Sunday, 15 December 2013

Special Issue: Revisiting Ethnographic Turn in Contemporary Arts (Critical Arts)

The special issue "Revisiting Ethnographic Turn in Contemporary Arts", edited by Kris Rutten, An van Dienderen and Ronald Soetaert, has been published in the journal Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies. Cuneyt contributed to the special issue with an article focusing on documentary video in arts. 

Cakirlar, C. "Aesthetics of Self-Scaling: Parallaxed Transregionalism and Kutluğ Ataman’s Art-Practice", Critical Arts 27(6), 2013, 684-706. 

This article examines relations of ethnography, contemporary art-practice, globalisation and scalar geopolitics with particular reference to Kutluğ Ataman’s art-works. Having been shortlisted for the Turner Prize at the Tate and awarded the prestigious international Carnegie Prize in 2004 with his forty-screen video installation Küba (2004), Ataman became an extremely well-known, globally acclaimed artist and filmmaker. Self-conscious of their global travel and critically attentive to the contemporary ethnographic turn in the visual arts scene, Ataman’s video-works perform a conscientious failure of representing cultural alterity as indigeneity. Concentrating on the artist’s engagement with ethnography, this article contains three main parts. Analyses of the selection of videos in each part will give an account of different scalar aspects of Ataman’s artworks. It will first revisit a previous study (Çakirlar 2011) on the artist’s earlier work of video-portraits including Never My Soul! (2002) and Women Who Wear Wigs (1999). A detailed discussion of Küba follows, which may be taken as the ‘hinge-work’ in Ataman’s oeuvre that marks a scalar transition in his critical focus – from body and identity to community and geopolitics. The discussion will then move to a brief analysis of the series Mesopotamian Dramaturgies, including the screen-based sculptures Dome (2009), Column (2009), Frame (2009), English as a Second Language (2009), and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (2009). Rather than addressing scale as a differential concept, this article aims to demonstrate the ways in which Ataman’s art-practice produces self-scaling, self-regioning subjects that unsettle the hierarchical constructions of scale and facilitates a critique of the scalar normativity within the global art world’s regionalisms and internationalisms. 
To link to this article:

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Shifting Dialogues II: Sexual Artifice in Asian Art and Performance

The Asian Art and Performance Consortium (AAPC) of the Academy of Fine Arts (Kuva) and the Finnish Theatre Academy Helsinki (Teak) hosted a symposium focusing on manifestations of sex, sexuality and gender in Asian art and performance on 17-19 October. This was the second symposium organized under the ongoing research project, Shifting Dialogues. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland in 2011-2014.

Following the focus on “The Politics of Site, Locality & Context in Performance and Visual Arts” last year, this year’s project targets at issues of sexual embodiment and gender subjectitivy in Asian/Asiatic art-practice with emphasis on performance arts, film, video art, installation, live art, and dialogical work.

In his paper “Troubled Objects of Nationalism and Masculinity”, Cüneyt Çakırlar explored the role of scalar, regional, and global/international discourses in contemporary art criticism. Cüneyt’s paper discussed the practice of a selection of artists producing work from/on/about the Middle East (Erinç Seymen, Taner Ceylan, Akram Zaatari, Slavs and Tatars, etc.). Questioning their critical use of geo-political location, region and scale in their aesthetic framework, Cüneyt talked about performative, transregional methodological/theoretical approaches to globalized art forms, which would contextualize, if not re-enact, the ways in which these artistic subjectivities inhabit the world.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Signs and Symptoms of the Mad Genius

In a new article, Simon Cross explores whats at stake in the representation of the 'mad genius'.
He argues that the madman is a protean figure in the popular imagination slipping through in dreams, fairytales, ballads, paintings, sculpting, literature, and as this chapter discusses, more recently in cinema as the mad genius in films. The chapter argues that madness and genius in films like Shine must be seen and understood concomitantly as each symbolises our culture’s fascination with the boundaries and limits of our own mental functioning. The signs of mad genius in film reveal creativity out of the chaos of symptoms. The conclusion argues that the meaning of the mad genius is heroic, strangely special, and utterly mythic. 

Simon Cross (2013) ‘Signs and Symptoms of the Mad Genius'. In Julian McDougall and Pete Bennett (Eds.) Myth Today and Together: Theory under Reconstruction (Routledge, 2013)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Boundary problems : Beur, banlieue and political film in the context of French Cinema

Martin O'Shaughnessy explores of some key issues in thinking about the politics of recent French cinema. 

In a very interesting recent article published in the journal Contemporary French and Francophone Studies (16:1, 2012, pp. 55-68), French film scholar Panivong Norindr laments the way in which other scholars (including the author of this blog entry!) have tended to establish a de facto dividing line, a kind of analytic apartheid, between mainstream political cinema (itself a much debated object) and Beur and banlieue  film-making, two groups of films associated with French directors of North African heritage and the troubled outer cities respectively. The consequence of this division, if we accept it is real (it may not be quite as stark as Norindr suggests) is that one set of questions (about class, about workplace struggles or about economic distribution, for example) tends to get asked of one group of films while a different set of questions (about ethnic origins and identities and their recognition or non-recognition, or about spatial segregation and social exclusion) is asked of another group or groups. As a result of this, instead of seeking either to break down problematic distinctions or to ponder the reasons for their emergence, film scholars tend not simply to take them for granted but to reinforce them. Based on a recent paper that I gave, and drawing on the work of theorist Nancy Fraser and on two films, Couscous (2007) by Abdellatif Kechiche and Dernier Maquis (US Adhen) (2008) by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, I would like to explore some of the grounds on which the divisions noted by Norindr might be challenged. I have chosen these specific films because of the very active way in which they seem to be posing the same kind of question and asking for a radical rethink of problematic cinematic boundaries.
Nancy Fraser has been engaged in her own probing of problematic political and analytic boundaries since at least the mid-1990s. In her Justice Interruptus from 1997, for example, she explored the transition from a socialist political imaginary in which the central problem was redistribution to what she calls a ‘postsocialist’ political imaginary within which struggles are more often framed as being over identities, cultural ‘domination’, and recognition. The result, she noted, in what is now a familiar argument, was a pernicious tendency to uncouple cultural from social politics and to allow a relative eclipse of the latter by the former (see Justice Interruptus  p.2). She returned to some of the same themes in the more recent Adding Insult to Injury (2008), a book in which she debates with some of her key critics. She sets up a distinction between struggles for recognition and struggles for redistribution not as adequate labels for real world conflicts, but more as ideal types, real world struggles, as we know, typically involving claims for both recognition and redistribution, although some favour one type of claim and others the other. The interest of Fraser’s work does not simply lie in its descriptive or analytical power (which some of her critics dispute) but also in the way she seeks to chart ways to avoid the kind of disabling separation of the two types of struggle which, at its worst, leads to the familiar failings of an ‘identity’ politics shrunken to struggles for the recognition of often reified and homogenised identities within the status quo.  Fraser’s way forward revolves around what one might call a deconstructive materialism: the need, on the one hand, to de-essentialize identities and to open them up for reframing, and, on the other hand, to pay close attention to political economy as the grounds upon which the material and institutional connections between struggles can be explored and developed. She suggests, in particular, that rather than posing problematic questions about whether identities are recognised, we should focus on discrimination, on why, in particular contexts, individuals or groups are excluded or barred from full participation. Such an approach takes us away from fruitless questions about the ‘truth’ of identities and back towards an investigation of the political, social and institutional contexts in which some voices are privileged and others devalued or excluded. My intention in what follows is not to use Fraser to interpret the work of the film-makers, nor to use the films as illustrations of her work, but rather to suggest that, as theoreticians of their own practice, the film-makers are moving in a similar direction to Fraser and carrying out their own materialist deconstruction.
Kechiche’s Couscous (La Graine et le mulet) is the story of Slimane, a shipyard worker of North African origin in the southern French port of Sète. As the film starts, Slimane is in the process of being forced out of his job. An older worker, he is deemed unable to keep up with the pace required. His comment on this situation is that French workers in general are being undercut by cheaper foreign labour as their jobs are outsourced. Soon, he is unemployed. Some of his family want him to retire to his North African ‘homeland’. Slimane sees things differently: he acquires an old boat and, with support from his son and the daughter of his partner, decides to do it up and turn it into a floating couscous restaurant. To proceed in his venture, however, he needs to jump through a series of financial and administrative hoops: he needs a bank loan; he needs official permission to open and run a restaurant; he needs to be allowed to moor his boat by the right quayside to attract customers. As we imagine, he finds that there are many obstacles put in his path. In the end, he invites all those he has been dealing with to an opening night. The assembled guests are offered food, drink and music, and, when the couscous itself fails to arrive, a prolonged belly dance, delivered by Slimane’s adoptive daughter in a bright red costume.
Read in narrowly identitarian terms, Couscous could be seen as an affirmation of a Beur identity and a reassertion of the neglected role of immigration in the history of modern France. But the film is more complex than that. To begin with, refusing any sense that Slimane might have a stable identity, it instead suggests that identities are contextual productions: initially a French worker, or perhaps an immigrant worker, Slimane is then thrown back upon his origins by people who want him to return ‘home’ before he finally becomes a bearer of exoticised cultural identity, complete with colours, smells, tastes, sounds and movements, as shown at length in the prolonged restaurant scene. Moreover, these identities are not free floating, idealised entities but depend on economic and institutional contexts and have material consequences. Slimane has been a French worker to the extent that he has become fully integrated into the French economy. Yet, because he is an immigrant worker, someone who, for financial reasons, was undeclared for the first part of his career by his employer, he will not be entitled to a full pension. Likewise, when he decides to open a restaurant, he is being driven by the closing down of industries and the rise of tourism and consumption: his self-production as a bearer of an exoticised cultural identity is not something arbitrarily chosen but is a response to concrete socio-economic shifts. On a symbolic level, his struggle to gain permission to moor his boat and open his restaurant might seem to be purely about a desire to give cultural visibility to the previously marginalised. But the film refuses this purely symbolic reading: we are made to travel with him and his adoptive daughter as they navigate their way through the French administrative system and deal with obstacles, such as the official who pointedly tells them that French people are very keen on good hygiene. We are also shown the hard, collaborative or individual labour that goes, firstly, into refurbishing the boat and, secondly, into providing and serving the meal. Rather than fetishizing Slimane’s identity, the film explores the material and institutional contexts in which identities are produced.
Something similar might be said for Ameur-Zaïmeche’s Dernier Maquis. Although set in the world of work, this film is anything but a conventional realist fiction. Its story revolves around Mao, an employer of North African origin, his two businesses, repairing vehicles and making and repairing pallets, and his employees, Maghrebi-French mechanics and African manual workers. The workplace is simultaneously isolated – there is no sign of a town nearby – and associated with international trade, not simply by the pallets upon which modern goods are almost always shipped, but by the aeroplanes which we see passing overhead. The pallets, incidentally, are painted bright red. We are in a strange intermediary space between the realist and the symbolic, the socially grounded and the emblematic. This is an ideal terrain upon for the film is able to carry out its materialist deconstruction.
The drama begins when the Mao converts part of an underground parking space into a mosque and appoints a tame Imam whose role will be to encourage his flock to be docile and productive and to watch them if necessary. The workers, almost all of whom are Moslem, are not impressed. The appointment of the Imam should have been a democratic decision of the group and not the privilege of their employer. In any case, the boss seems to have found money for a mosque while owing some workers money and paying others low wages. Part of a social group longer established in France, the Maghrebi-French workers refuse to continue worshipping in the mosque and instead construct an improvised prayer room with and amongst the pallets. Their tools of labour, the hose with which they wash, for example, are also drawn into their religious practice. Mao is unimpressed. Calling the mechanics together, he tells them that the repair shop is running at a loss and that he is reluctantly obliged to let them go. Refusing to go quietly, they occupy the workplace, blocking the entrance with lorries (trucks). They invite the more quiescent African workers to join their struggle and, when the latter refuse, threaten them and lock them out. When Mao seeks to climb in over a fence, they beat him up. As the film ends, they use forklift trucks to form the pallets into a barricade. 
Again, read in narrowly identitarian terms, the film could be seen as an attempt to force a history of immigration into view and to give Islam, France’s second religion, some very overdue cinematic recognition, not least by locating it within the workplace, a place with which it is not typically associated. But, again, things are more complicated than that. Ameur-Zaïmeche does not simply bring Islam into view, he shows its imbrication in the materiality of lives and in the structures of the workplace with its very real socio-economic asymmetries. At the same time, refusing any straightforwardly positive representation, he divides his Islam against itself, making it a contested, unstable object, rather than a reified identity: the Islam of the workers is clearly not that of the boss; the role it plays for the Maghrebi-French is not the same as the one it has for the Africans. Finally, rather than being something simply external to political modernity, Islam is shown to be one of the places where it might potentially be renewed. The mosque is not just an object of struggle. It is the place in the film where an oppositional voice first takes form.
At the same time, like Kechiche’s film, Dernier Maquis operates a reworking of modern French social and industrial history. If the colour of the red pallets present in so many of its scenes seems to anchor the film’s story in the history of the left, the Maghrebi-French and African identity of its workers forces an opening out of that history onto the neglected role of immigration in its making. It is not simply a question of adding a new element to an existing story (of the French working class) that would otherwise remain unchanged. It is rather a matter of drawing attention to the constructed nature of those histories themselves, in the same way as Kechiche’s Slimane can be a French worker or an immigrant or both according to the context and the moment.
This necessary mutability of framings is nowhere more elegantly conveyed than in Ameur-Zaïmeche’s use of the pallets. They are both solid, material objects, and infinitely malleable construction blocks, like so many giant blocks of red lego. At one stage, as we saw, the workers turn them into an impromptu place of prayer. At the end, of the film, as we noted, they become a barricade, a structure with an obvious use-value for the worker’s struggle but also something with a mythical status in the context of French history, within which, perhaps reductively, the barricade has become the key symbol of revolt and revolution. In between, as Ameur-Zaïmeche himself noted, the piles of pallets, especially in nocturnal scenes, bear a certain resemblance to the banlieue tower blocks so associated with more recent forms of rebellion. Last but not least, of course, the pallets are the humblest workhorses of the globalised circulation of goods that is essential to the functioning of contemporary capitalism. Through his use of this one humble object, Zaïmeche is carrying out his own labour of materialist deconstruction. On the one hand, he points towards the need to remake the frameworks that keep potentially oppositional stories (of workers, of immigration, of Islam, of the banlieue) apart. On the other, he reminds us how, whatever stories we wish to tell, we need to ground them in material contexts. It is not enough simply to bring the histories of French Islam and of the French workplace together, their conjoining must be cemented through materially intersecting practices.
In her chapter on Rachid Bouchareb’s Second World War epic, Indigènes, in Screening Integration: Recasting Maghrebi Immigration in Contemporary France (Durmelat and Swamy eds., 2011), Mireille Rosello cautions against seeking to replace one canonical version of history with another more ‘correct’ but equally canonical one in a way that elides the necessary constructedness of any history and the politics and ethics of historiography. Attentive to this danger, both Kechiche and Ameur-Zaïmeche set history in motion, not in a pure spirit of relativism but from a desire to open up the space and provide the tools for more useful histories within which questions of distribution and of recognition, or of work and migration could be considered in their inextricable intermingling. 
Martin O'Shaughnessy

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Courage for Infininity

In their new article, Patrick O'Connor and Frederick Aspbury investigated the tensions between finite and infinite versions of ethics in the philosophy of Alain Badiou.  They argued that there is an irreconcilable tension between the historical and anhistorical in Badiou's ontology, stemming from the way Badiou bases his ethics on his mathematical ontology. The consequence is that while Badiou is a very valuable resource for thinking progressive forms of political thought, his work needs to be supplmented with a more historicized understanding of the human being. This the authors argue, in the last analysis, should focus on a mortal  and realistic understanding of courage.  
Patrick O'Connor and Frederick Aspbury (2013), The courage for infinity: mortal and immortal ethics in Alain Badiou. The Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology, 44 (2).

Friday, 11 October 2013

Populism and Pathology in the British Tabloids

In a new article, Simon Cross representations of crime and responsibility in British tabloids.

He notes that the tabloid press is the section of the British media that has mobilized most vehemently on crime and responsibility. The logic of the tabloids is to sensationalize crime whilst insisting that criminals are morally responsible for their actions. However, this logic is thwarted when offenders are insane. The solution for British tabloids has been to invoke the illogical notion that mentally disordered offenders are mad and bad. The article argues for the need to understand this tabloid heuristic in relation to the politics of mental health care in the community policy in the 1990s, and the politics of tabloid populism. Tabloid reporting on the ‘mad and bad’ is further illustrated in the case of offenders housed in England’s top-security Broadmoor Hospital. By identifying hypocrisy in tabloid reporting on Broadmoor patients, the article concludes that British tabloid logic should be viewed as pathological. 

Cross, S. (forthcoming) ‘Mad and Bad Media: Populism and Pathology in the British Tabloids’. To appear in European Journal of Communication

Monday, 30 September 2013

Research Symposium: Crime and Media in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Date: Friday 15 November 2013
Time: 9.30-4.30

Location and Room Details: GEE 004
Clifton Campus
NG11 8NS

The symposium is a free event but if you plan to attend please email Simon Cross. Refreshments will be available but lunch is not provided. However, hot meals and sandwiches can be purchased on campus. Following the event speakers will continue discussions in a local hostelry and restaurant in the city centre about 15 minute walk to the train station. You will be welcome to join us for dinner before your onward journey but for restaurant booking purposes you must email Simon Cross no later than 1 November.

Bus details from Nottingham train station: Delegates can get the Number 4 Uni-Link Bus outside Nottingham station. The bust stop is on the main road just outside the train station and at the Starbucks on the corner. The bus stop is just a few doors down from Starbucks so find that and you are more or less at the bust stop – there are a few stops and you can’t really miss them. The bus is very regular around 8 minutes between each service and comes directly into the campus with a journey time of around 15 minutes. Link to bus timetables are here.

Arriving by car: delegates arriving by car and using ‘sat nav’ please note the postal code above. Enter through the south entrance gate and car park attendants will direct you.

Signs directing you to the symposium location will be posted from the George Eliot building reception. Please also consult the Clifton Campus map.


9.30-9.55 Welcome and registration.

10.00-11.15 Professor Yvonne Jewkes, Department of Criminology, University of Leicester.
Title: Punishment in black and white: penal ‘hell-holes’, popular media and mass incarceration.
In recent years, the prison has been analogously compared to transportation and slavery; the Jim Crow system; the urban ghetto; a new apartheid; and an embodiment ofstate power and security apparatuses in post 9/11 societies. In all these analyses imprisonment is explicitly linked to racially motivated processes of criminalization andsegregation. A further analogous framework by which prisons might be viewed and understood, and the focus of this article, is that of Hell. Drawing on images from Dante's Inferno, the cultural purchase of which remains undiminished seven hundred years after it was written, this article argues that the social exclusion and mass imprisonment of young, black men is related to broader historical and cultural practices of discrimination and to contemporary, mediated discourses of ‘othering’. Moreover, the article suggests that not only can the prison be understood through the lens of darkness and lightness, Heaven and Hell, but that such metaphors serve to justify and authorize the prison as hell-hole.

Dr Maggie Wykes, School of Law, University of Sheffield.
Title: What’s law gotta do with it? Comparing the failure to successfully prevent or prosecute sexual violence in England and South Africa.
With abysmal regularity the news in the UK and South Africa tells stories of sexual violence. In April 2013 there was a:

            Crime that shocked South Africa, 17-year-old Anene Booysen was brutally gang-raped. Her throat was slit; her fingers and legs shattered. The attackers had stuck a broken glass bottle inside her body and left her for dead on a construction site (The Daily Beast 10/02/2013).

While such extreme violence is relatively rare in South Africa it is a country where violence accompanies much crime and girls talk not of if they are raped but when. Whilst in the UK a 2013 review found institutions charged with the care of children implicated in sexual violence:
            A nursery worker who raped a toddler had a "special relationship" with her that Ofsted and a council were aware of but failed to stop (BBC news 27/08/2013).

This paper explores the role of law in relation to such sexual violence in England and South Africa to argue that rather than being part of the solution law is inevitably part of the problem. The background to this paper is a comparative and evaluative cross cultural project involving collaboration between the Centre for Criminological Research in the
School of Law, University of Sheffield, UK and the Gender, Health and Justice
Research Unit at the University of Cape Town South Africa and funded by the British Academy. Both cities and indeed both countries have on-going high levels of violence against women, both sexual and domestic, which have eluded significant efforts to contain and reduce them despite consistent efforts in the UK since the later 1970s.

South Africa and England share jurisdictional history but support criminal justice
systems in radically different cultures. By comparing and evaluating the law in relation to the crimes that typify sexual violence and the contexts in which it is occurring  it is hoped to illuminate inhibitors to change. These inhibitors meant that even as the new law was launched in South Africa it was possible to state rather pessimistically that ‘at the very minimum, the law, and in particular the new definition of rape, will aid in providing us with a slightly more accurate count of the lived experiences of sexual violence in South Africa. Of course, the ‘body count’ does very little to protect those attempting to secure justice’ (Artz and Smythe 2007:17). Whilst in England the failure of the criminal justice system to deal with ‘rape….. encapsulates the sheer inadequacy of the law in relation to gendered violence and the deeply gendered assumptions that surround legal responses to it’ (Wykes and Welsh 2009:111).

So this paper asks a deceptively simple question why is the law not working in relation to sexual violence?

11.30-1.00 Dr Judith Rowbotham, Director SOLON, London.
Title: A ‘Pressing’ Problem – Does Prison Work? Victorian Discussions on Penal Servitude and Their Modern Echoes.
The Victorian debate over whether prison worked was aired very substantially in the press of the day, because legal professionals were, in this period, the key reporters and journalists writing up issues of crime and punishment for the consumption of interested readers. The hostility of many barristers to the use of penal servitude at home (as opposed to finding a new place to transport those convicted of serious crimes) meant that issues like the length of prison sentences and the management of prison daily life were of great contemporary concern, along with the issue of repeat offending. Victorian reportage intended to put pressure on both the courts and government: and there are, today, clear echoes of a similar pressure being attempted by the modern media. This paper explores the differences between substance and representation of punishment and the role of the media in shaping the dialogue between the public and the criminal justice process.

Dr Samantha Pegg, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University.
Title: Rationalising the Irrational – Victorian Print Presentations of Insanity Pleas.
As a defence where morality, medical opinion and substantive law meet, insanity has provoked significant press debate. The substantive legal rules governing the defence (articulated in McNaghten’s case 1843) are strict, with the core of the defence a failure to realise the nature and quality of the act or that that act was legally wrong. Despite these stringent legal rules the Victorians were accustomed to successful pleas of insanity, often based on meagre evidence. Victorian juries often allowed themselves a significant degree of latitude in allowing the defence, particularly when the defendants were women. Although the House of Lords had ascertained the legal guidelines, it was for the populous by way of the jury to administer the law and they were undoubtedly subject to the sway of the press. Of course the press were not just recounting these criminal cases but forcefully commenting upon the veracity of the defence and the character of the defendants. It is perhaps surprising the press then frequently found jury decisions wanting; believing insanity was being used as a device to unjustifiably mitigate punishment. This paper explores the ways in which the press reported upon these insanity pleas and sought to shape public understanding of the operation and availability of this defence.

Lunch: 1.00-1.55

2.00-3.30 Dr Simon Cross, Department of English and Media, Nottingham Trent University.
Grooming the nation? Media reporting of Jimmy Savile’s life, death and life-after-death.
The late broadcaster and charity fund raiser Jimmy Savile has been exposed as one of the country’s most prolific sexual offenders. This paper begins with profiles of Savile’s celebrity in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that show his sexual predilection for girls and teenagers was an open secret. This then begs the question why in the 1990s and 2000s, when newspaper exposes of sexual offenders were nationally prominent, there was no investigation into Savile’s sexual offending. The paper illustrates how press and TV tributes to Savile’s ‘good life’ held the line on Savile’s tangible achievements after his death which is juxtaposed with press coverage detailing the extent of his sexual offending. The paper concludes by discussing inter-relations of power and culpability that enabled Savile to molest hundreds of victims with impunity.

Lieve Gies, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester.
Title: An anti-human rights culture? The popular press and the Human Rights Act.
One of the principal aims of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) was to bring forth a human rights culture and spread human rights values throughout society. Supporters of the HRA have blamed the paucity of positive cultural attitudes to human rights on the popular press, accusing journalists of portraying the Act as a ‘villains’ charter’ which disproportionately benefits those who are the least deserving of human rights protection. This paper examines what is behind the media hostility to the HRA. It identifies a number of factors which range from the press’s self-interest in resisting expanding privacy laws directly attributable to the HRA to a deep-seated cultural scepticism to human rights which finds its origins in a sense of national identity founded on a nostalgic longing for ancient civil liberties.

3.30-3.55 Refreshments

4.00-4.45 Closing address by Prof Graham Murdock, Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University.
Title: Fear and Loathing in Cleveland: The Prehistory of Deviancy Amplification.
In their 1973 collection, The Manufacture of News, Stan Cohen and Jock Young set out to take stock of work in what was then the emerging field of deviancy and media. Thinking around amplification and moral panics was well represented in chapters summarising their own seminal research on the media coverage of Mods and Rockers and drug takers, now often presented as the point of origin for work in this area. One of the older pieces reprinted is James Davis’s 1952 article on crime news in Colorado newspapers, which highlighted the disjunction between crime rates and coverage and argued that the press created ‘crime waves’. The footnotes to this article contain a reference to an earlier study conducted in Prohibition Cleveland three decades earlier. This paper revisits this research and the model of amplification it developed and argues for its restoration to a central place in the history of debate around the linkages between tabloidization, amplification, and popular demands for tougher ‘law and order’ policies.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Bringing Out the Gimp: Fashioning the SM Imaginary

Gary Needham has just written an article for a special pornography issue of Fashion Theory (due 2014) that examines the cultural power associated with the gimp and the gimp mask in both popular culture and art. The gimp is a clothed or costumed SM body, frequently a submissive that often wears a leather or rubber costume that covers and effectuates the entire body including the face. The gimp is also a representation of SM that circulates throughout fashion and film and other forms of popular culture. Since the gimp’s first outing and naming in the ‘bringing out the gimp’ scene from the film Pulp Fiction (1994) it has become the byword for the head-to-toe leather SM look that has been appropriated by a popular culture as way of sensationalising and exploiting the relationship between clothing, fetishism, and transgression. As a counterpoint to the popular or mainstream image of SM the article also explores how the artists perceived to be transgressive and controversial, Catherine Opie and Robert Mapplethorpe, have represented the gimp, not as an index of horror or transgressive style rather as an affirmative image of their own SM communities that, while still intended to shock, is an defiant attempt to rescue or reclaim the gimp from its negative associations. 

One of the main points drawn out in the article is the apparent cultural power associated with the gimp as something obscene and horrific that constructs what Gayle Rubin calls ‘the leather menace’. The gimp is character and a representation that retains disturbing and provocative qualities as a ‘symbolic exercise of social risk’ (McClintock 2003: 237) generating a range of controversial and pornographic meanings both on/scene (as literally seen) and ‘obscene’ across film, art, fashion, and popular culture. The article’s is concerned with some of those meanings, the textual and sexual politics of the gimp as a representation of SM for example, in Pulp Fiction the gimp allows racism and gay SM to almost be one and the same thing; Pulp Fiction’s gimp is a costumed embodiment of gay SM horror!  SM imagery in popular culture attempts to capture ‘menace’ and ‘risk’ and yet simultaneously contain that risk by misrepresenting the axis of power, rendering conventionally masochistic clothing designed for submissive binding and sensory deprivation in to the attire of sadistic monsters, serial killers, and torturers. Gimps in popular culture are often the stuff of nightmares. As a counter-point to this popular fantasy the article goes on to investigate the ‘real’ gimps that appear in Robert Mapplethorpe photographic chronicle of his SM community in the 1970s in addition to more recent artists like Catherine Opie (both of whom have images of their work reproduced in the article by permission from the Guggenheim collection and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation). Opie appears in her own Self-Portrait/Pervert  (1994) sitting in front of chintzy brocade wallpaper wearing a gimp mask, lettering freshly cut in to her bleeding skin which reads ‘pervert’, and pierced along each arm with forty-six evenly spaced temporary needles. Why would Opie make an image that is so difficult to look at? Why would anyone do that to their body? Why would a self-portrait deny access to the artist’s face? Is it a response to Pulp Fiction SM phobia? These are important questions Self-Portrait/Pervert provokes and hopefully that the article answers.