The article proposes an explanation for why spectators may enjoy excessive punishment when watching fiction, even in Scandinavia where harsh punishment is roundly condemned. Excessive punishment is typically carried out by a vigilante avenger, and in fiction this character is often a fantastic character (e.g., not realistic, taking on superhuman and/or supernatural characteristics). We allow ourselves to enjoy punishment more readily when the character who punishes is clearly fictional. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In, fantastic elements seep into an otherwise realistic setting and allow the spectator to fully enjoy the main characters’ vigilante revenge. The theory of fictional reliefs posited here holds that this mixture of modes facilitates one of two paths to moral judgment.
On Punishment and Why We Enjoy It in Fiction: Lisbeth Salander of the Millennium Trilogy and Eli in Let the Right One In as Scandinavian Avengers
Margrethe Bruun Vaage is a lecturer in film at the University of Kent. Specializing in cognitive film theory, she explores the spectator’s imaginative, emotional, and moral engagement in fictional films and television series. Her latest book is entitled The Antihero in American Television (2016). She has published widely in journals such as the British Journal of Aesthetics and Midwest Studies in Philosophy and Screen as well as in The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory and anthologies such as Cognitive Media Theory and The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies.
Margrethe Bruun Vaage; On Punishment and Why We Enjoy It in Fiction: Lisbeth Salander of the Millennium Trilogy and Eli in Let the Right One In as Scandinavian Avengers. Poetics Today 1 September 2019; 40 (3): 543–557. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7558136
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