logical to assume that the total appeal that an individual has for the subject is not realized in a single instant. In feature films characters are often "introduced," in the sense that a certain amount of time is devoted to presenting them to the audience. The course of the plot also plays a vital role in determining the appeal of a particular character: how she reacts to events determines whether she arouses sympathy or antipathy among viewers.

At a very elementary level of processing, however, the visual image of a film character is capable of producing direct appeal. This may be the case if an unlearned emotional stimulus (Frijda, 1986) or innate releaser is pre­sented. Facial and bodily characteristics that are adaptive for the survival of the species or the attainment of a goal by the individual may be emphasized or exaggerated. We are thinking here of such things as signs of sexual readi­ness, dependence, or approachability (Berry & McArthur, 1986) or a variant

91A recent survey of research into "illusory correlation" is to be found in Fiske and Taylor (1991).

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of appro achability, such as cuteness, as studied by Brooks and Hochberg (1960). These signs call up desire and protective action tendencies respec­tively. The ecological approach to social perception (Baron, 1980) is of par­ticular importance in explaining the elementary process of impression for­mation. Here qffordances are sought, which the individual observed offers for a certain behavior and which are directly observable, without any significant intervention of cognitive processes. Frijda (1993) discussed the importance of the direct observation of affordances for the primary appraisal of situations in the emotion process. An example of a social affordance is the impression of infantile helplessness, which makes possible protective behavior and which is immediately observable in such things as, say, the shape of the head (Al­ley, 1983, 1986). According to Baron (1991), certain emotions, such as anger and fear, are immediately evident in the movements of the model. He sug­gests that in general the observation of personality dispositions is the same thing as the direct observation of social affordances. This would mean that the usual accounts of impression formation assume the existence of more — and more complicated—cognitive operations than necessary.

According to Berscheid (1985), a great many studies attest to the role that physical beauty plays in the attraction people feel for one another. The results of these studies "are such that the physically attractive—across age, sex, race, and all socioeconomic stations—receive numerous preferential social treat­ments" (pp. 453-454). According to Berscheid, this may be due to the fact that the observer tends to assume the presence of various other attractive qualities behind the appealing outward appearance. Hoffner and Cantor (1991) found support for this assumption during research that focused on children and television. It is, however, probable that other dimensions also play a role in determining the appeal of media personalities.

The physical attractiveness of a face is probably related to the degree to which it reflects the average of a particular population. Light, Hollander, and Kayra-Stuart (1981) found that faces described as attractive were also judged to be more common and typical, whereas attractive and typical faces were thought to look more like each other than like other faces. In a later study Langlois and Roggman (1990) actually established that average faces are more attractive. Using computer techniques, the researchers averaged photographs of faces. Stimulus faces that were obtained by averaging a larger number of photographs were judged to be more attractive than those obtained by aver­aging a smaller number of photographs. Langlois and Roggman believe that this is due to a closer association of the first group of stimuli with prototypi­cal representations. They do, however, note that a random sample of portraits of film stars might well be considered more attractive, even though they were not necessarily prototypical. All in all, it is unclear to what extent the appeal of sympathetic protagonists, portrayed in feature films by attractive young men and women, is based on innate releasers, as opposed to familiarity or

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cultural stereotypes.92 But there are other possibilities as well. Garello, Grosofsky, Shaw, Pittenger, and Mark (1989) suggested that the assessment of the physical attractiveness of a person's face should not be based on the average of some reference group or other, but rather on the ideal for that par­ticular individual. That ideal is related to a biological function, the chewing function, for example. This hypothesis was confirmed by experiments in which subjects were presented with illustrations of faces in which the shape of the jaw deviated to a large extent, slightly, or not at all, from a functional archetype.

It is interesting to note the complications that can be deliberately attached to the display of signs, such as innate releasers and determinants of affor-dances. The example of veiled or partially revealed sexual releasers has be­come something of a cliche. There are other examples, such as the smallest of the robots in Return of the Jedi (1983). It is cute as far as its shape is con­cerned, but it appears to be made of a smooth, hard material. This lends it a minimal degree of cuddliness, which is in sharp contrast to the appeal of its shape. A somewhat different example is to be found in Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez (1964), when Louis de Funes plants a passionate kiss on the white helmet of a motorcycle policeman.

From the viewpoint of the film narrative, it is conceivable that innate re-leasers are employed when there is a need to strengthen the typing of char­acters. "Cards" are endearing by virtue of their shortcomings; "Ficelles" are perhaps nondescript because their appearance and behavior lack innate re-leasers. Protagonists are sexually attractive, while antagonists, in particular bad guys, may be characterized by means of innate releasers of aversion and fear. These include such things as a slight deformity, a rasping voice, a per­petual expression of anger, or—less commonly, perhaps—a remote physical resemblance to animals that generally call up a reaction of fear, such as rats, snakes, and scorpions.

In short, we may assume that on an elementary level of impression for­mation by the viewer, characterization makes use of innate releasers or stim­uli that, through processes of conditioning, are related to innate releasers. Such stimuli can be realized both by typecasting and by staging. In view of the fact that on the elementary level of impression formation, perceptual and cognitive processing is not susceptible to conscious steering, and proceeds more or less automatically, the effects of such processes of characterization are largely unconscious and often unavoidable.

92We know that at the moment they are introduced, protagonists tend to be considered at­tractive, although there need not be complete agreement among viewers on this point. But there is another important question that is deserving of further study, namely, the extent to which the appeal of famous actors for a natural audience at their first appearance in a particular film is founded on their appearances in previous films (or even outside the film world), quite apart from or in spite of any innate releasers.

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There are many interesting avenues of research yet to be explored in this area. Do films display innate releasers that do not immediately present them­selves to the unsuspecting eye of the viewer? There may be dynamic charac­teristics—even some of a higher order—in the physical movements, facial ex­pressions, voice parameters, and paraverbal expression that have a more or less automatic effect. Another interesting possibility is that feature films per­manently control the viewer's classical learning processes in such a way that the control by innate releasers is shifted to substitute stimuli (Hearst & Jenk­ins, 1974; Suboski, 1990). For instance, a character with an unconditioned scary face always hums a certain tune or repeats the same fragment of text. This tune or text—heard separately from any image —then becomes scary, even though in itself it is a pleasing or appealing sound, such as a nursery rhyme. In general, we can say that the stylization of characters does not nec­essarily lower their affect potential; the loss of direct releasers of affect is of­ten compensated for by learning processes.

Readers interested in the research into the relationship between the cate­gorization of characters and other, immediately observable, sources of infor­mation, such as voice characteristics, dress, and behavior, are referred to the survey by Hoffner and Cantor (1991). The previously mentioned hypotheses on the categorization of characters on the elementary level show that it is quite possible to derive affective investment and return from a process that is focused primarily on comprehension of the narrative. The only thing nec­essary for the operation of the innate releasers, for example, is that the viewer wants to know what is going on in the fictional world. The viewer's efforts to understand the action taking place in the film will lead almost automatically to awareness of the details that are made salient by the narrative, details that often have a considerable affect potential.



Categorization on Less Elementary Levels of Processing

Processes of impression formation, which follow logically upon automatic encoding, lead to a cognitive representation of a character that is of varying complexity and degree of integration. Several models, all offering various lev­els of detail, have recently been proposed for impression formation of other persons (Andersen & Klatzky, 1987; Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Wyer & Srull, 1986). Fiske and Neuberg (1990) suggested that in the cate­gorization of individuals there is a whole range of processes, ranging from rough categorization to "piecemeal integration." If the results on a given level prove unsatisfactory, recategorization takes place on the following, more de­tailed, level. This pragmatic quality of the categorization process (i.e., pro­gressive refinement) is in accordance with the possibilities offered by the characterization of the protagonists in the film narrative.

The dual-process model proposed by Brewer (1988) is more suited to the

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typologies familiar from literary analysis. Moreover, it is based on a large body of empirical research and fits the conclusions of an extensive survey of the experimental literature carried out by Wyer and Gordon (1984). According to Brewer, the coarse categorization of individuals runs "top-down," that is, it is category-driven and leads to the instantiation of a type representation. The latter is pictoliteral, that is, it is coded in an analogous, visual format. Type categories are hierarchical combinations of roles, features, and behav­ioral characteristics: "serious professionals with I-dare-you-to-challenge-my-opinion attitudes," as one subject put it, or "Barbara Walters types, gossipers, nosey, yet sly and slightly sluggish" (Brewer, 1988, p. 17). In this sense, they correspond to some extent to the flat characters of Forster (1927). Through individuation, subtypes then arise in which the information deviates some­what from the instanced type.

In the type of feature films where the action plays a fairly significant role in the narrative, as compared to character psychology, the cognitive invest­ment related to character categorizations may consist mainly of trying out and discarding increasingly specific individuation hypotheses. This occurs af­ter a particular character has been introduced and a rapid categorization made on the basis of pattern recognition and innate releasers. This first cate­gorization displays a strong primacy effect (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). The return of ongoing categorization is formed by improvements in the fit and a more complex representation of the character. One of the characteristics of the pro­cess of impression formation may well be that in the processing of the new features—derived from the actions of the characters—which are continually being offered by the film narrative, the main objective is confirmation. Minor inconsistencies in the various behaviors go unnoticed, as long as the impres­sion formation is driven by the anticipation of more global features, as is de­cidedly the case during the watching of feature films. Major inconsistencies, however, do give rise to revisions in the direction of a subtype.

Another method of processing is what Brewer referred to as personaliza­tion. This runs "bottom-up," in other words, it is steered by the input and re­sults in a prepositional representation focusing on a certain individual, with roles and features subordinated. Specific behavior is first stored as concrete information, and only later integrated—by means of combination and infer­ence—to form features. Here the cognitive investment consists in keeping available a large number of particular instances and the relatively laborious process of integration, given the lack of support afforded by a prototypical category. The return would then consist of a rich and complex structure that may be relatively new.

In current film theory there is consensus over the high degree of typing of the protagonists in traditional feature films. The characters who appear in classical cinema are not actually individuals, but can best be described as a collection of traits that are required to realize the prototypical causality of the

CHARACTER STRUCTURES, EMPATHY, AND INTEREST 165

action (Bordwell & Thompson, 1986; Chatman, 1978). Because there are no comparative studies dealing with the agreement between the categorization of individuals, on the one hand, and fictional characters, on the other hand, we can only surmise—by way of provisional hypothesis—that the categoriza­tion found in traditional feature films depends largely on types, although these are to some extent individualized. The role of personalization is prob­ably greatest in the more sophisticated psychological-realistic genres.

A supplement to the dual-process model is to be found in Andersen and Klatzky (1987). These researchers make an interesting differentiation in the concept that Brewer describes as utyping." Trait typing makes use of cate­gories such as outgoing, socially skilled, friendly, nutty, power-loving, self-con­fident, knowledgeable, and intelligent. Social stereotyping, on the other hand, is more vivid and concrete. The categories are also richer in attributes; according to Andersen and Klatzky, the most important of these extra at­tributes of social stereotypes are typical behavior and reactions to certain events, characteristic intentions, and goals of the type. It is conceivable that they fulfill exactly the same functions as the thematic action structures de­scribed in chapter 5. In other words, they function as a rich source of expecta­tions and predictions concerning events and actions. Social stereotypes meet a more specific collection of constraints than trait types. Once the action has gotten under way, detailed schemas of characters must be generated that co­incide with the results that have already become clear from the action of the plot. A social stereotype then functions as a goal-derived ad hoc category, which makes more specific the original rough taxonomic category, as postu­lated by Barsalou (1991; see also chap. 5). The examples suggested by An­dersen and Klatzky include mafioso, clown/comedian, politician/diplomat, bully/gang member, brain/genius, depressed/suicidal, wise man/guru, Ron­ald Reagan, Woody Allen, and Ghandi. These are all characterizations that, when activated, are capable of evoking quite specific expectations concern­ing the further course of events. They do so on their own, and most certainly in combination with thematic action structures. The mafioso is about to pull a fast one on someone, Woody Allen will have a hard time coping, the brain/ genius will undoubtedly invent some ingenious device and become involved in a comical scene highlighting his relationship with women.

The amendment suggested by Andersen and Klatzky is important to an un­derstanding of how we form our impressions of film characters. In the first place, it helps to explain the wealth of possible predictions offered by the film narrative. The film stimulus unfolds quite gradually, and initially the viewer may tend toward trait characterization and social stereotyping. Global pre­dictions are then succeeded by more precise ones. In the second place, trait characterization—in particular, stereotyping—may go a long way toward ex­plaining why one character is seen as real and the other is not. It will be clear from the examples that stereotypes can refer to both fictional characters and

166 CHAPTER 6

real persons; a combination of the two is also possible, as in the ease of Woody Allen the actor and the film character. The fact that stereotypes make no clear distinction between fictional and real-life characters—a quality that might be referred to as "archetyping"—means that they can render a fictional element, in this case a character, believable or, conversely, contribute to the fictional-ization of a real-life stimulus. In the latter case, for instance, an intimidating male person can be dubbed a "Boris Karloff," in an effort to make it easier to deal with him; in the former, one might try to see grotesque fictional fig­ures in a sympathetic, compassionate, or even tragic light. Repulsive figures are often seen as "sheep in wolf's clothing": The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Elephant Man (1980), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and Beauty and the Beast (1991). The more specific the expectations created by such a characterization, especially if they are borne out, the more natural the fictional figure becomes.

The models of impression formation described above all have in common that the mode or level of categorization of the stimulus person depends on the aim of the observer. In other words, there are pragmatic limitations to person perception. It is safe to assume that as a rule the observer will do no more than is absolutely necessary—Taylor (1981) referred to "the cognitive miser"—and we are assuming that revision of an established representation will be avoided. Nevertheless, during the watching of feature films the "pro­cessing depth" of characters is dictated to a considerable extent by the nar­rative,93 including in some cases the revision of established impressions. The course of the story determines how detailed the categorization will be and in­volves working out expectations concerning certain traits of the character. The narrative ensures that the necessity to revise a seemingly completed cate­gorization comes to some degree as a surprise. There are countless, largely sentimental, films in which the plot revolves around a metamorphosis of the protagonist or the relatively late revelation of the true nature of a character. A few arbitrary examples will illustrate this point. The horrid boarding-school headmaster Blanchard (whose nickname was Merleusse or "hake") proves to be a kind and generous man who distributes Christmas presents to the boys who have to stay at school over the holidays (Merleusse, 1935). At the be­ginning of Ceiling Zero (1935) James Gagney, as the test pilot Dizzy David­son, is portrayed as an unscrupulous ladies' man who connives to get another pilot sent on a dangerous test flight; in the end, he gives up his girlfriend to the pilot who really loves her and takes over the other's dangerous flight, dur­ing which he is killed. A less sentimental variant is the gradual revelation of unsuspected aspects of the character of Hannibal the Cannibal, the beast in


93The term depth of processing is borrowed from the work of Graik (Graik & Loekhart, 1972; Graik & Tulving, 1975) and Anderson (Anderson, 1976, 1983), concerning encoding strategies and their effect on memory. Stimuli can be subjected to a shallow or a deeper elaboration.

CHARACTER STRUCTURES, EMPATHY, AND INTEREST 167



The Silence of the Lambs (1991). However, it is not only the depth of the cat­egorization that is determined by the film narrative. The story places all sorts of restrictions on the fleshing out of traits and types. For example, we know that there is a certain relation between the role that a fictional character plays in relation to other characters and the former's psychological characteriza­tion. How could a Ficelle be a dominant personality? Gould we ever visualize the adversary of our hero as a Ghandi rather than the usual mafioso or bully type? And the fact that as the narrative progresses Hannibal the Cannibal is shown to possess a strange kind of sensitivity is bound up with the realization that his opponents —the police and the governor—are being increasingly por­trayed as stupid and corrupt.


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