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

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

The workshop is part of my ongoing project titled Screening Virtue – Cultivating the virtues through screen fiction, a collaboration between me 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, which also features in his latest book. 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). John and I jointly presented on loyalty and intellectual humility in the TV detective show Endeavour (2012- ), which you can find in the Videos section.