Inside Out: Emotional Theory Comes Alive

inside out meaning
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Understanding Art Western culture has a long history of emotional anxiety, by which I mean anxiety about emotions. Thinkers from the Classical period to the Modern have pitted emotion against reason as opposing forces vying for the minds control. An emotional person was seen as weak giving in to the path of least resistance to base desires ruled by capricious feelings. Yoda: “Fear is the path to the Dark Side.” The strong on the other hand would rule their emotions with reason. “Everyone feels pressure; the point is dont let it show.” Disney personified this struggle in a short 8-minute cartoon from 1933 called, aptly, Reason and Emotion. “Within the mind of each of us, these two wage a ceaseless battle for mastering.” The short is a lightly disguised propaganda piece hardening Americans against fear tactics used by the Axis powers in World War 2. But it was nonetheless a point of reference for the Pixar team led by director Pete Docter, responsible for the film Inside Out. Docters film is a far more nuanced take on the inner workings of the mind, appropriate for a post-40 and post-culture evolution age when were encouraged, ostensibly at least, to embrace emotions rather than urged to master them. The film tells the story of the eleven year old Riley as she navigates a move across the country and, more centrally, how five emotions Joy, the leader, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger balance the control of her mind from a mission control-like headquarters In this model, each day consists of discrete moments colored by one of the five emotions which are sent during sleep to a vast archive of long-term memories Very rarely, an experience is so formative that it creates a core memory which goes on to
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form the basis of Rileys personality imagined as theme park islands When Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected from Headquarters, the film chronicles their cathartic journey through several other mental regions including Imagination Land, a Dream Production company that looks like the Paramount lab, Abstract Thought, and a Subconscious Jail. The catharsis comes when Joy realises that Sadness is not only useful, but essential, perhaps even more essential than she is to Rileys harmonious mental functioning and overall happiness. The film itself and its message to embrace sadness, to feel what needs feeling is surely a token of progress against our long standing emotional anxiety But is this model of the mind and its emotions an accurate one ? Inside Out bases its theory of emotions in large part on the work of Paul Ekman, an influential scientist in the psychology of emotion Ekman posits that there are seven basic emotions with universal facial signals, the ones featured in the film, plus two that were cut: surprise and contempt. These basic emotions are ubiquitous, the world over, Ekman says, and can be read on the faces of anyone, whether thats by an astute listener or facial recognition software like those Ekman has helped develop controversially for security and marketing uses. Ekman and other consultants on the film have praised Inside Out for providing a model for kids that is engaging as well as scientifically sound. But though Ekmansmodel may be the dominant one in the psychology of emotion right now, its by no means the only. Indeed, the field is a far more fractious one than the film scientific consultants let on. Inside Out seems to suggest that a childs experiences will be defined by whichever emotion is at the helm. Whats more of that
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overall personality determined by colored core memories has an emotional driver. This model stands opposite to the key insights of psychoanalysis for example, which holds that emotions can be transferred, transformed or distorted expressions of unconscious ideas and repressed experiences. In other words, feelings of sadness or joy or fear, are frequently far removed from their causes. Understanding them as specific entities is troublesome because they are often not what they seem to be, which is to say that understanding emotion as the driver and not the expression of ideas and experience may ignore underlying causes. Indeed, the idea that emotions or memories can be separate or discrete in any way is a dubious one. The film itself begins to challenge this at the end when the control panel in Headquarters is expanded to fit all the emotions and when the memory orbs start to reflect mixed experience. But a sense that experience can be quantified, pervades the film. And, like anything, that may reflect more about our culture at the moment than the science itself. For Joy and Sadness, the scariest place in the film isnt the subconscious prison that houses Rileys worst fears, but a giant pit in the centre of Rileys mind where memories are forgotten forever without any hope of recall. In an increasingly data-driven culture where more data equals more truth, the greatest anxiety of all, is the loss of information. And the headquarters of Rileys mind does feel a bit manajurial with its control panel and user manuals, and Riley a bit like an automaton, controlled by a highly sophisticated technocratic operation. The decision-making process is a bit wonky too, since the latest neuroscience tells us that the frontal lobe enacts a kind of executive function that mediates between
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the emotions in the limbic system, and higher cognitive functions like reflection and critical thinking, obviously not always in favour of the latter. Maybe at this point youre saying the same thing as the voice in my own head: its a kids movie, its a comedy! and thats very true. And the director, Pete Docter, has never held this film up as an academic or therapeutic tool. He admits the need for poetic and comedic licence, adding an executive function like the kind I just mentioned for example, would no doubt made the film too complex as would any number of other things, like the two basic emotions he left out, or any other emotion. I dont think his dramatic instincts can be questioned here Under the premises of the emotional model that Inside Out presents, the narrative unfolds with grace, subtlety, and intense pointiancy. Ill leave the formal critique to someone else, but theres no doubt that this is masterful filmmaking. I had the tears to prove it. But it does raise questions about the effect of popular models of the mind. Pixar tells stories so mythic and archetypal, and so well, that its all but impossible not to internalise some of their elements, especially for kids. If the result is that kids learn earlier and better why its important to accept and expect sadness, then I think its unquestionably a good thing. But Sadness and Joy and Fear and Disgust and Anger, are not discreet things, or self-contained, or even fully internal. Neither are personality traits, or, for that matter, personalities. Any model of emotion is going to reflect a split between biology and culture, between neuroscience and theoretical psychoanalysis. Dont let anyone tell you that that debate has been decided one way
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There are as many emotional theories as there are emotional psychologists. Whats interesting and ironic about Inside Out, is that Riley may come of as a bit robotic, but a more complex and complete framework for the inner workings of the mind can be found in Joy herself: a character who questions and reflects, who turns inward, not to another smaller headquarters, but a cauldron of indistinct compounds of feeling, influenced by chemistry, situation, and other people. Inside Out may not be perfectly accurate, but the film inspires something more important than that, something that doesnt require scientific exactness. Emotional intelligence. It is a sunny day outside right now, hey everybody! Thanks for watching! Uhm, I love Pixar generally but I love this movie just cause it gives you so much to dig into and explore and I had a lot of fun making this and putting this together. Uhm, if you think that the Nerdwriter and what Im doing here is something that youre not seeing elsewhere on youtube, you can pledge to my channel by clicking here and going to my Patrion its what funds this project and helps me improve the quality, theres so much more I want to do, theres more series that im going to be introducing soon, uhm, and the funding is what makes it possible I mean, thats the unique relationship between you and me, theres nothing in between us and what you give me, the money you give me, helps me to make this project better and more in-depth and I hope that you trust that I will do that by, you know, by the quality of the content that Ive made so far. So thank you so much again for watching and Ill see you next Wednesday.
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Emotion (Quotation Subject), Animation (TV Genre), Inside Out (Film), Head
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