Bringing Up Play, Film, and Philosophy

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Bringing Up Play, Film, and Philosophy

(1) Wittgenstein once said, “A typical America film, naive and silly, can for all its silliness and even by means of it— be instructive . . . I have often learnt from a silly American film.” (Wittgenstein 57e). He is pointing out that the humor, and the means of humor, in some films can be a tool of instruction. The ability of film to cause a reaction like laughter is of philosophical interest. While Wittgenstein’s comment is itself playful and dense, it directs our attention to a philosophical aspect of some films. Understood in a wider scope, I believe the comment is a terse philosophy of film. Understood in an even wider scope, we can see it as a terse theory of philosophical method.

(2) Exploring implications of Wittgenstein’s comment, however, is not my intention in this essay. I will not explain how we can profit philosophically by examining film. My intention is to show how we can.

(3) When Wittgenstein admits he found some films instructive, he very well could have admitted Howard Hawk’s film entitled Bringing Up Baby. Despite the silliness of the film, even by means of it, Bringing Up Baby explores the role of play in the nature of romantic relationships. I argue that in the film a relationship that is principally animated by game-play is legitimate. We learn that game-play enters into the justification of a true relationship.[1]

(4) Johannes Huizinga symptomatically describes play as,

“ . . . a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.” (Huizinga 13).

Play is defined as an open-ended set of ‘non-serious’ activities, chosen of free will in lieu of ‘serious’ or ‘ordinary’ activities. The distinction between ‘serious’ and ‘non-serious’ is not intended to characterize the mental state of a player because, more often than not, a silly game is still a mentally absorbing activity.
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