Monster Culture, Torture Porn, “Senseless”

For 5-6 years, I’ve taught Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture” in my classroom in an essay progression focusing on horror film.  The unit catered both to my personal credo—that students leave my classroom able to read pop culture forms—and to my love of the horror genre.  It fascinates me to no end that the monsters in horror films allow us to assess the cultural and political climate of the time in which it was produced.  I am especially intrigued by recent shifts toward “torture porn,” the term coined by Eli Roth regarding Hostel.  In these films, great care is taken to depict, as realistically as possible, the inner workings of the human body and how easily it breaks down in catastrophe.

For instance, the Final Destination franchise gives us increasingly convoluted and grisly ways to die, starting with asphyxiation in a shower and progressing toward death by race car tire and escalator belt, each replete with viscera and still-twitching limbs.  The Saw franchise, quality-rated by the number of viewers who vomited or had to leave the theater, calls itself psychological horror; in reality it uses torture porn—in the form of mechanical traps reminescent of Rube Goldberg—as a justifiable means to an end.  Perhaps at the release of Saw I, the monstrous message was different, but later installments equated traps with pure justice: that is, an individual confronted with a death machine based on his crimes or flaws serves justice unto himself.  It’s the old “give him a taste of his own medicine” shtick, only exaggeratedly amplified.  The health insurance executive learns how horrible a cost-benefit approach to human life is; the fraudulent self-help guru is forced to undergo the trials he claims to have experienced.

And viewers have picked up on this.  

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Game on, game off.

Sent to me via comment on my previous post on WoW as a form of prison labor in China, here is Cory Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game,” from his collection Overclocked.  The story prefigures the RL system of gold farming for real-world currency.  While the writing itself may leave something to be desired, it’s worth a read, especially if you’re into sci-fi/feminist literature and the meatspace/cyberspace binary.

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Prison Labor, version Warcraft

China Used Prisoners in Lucrative Gaming Work

No pun intended, but…WoW.  Just wow.

The Guardian reports that Chinese prisoners were forced into World of Warcraft gold farming at labor camps in place of physically intensive labor.  For those of you not in the know, gold farming is the process of earning online credit inWorld of Warcraft.  The credit may then be sold to gamers for real-world cash.

China’s labor camp ideology is “re-education through labor,” remembered by one inmate as “backbreaking mining toil,” hand-ruining carving, and forced memorization of Communist literature to “pay off his debt to society” (Vincent).  These chores were performed during the day; World of Warcraft occurred at night, after which the gold was exchanged for real money by the prison guards.

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The Nemesis Project: Art/New Media as Protest.

20 May 2011, 10:30p.m. @ Chinese Consulate in NY:

Cuban artist Geandy Pavon, a self-professed “idolator who suspects images,” has dedicated his Nemesis project “to Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has been jailed by Chinese authorities.

The performance consisted in [sic] a projection of a video using sunflower oil as a medium that reflects the face of Ai Weiwei on the facade of the Chinese Consulate in New York City” (Pavon).  Weiwei, who had been speaking out against the Chinese government, has been under arrest since 3 April.  An exhibit of some of his work can be seen @ Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan.

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i’ve become a c&w groupie

I presented a paper titled “I think writing is a pretty cool guy. eh makes meaning and doesnt afraid of anything” at my first-ever Computers & Writing. My presentation was about the role of accidental grammatical errors in the selection of memes and evolution of 4chan’s dialect, and the purpose of memes perpetuating grammar mistakes.

I’ve had good conference experiences in the past, but Computers & Writing blew them all out of the water. Granted I’m easily starstruck, but this conference facilitated professional relationships, and everyone was so accepting, welcoming, and critiques occurred with warmth. I met Gail Hawisher. Cynthia Selfe(!) asked me about my research (and remembered it and me later on). I wasn’t brave enough to talk to Katherine Hayles but I did get into a debate with Tim Wu in a Q&A session and while I might have later psyched myself out, nothing about these “greats” was intimidating at all. I’ve made so many IRL and Twitter friends here, and exchanged research and advice with so many people with backgrounds as diverse as mine, if not more so. In short: this conference is love.

Also, Dan Anderson (@iamdan) is my new idol. Some day I’m going to create the way he does, because when I see his work, I can’t help but be moved with regards to pedagogy and my own personal way of being in the world.

All of which is to say that C&W has become my new home-base conference, and I will strive to present at it every year.

new narrative iv

I co-authored and co-presented ““We are Sri Lankan civilians plz save our life”: Photography and the spectacle of Sri Lanka’s civil war” with my sister, Anjali Manivannan, a human rights activist pursuing a law degree at NYU, on war photography, spectacle, and the Sri Lankan civil war. I handled the material on photography while she addressed the legal perspective. I was exhausted and unwell for most of the conference, but our presentation was solid, and our Q&A was marked by big questions about journalism, ethics, and the politics of the image in the context of mediating stories that, because they are so awful, may discourage even the very act of looking.

If you’re interested in the human rights law perspective, you can follow my sister at @Anji_Manivannan (JD as of 2014!).