UNSETTLING VIEWS: AN ANALYSIS OF SUBJECT POSITIONS ACROSS MEDIA by RACHAEL LYNN THOMPSON B.F.A., The Ohio State University, 2007 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Art s Communication Program 2014
ii This thesis for the Master of Art degree by Rachael Lynn Thompson has been approved for the Communication Program by Brian L. Ott, Chair Sonja Foss Amy Hasinoff A pril 29, 2014
iii Thompson, Rachael Lynn (MA, Communication) Unsettling Views: An Analysis of Subject Positions Across Media Thesis directed by Associate Professor Brian L. Ott. ABSTRACT Through close examination of the narrative and aesthetic fea tures of the film The Memory Thief the blog Averys Bucket List, and the performance art piece The Artist is Present I identify the nature and function of subject positions across media. Media texts invite identification with subject positions through aesthetic features, narrative construction, and audience experiences of intimacy. Through these aspects of the texts, au diences are invited to occupy subject positions that unsettle, placate, or challenge hegemony. Furthermore, these subject positions ask audience members to consider their relationship to media texts via participation and how they understand their relations hips to others. The texts selected for this study invite the audience to question how the other is created as a subject through text, images, and interaction. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Brian L. Ott
iv ACKNOWLEDG MENT S I would like to express my gratitude to my advisor, Dr. Brian L. Ott for his useful comments, patient guidance, and mentorship through the learning process of this master s thesis. Furthermore, I would like to thank my committee members for their thoughtful engagement along the way. I would also like to thank the faculty of the Department of Communication, especially those faculty with whom I worked closely: Dr. Ott, Dr. Sonja K. Foss, Dr. Lisa B. Ker anen, and Dr. Stephen J. Hartnett. Your professionalism and engaged scholarship are inspiring. It has been a joy to be part of your department for the past few years. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by supportive friends and family throughout the time I have been working toward a master s degree. I would like to thank my friends for continuing to include me in outings even when I wasnt much fun to be around, my coworkers for tolerating my erratic schedule, and my supervisor for permitting me the flexibility to gain teaching experience while remaining fully employed. Finally, I would like to thank my soonto be husband for his patience and encouragement throughout this journey I cant wait for our next adventure, Jess!
v TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION 1 Objects of Study 3 Literature Review 7 Defining Key Terms 12 Method 14 Outline of Chapters 15 II. THE MEMORY THIEF 16 The Text and Auteur 17 Theoretical Concerns 19 Cinematic Motifs 21 Camera as Tool of Domination 24 Mimetic Transformation of Self 27 Closing Thoughts 30 III. AVERYS BUCKET LIST 32 Connection Through Blogs 33 Celebrating Heteronormativity 36 Sentimentality 42 Interactive Intimacy 46 Resistive Subject Position 49 Closing Thoughts 50 IV. THE ARTIST IS PRESENT 52
vi The Artist 53 The Artist is Present 54 Performance Art 58 Stillness 59 Place 62 Scale 64 Closing Thoughts 67 V. CONCLUSION 69 Review of Analysis 69 The Politics of Subject Positions 75 Limitations 82 Suggestions for Future Research 83 REFERENCES 85
vii LIST OF FIGURES FIGURE 1. Header image from Averys Bucket List 37 2. Michael, Avery, Laura Canahuati at Texas State University 38 3. Laura, Avery, Michael Canahuati 39 4. Cooper and Avery 40 5. Avery Canahuati 41 6. Avery post surgery 47
1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION As a young film student in the late 1990s, I was quite taken with director Darren Aronofskys work s o, I was very excited to see his latest film Requiem for a Dream. This film masterfully creates a subject position that allows viewers to experience the film through the subject position of a drug addict. Aronofsky utilizes vivid imagery, physical depictions of drug use, and di sconnected editing to offer viewer s an exper ience of a subject position that leaves them feeling unsettled and physically unwell. I found this film so disturbing that as soon as it ended, I immediately took the DVD out of the player and got rid of it. When reminded of the film, I try not to remember anything about it as though the recalled images are a trauma or a scab in my memory that I dont want to reopen. At the same time, I feel a bit of glee about how completely disturbed I was by the film. It is fun to be nudged, or in this case, flung out of ones comfort zone. One way media texts can generate discomfort is through the creation of subject positions that invite audience members to see themselves and society differently. Through close examination of the narrative and aesthetic features of my objects of study, I identify the nature and function of subject positions in three media texts. The texts I analyze in this thesis do not appear to share many features. They span a variety of media and topics. In addition, audience responses and the reach of t hese texts vary. As different as these texts are, they share a desire to engage with audiences through invitations to occupy particular subject positions and these subject positions, in turn, generate questions about the construction of self in relation to society and others. Media
2 texts invite identification with subject positions through aesthetic features, narrative construction, and audience experiences of intimacy. Through these aspects of the texts, audiences are invited to occupy subject positions that unsettle, placate, or challenge prevailing understandings of subjectivity. I assert that media technologies are not neutral expressions of self but c onstitute different ways of being. M edia technologies invite users to not only identify with various subject positions but also ask the audience to become particular types of subjects through characteristics specific to each media technology. Film teaches audiences to surveil others from a distance. Digital media teaches audiences to express fantasies and desires virtually and collectively. Performance art invites a lived affective experience in a specific moment. The types of subjects viewers are invited to be are shaped and constrained not only by the narrative and aesthetic features of a text but also by the characteristics of media technologies. In many situations, media creators, politicians, and others call upon viewers to identify with specific subject positions that they construct. Of ten, political movements and marketers require the mobilization of sympathy for another subject position for full engagement. Understanding the process through which other subject positions can be expressed and the impact these subject position may have on an individuals subjectivity may help others employ these tactics more strategically as well as help audi ences by more critically engaging with subject positions they are invited to occupy. In this chapter, I provide an introduction to the texts that comprise my study and review the literature that informs this thesis. Finally, I provide an explanation of my research methods and an outline of the chapters of this thesis.
3 Objects of Study Gil Kofmans 2008 film The Memory Thief is a disturbing examination of a young mans obsession with Holocaust testimony that pushes the boundaries of personal identity and empathy. Lucas, a tollbooth worker with a distinct lack of charisma, drifts into a world of Holocaust survivors and their reco rded testimony that triggers his descent into madness. The film hints at Lucass lack of autobiographical memories but does not develop this theme fully. Lucas increasi ngly takes on the persona of a H olocaust victim, culminating in his total transformation complete with striped outfit, emaciated body, and shaved head. This film takes a different approach to dealing with the H olocaust than other Hollywood films. Rather than focus on survivor narratives or the retelling of a heroic narrative, Kofman construct s the film to question the United States s obsession w ith reliving the trauma of the H olocaust. Though it has strong production value s and acting, The Memory Thief is not an especially good film It is difficult to recommend a film for casual viewing that aggressively violate s norms surrounding an important cultural trauma like the Holocaust. The Memory Thief received largely lukewarm reviews in the public press. Reviews in The New York Times and The Village Voice note Kofmans original approach to somewhat overused subject matter. Jeannette Catsoulis (2008) calls attention to Kofmans use of actual survivor testimony to confront the ghoulish underbelly of the human impulse to sympathize, addressing our fascination with sufferi ng in eloquent, often wordless scenes (para. 3). Critic Vadim Rizov (2008) notes that the film is the least sentimental Holocaust film on record. Writer director Gil Kofman moves past we must never forget into weird and thorny territory, in which sym pathy for the tragic becomes a
4 masochistic form of emotional self gratification (para. 1). Despite its unevenness, The Memory Thief presents a new way to think about the value and risk involved in remembering traumatic events as well as the risk of unfettered sympathy. While The Memory Thief presents a very bleak picture of the downside of unrestrained interest in anothers pain, Averys Bucket List joyously involves the public in an experience of life and loss at the family level. Averys Bucket Lis t is one example of a familys strategies for coping with a fatal diagnosis in the digital network era In early 2012, the father of a terminally ill child created a blog that quickly went viral and had millions of site visitors over the course of a few da ys. Michael Canahuati started Averys Bucket List immediately after he and his wife received a diagnosis that their baby, Avery, had a serious genetic condition that would take her life within the next eighteen months. Written exclusively by Michael Canahu ati, Averys Bucket List is composed from the infants point of view and the language is in her voice. The blog chronicles the familys attempts to complete as many activities on Averys bucket list as possible before she dies. The other functions of the blog are to raise awareness of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and to raise money for SMA research. One of the explicitly stated goals of the blog is to go viral on the Internet. Within days of starting the blog, it had spread across the world, receiving attention from national televised news programs and newspapers. The blog was also circulated through the social media networks Facebook and Twitter. Avery passed away suddenly approximately a month after her diagnosis. News coverage of Averys Bucket List was almost universally positive and often treated Avery as the actual author of the blog. Typical news articles referred to Avery as a courageous infant: Avery Lynn's courageous battle to live life to the fullest with a
5 genetic order called SMA has ended The inspirational infant, who just a few days ago was rapidly checking off items from her online bucket list, passed away yesterday afternoon ( Batt, 2012, para. 1). News coverage on websites such as CNN.com, huffingtonpost.com and dailymail.co.uk covere d the bucket list in a straightforward and unproblematic manner. Only the Daily Mail noted, One of goals on the list was a little more salacious: Get a tattoo (Stebner, 2012, para. 14). Averys bucket list is a unique artifact that allows for direct examination of a familys strategies for coping with a fatal diagnosis and eventually death as major health events happen. While the news coverage and public response to Averys Bucket List appeared positive and supportive for the family, I found the relentlessly positive tone and lack of agency afforded Avery difficult to tolerate. Michael Canahuatis expression of female sexuality, especially the expression of his infant daughters assumed sexuality, was, for me, unsettling However, due to the blogs popularity both on social media and traditional news media, it appears that many audience members were quite moved by the Canahuati s story and their approach to turning their daughter into a subject. The difference between my response to Averys Bucket List and the response of millions of viewers makes me interested to investigate how the blog invites viewers to experience Avery from multiple perspectives. Performance art is another type of text that often invites audience members to inhabit multiple subject positions. In some performances, the audience is both a participant in the performance as well as an observer to the same performance. It is this duality of position that I find interesting in Marina Abramovics artwork In 2010, she embarked on her longest performance piece ever. The show, titled The Artist is Present
6 was a sweeping retrospective of Abramovics artistic production from over 40 years and was installed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The show was comprised of re enactments by carefully trained performers of many of Abramovics most famous performance works, photo and video documentation of other performances, the display of artifacts, and other multimedia works. The central performance in the show featured Abramovic in a long, draping gown seated in a chair facing an empty chair. Visitors were invited to sit silently across from her for as long as they liked. Abramovic sat in h er chair the entire time that Mo MA was open for the duration of the exhibition. The visitors who sat across from the artist participated for anywhere from a few minutes to all day. Several visitors made repeat appearances. All the visitors who participated in the performance were photographed and catalogued along with the duration of their stays. While the show presented a wide range of work, this performance received the most public and critical attention. In a review of the Mo MA show written before it opened to the public, New York Times critic Holland Cotter (2010) predicted every now and then someone will slip into that chair across from her thats what its there for and spend some time exchanging stares, or energy, or going blank (para. 24). Cotter largely dismissed Abramovics show as self indulgent and diva hokum and failed to predict what a public success the show and her central performance would be. Abramovic performed for over 716 hours and, in that time, over 1500 people sat across from her. Celebrities and regular muse um visitors waited in long lines for hours for a chance to sit across from Abramovic. Toward the end of the run of the exhibition, critic Jerry Saltz (2010) wrote that the show had turned the usually introspective institutional sphere into an existential circus of bizarre self help
7 (para. 1). Saltz observed the contrast between the narcissistic nature of both the exhibit and the audiences behavior at the exhib it and the earnestness that audience members brought to viewing the exhibit. He wondered if mus eums have merged with the age of reality tv, where everyones life is art (Saltz, 2010, para. 4). Ultimately, Saltz expressed pleasure with the level of viewer engagement with Abramovics work and the lack of politicization of the retrospective. Literature Review Subjectivity is a topic that has a long history in philosophy, politics, and cultural studies, among others. It is beyond the scope of this project to a ttempt to capture the myriad theories of subjectivity. Therefore, I will briefly review litera ture on subject positions in media as well as literature on the process of developing and maintaining subjectivity. In a succinct introduction to questions about subjectivity, Anton and Peterson (2003) state, In general, questions about subjectivity are questions about how a person becomes a person and the condition of being a person, that is, how a person is and is made a subject by being subjected to their social, cultural, and natural environments (p. 404). Mansfield (2000) explains that theories of subjectivity attempt to understand how humans become distinct individuals and helps us to understand why, our interior lives inevitably seem to involve other people, either as objects of need, desire and interest or as necessary sharers of common experience (p. 3). The process of becoming a subject is influenced by all the conditions that surround an individual such as culture, relationships, and place. Subjectivity is often conceptualized as a discursive process. Ant on and Peterson (2003) explain that di scourse is a regulated way of speaking and acting within a system
8 that offers subject positions to speaking persons (p. 406). Through discourse, a person assumes an appropriate place in the social order, but discourse is not a spontaneous expression of individual truth or identity. Foucault (1978) explains that what is and is not allowed to be spoken about is an expression of power that creates conditions in which subjects are formed. In The History of Sexuality: Volume I (1978), Foucault outlines how discourse and silence surrounding sex determines how the subject is constituted through power structures: powers hold on sex is maintained through language, or rather through the act of discourse that creates, from the very fact that it is articulated, a rule of law. It speaks, and that is the rule (Foucault, 1978, p. 83). Mansfield (2000) summarizes Foucaults theory of subjectivity as the subject is the primary workroom of power, making us turn in on ourselves, trapping us in the illusion that we have a fixed and stable selfhood that science can know, institutions can organize and experts can correct (p. 10). In other words, the individual is not a creation of each individual but a site of control by power structures. In a bleak summary, Mansfield (2000) states, Your interior life is not your own property, with its own logic and inner truth, that you bring into society as a free agent. It is a permanently open display case of psychological and sociological truths, to whic h you always remain subordinate (p. 60). However, the individual can resist this control through dynamic self creation, an experimental expansion of the possibilities of subjectivity in open defiance of the modes of being that are being laid down for us constantly in every moment of our day to day lives (Mansfield, 2000, p. 63). Resistance to hegemonic subjectivities requires the individual to constantly question the power structures within which individuals are constituted as subjects.
9 One of the main functions of subject positions in media text s is that they invite the audience to inhabit particular roles. Subject positions in media texts are the types of roles the text invites the audience to inhabit. Brummett (2006) theorizes that media texts ask au dience members to take on roles or characters. The audience does nothing but move from one subject position to another. In a sense, then, the power that a text has over you has a lot to do with what kinds of subject positions it encourages (or forces) you to inhabit (p. 129). A subject position is not necessarily associated with a particular character in the narrative, although it can be. Brummett (2006) further clarifies that subject positions are defined by the types or category of person that is calle d to by the text: male or female, old or young, and so on (p. 130). Subject positions in media texts invite viewers to view the narrative from a particular perspective. A classic example of a particular subject position in media texts is the male gaze as theorized by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey takes a psychoanalytic approach to her analysis of narrative cinema. She asserts that mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriar chal order (p. 7). The outcome of this coding is that the imagery and narrative of classic Hollywood cinema supports the mans role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralise the extra diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle. (Mulvey, 1975, p. 10) In other words, the narratives a nd the visual structure of classic Hollywood cinema invite viewers to experience a subject position that identifies with the dominant patriarchal order. Often, this takes the form of identification with the gaze of the active male protagonist who looks upon women as objects of desire.
10 This is not to say that the invitation to identify with the male gaze must be obeyed. Brummett (2006) asserts that subject positions can be sites of struggle through resistive readings. Audience members can take subversive st ances to the invited subject positions in a me dia text. B ell hooks (1992) identifies an oppositional gaze with which black people can both interrogate the gaze of the Other but also look back, and at one another, nam ing what [they] see (p. 116). H ooks (1992) is particularly interested in the ways in which black female spectators have had to develop looking relations within a cinematic context that constructs our presence as absence, that denies the body of the black female (p. 118) and that serves to reinforce white and phallocentric subject positions. The oppositional gaze that bell hooks advocates refuses to occupy the white, phallocentric subject position invited by mainstream Hollywood cinema and instead opens a space for critical spectatorship. Sh e describes her own experience of employing an oppositional gaze as follows: I interrogated the work, cultivated a way to look past race and gender for aspects of content, form, language (hooks, 1992, p. 122). Films that embrace the oppositional gaze provide viewers with different ways to think about black female subjectivity and black female spectat orship (hooks, 1992, p. 131). H ookss theory of the oppositional gaze calls for both resistive readings of some subject positions as well as the constructio n of subject positions that take into account the gaze of marginalized groups. Some media texts construct subject positions that subvert dominant cultural meanings. In their analysis of Garrison Keillors radio monologues, Foss and Foss (1994) present a theory of feminine spectatorship in media texts. They argue that Keillors monologues privilege and legitimize a feminist epistemology in such a way that listeners
11 are able to actually experience a pleasurable feminine spectator position (Foss and Foss, 1994). Keillor constructs a feminine spectator through a refusal to privilege vision, a disruption of the male gaze, and the use of a feminine discursive style all of which contribute to audience members ability to come to know through a feminist perspect ive they are able to try it on and to discover how it works and feels in their lives (Foss and Foss, 1994, p. 424). The feminine spectator position that Foss and Foss theorize is one the media text invites and not a position of resistance adopted by the audience which may provide an engaging and pleasurable way for the audience to subvert dominant ways of experiencing the world. Subject positions in media texts are not the same as subjectivity but they are related. Through identification with subject positions, viewers access the pleasures and meanings of a text (Foss and Foss, 1994). Some subject positions may explore issues of identity and subject formation for particular characters or narrat ives within a text. Through identificat ion with a subject position, audience member s may experience a subject position that is dissimilar to their own experience of being a subject. However, this experience is not the same process as an individual becoming a subject. Subject positions offer an opportunity to try on unfamiliar subjectivities without necessarily changing ones sense of self. However, scholars have identified spec ific ways that media texts can affect the development of subjectivity. Shaviro (2009) suggests that media texts generate subjectivity (p. 3). He views this contemporary moment as being characterized by the relentless branding and marketing of even the most inner aspects of subjective experience (Shaviro, 2009, p. 6). Simila rly, Foust and Soukup (2006) take a bleak view
12 of the effect of media on the development of subjectivity in that not only does popular media condition and organize the everyday, it also poses fundamental existentialist questions evoked by the everydays m eaninglessness and offers hegemonic answers to alienated postindustrial professionals (p. 130). The authors identify potential negative effects of media on subjects but also call for resistance to the comfortable hegemony of subjectivity presented by many mainstream media texts. Media texts may also produce or alter subjectivity through viewer identification with historic memory. Landsberg ( 2004) posits that mass media have increasingly become a site of bodily experience that has the capacity to mark, or even scar, the subjectivities of its spectators (p p. 100101). Through identification with film characters, spectators have access to new experiences that may impact how the spectator thinks and acts. Landsberg (2004) suggests that if the film gives an individual spectator a way of inhabiting, even temporarily, a body that lacks the privilege or agency of her own body, then it might ultimately affect how she will act and the kinds of decisions she will make in the future (p. 125). Landsberg identifies prosthetic memory as an outcome of subject positions in some media texts, particularly texts dealing with cultural trauma. Prosthetic memories are historical memories that, through mediated experience, become part of the spectators identity. These memories become more than simply intellectual knowledge; they are embodied memories that spectator s choose to incorporate into their subjectivity. Defining Key Terms There are two terms I use in this study in a specific way: interactivity and audience activity. Interactivity refers to the degree to which a communication technology
13 allows the user to participate through altering the form or content of a media text. If communication technologies are charted on a spectrum, some communication technologies are very hi gh in interactivity and some are very low. For example, video games are highly interactive because they require the user to play the game for the text to exist. The Internet is also highly interactive because users can alter the form and content of messages. At the other end of the interactivity spectrum are communication technologies that are low in interactivity. Film is low in intera ctivity because it is difficult for users to alter the form or content of the text. Audience activity refers to the meani ng audience members create as a product of text and audience interaction. The degree to which a text is structured to elicit audience activity can be charted on a continuum of open/closed texts. Open texts require an audience member s active co const ructio n of the texts meaning, w hereas a closed text invites passive consumption of the texts preferred meaning. Another aspect of meaning making is the degree to which an audience member participates in the production of meaning through being active or passive Active audience members engage in meaning creation. They remake the text to suit their own needs and desires. Conversely, passive audience members engage in meaning reception and accept the text on its own terms. Open and closed texts along with active a nd passive audience members operate in relation to each other. Highly open texts welcome active audience members. Closed texts invite passive audience reception of a preferred meaning. While it is possible for audience members to be active in relationship to a closed text, this position is rare. A communication technology can be highly interactive while presenting a closed text which reduces the likelihood of active meaning maki ng on the part of the audience.
14 Interactivity is a feature of communication tec hnology while audience activity is an aspect of meaning making that is applied to a particular text. Method In this study I employ generative criticism to analyze my objects of study and to develop theories regarding the nature and function of subjec t positions Generative criticism is a mode of rhetorical criticism that allows critics to develop theories from data rather than applying existing theories to data. The goal of generative criticism is not to discover the only explanation for the data because a variety of explanatory outcomes are equal ly valid. In this study, I perform close analysis of the three artifacts I have identified to code the data. The basic steps of this research method are to perform a general coding of the objects of study, search for an explanation, create an explanatory schema, and code the art ifact in detail (Foss, 2009) in order to generate theories about the object of study All aspects of the artifacts were considered data, including documentation of live events, text and images. In the initial coding of the objects of study, I primarily paid attention to intensity and frequency of the features of the artifact At this stage, my coding remain ed focused on the object s of study and not other critic s theories about the objects of study. Next, I search ed for an explanation. I look ed for theories that explain ed the specific features o f my objects of study as related to subject position. I identified theoretical concepts that supported my analysis. While the theory sections precede analysis sections in this study, the analysis was performed first and theory identified second. Finally, I develop ed my own explanatory schema concerning the creation and experience of subject positions Through constant c omparison of this coding, I identified conceptual relationships among the artifacts and developed a theory to answer my initial
15 research question Finally, I use d the explanatory schema or theory to perform a detailed coding of my objects of study to test my theory. Outline of Cha pters Chapter one contains an introduction to my study, a description of the objects of study that comprise my analysis, and a literature review of the key concepts that inform my study. In chapter two, I provide a detailed analysis of the film The Memory Thief followed by an analysis of Averys Bucket List in chapter three. Chapter four provides an analysis of Abramovics performance piece The Artist is Present. Finally, I present my conclusions and suggestions f or further research in chapter five
16 CHAPTER II THE MEMORY THIEF Gil Kofmans 2008 film The Memory Thief is a disturbing portrait of a young mans obsession with H olocaust testimony that examines the boundaries of personal identity and empathy. Kofman approaches the Holocaust not as a distant historical event but as a cultural trauma that continues to have the power to affect individuals. Indeed, the Holocaust is a continuing influence on survivors and their families and communities. Mandel (2003) expl ains that the Holocaust emerges and reemerges as we explain it to ourselves and ourselves to ourselves in its wake (p. 510). Kofmans film enters into this dialog between the past and the present through the directors explicit intention to examine the w ays survivors bleak incomprehensible stories might continue to resonate (Press kit, 2008, p. 3). Other films such as Schindlers List and The Pianist are also part of the dialog between past and present but they provide the audience with a more closed and satisfying narrative than the unresolved narrative presented in The Memory Thief. Far from presenting a narrative that supports views of survivors as heroic figures in order to heal cultural trauma, The Memory Thief adopts an approach to the Holocaust that is more focused on the continuing disruption of the past while implicating viewers in a disordered obsession with horror. This implication is achieved through, first, an invitation to occupy a subject position of a passive voyeur that aligns with the films protagonist. After this subject position and identification are established, the film proceeds to alienate the audience from the protagonist as he undergoes a complete transformation of subjectivity. This process of identification and alienation is achieved
17 through cinematic motifs, the controlling camera apparatus, and mimetic transformation of the self. In this chapter, I provide a description of The Memory Thief an explanation of key theoretical concepts that support my analysis, and, finally, a detailed analysis of the narrative and aesthetic features of The Memory Thief that both invite a preferred subject position and alienate the audience from the preferred subject position. The Text and Auteur The Memory Thief is director Gil Kofmans first feature film. Kofman achieved some success as a playwright before he started making films. His plays ha ve been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He is a published author of short fiction as well as a key participant in the making of the Sundance award w inning documentary, DERRIDA (Press kit, 2008, p. 4). The Memory Thief played widely on the film festival circuit and won several awards including the Digital Feature Award at the 21st Edmonton International Film Festival and the Grand Jur y Prize at the Red Rock Film Festival (Press kit, 2008, p. 4). Kofman has since gone on to make Case Sensitive (2011), Unmade in China (2012), and White City (2014). The Memory Thief began as a personal interest in the Holocaust for Kofman, whose wifes f ather, grandmother, and uncle are all Holocaust survivors. In the directors notes on the film, Kofman explains his ambivalence towards his family members experiences; he is both glad he is ignorant of the horrors they experienced while also deeply curious even indecorously fascinated about the nature of their singular suffering and loss (Press Kit, 2008, p. 3). The directors curiosity is reflected in the actions of the films protagonist. The Memory Thief follows Lukas, a boring young man, on a decent into madness brought about by his obsession with Holocaust testimony. Lukas is a tollbooth worker
18 whose only significant relationship is with a comatose woman he calls mom but who may not really be related to him. Through a series of coincidences, Lukas is introduced to the world of Holocaust survivor testimonies. Zvi, an elderly Holocaust survivor, gives Lukas a VHS tape with his testimony, which launches Lukass obsession with the Holocaust. Lukas lies his way into a job at a Holocaust archive, where h e tr anscribes recorded testimonies and then assists in recording new testimonies. Eventually, Lukas is not satisfied playing a supporting role in recording testimonies so he initiates a project of his own. Early in the film, Lukas develops a friendship wi th a young Jewish woman, Mira Zweig. Once Lukas realizes Miras father is a Holocaust survivor, he becomes more interested in him than in Mira. In one of the most wrenching scenes of the film, Lukas pressures Zweig into recording his testimony. The trauma of reliving his experiences drives the man to commit suicide and propels Lukas into the final stages of his de s cent into madness. Lukas is not a particularly likable protagonist, but he is not a bad person. He anon ymously gives money to his neighbor who is going to be evicted, and he rescues a dog from the freeway and takes it to a shelter. Lukas vows to come back for the dog and rescue it if no one claims the animal. He treats others well even if he is sometimes a wkward and inappropriate. When he attends a traditional Jewish funeral, he tries to act respectfully, but his lack of understanding leads him to commit the faux pas of removing a covering from a mirror. Mirrors are typically covered for the duration of Shi va, the period when family members observe traditional mourning practices, and someone familiar with this cultural convention would not uncover the mirror. At the beginning of the film, Lukas seems a little strange but no more than someone who is earnest but
19 sheltered. Lukas treats his mother, neighbors, and coworkers kindly, and the audience wants him to succeed. As the film progresses, Lukas moves from appearing pleasant and dull to acting increasingly strange. The press materials for the film draw comparisons between The Memory Thief and Taxi Driver that are, on the surface appropriate. Both protagonists, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Lukas in The Memory Thief are subjects without subjectivity (Kolker, 2000, p. 218) who go through transformations that lead to violence. While Bickles violence is expressed outward, Lukass violence is almost completely self contained. Additionally, both protagonists keep journals that function as attempts to offer psychologic al motivation for the character s actions and appear in the film s as voiceover s There are also some visual similarities between Taxi Driver and The Memory Thief such as extended sequences of the protagonists driving, but while Scorseses visuals are lush, sensual, and often employ strange cuts, Kofman is not as masterful in his cinematography. Both characters become obsessed with public figures and are frustrated in their attempts to interact with the public figures. These similarities are primarily similarities of narrative arc and are not necessarily indicative of sustained thematic similarities. Theoretical Concerns Media texts often invite audiences to take on particular roles. In narrative cinema, visuals, audio, and narrative structure can help establish and reinforce the role the audience is asked to assume. In his work on narrative, Chatman (1990) proposes a specific vocabulary to account for the variety of perspectives available in film narratives. He suggests two terms, slant and filter that more accurately express the difference in
20 perspectives between the narrator in the realm of discourse and the characters in the realm of story. Slant encompasses the psychological, sociological, and ideological ramifications of the narrators attitudes (Chatman, 1990, p. 143). The narrator is not necessarily aligned with a character and therefore can only report events: h e does not literally see them at them moment of speaking them (Chatman, 1990, p. 144). In cinema, the narrator s role is often performed by the camera and expressed through framing choices and aesthetic decisions made by the implied author. The camera a s narrator is not interpreting events but the cameras perceptual slant frames the cinematic narrators transmission of visual and auditory imagery (Chatman, 1990, p. 155). The framing of the camera presents a view of the story as selected by the author and is not a neutral presentation of images but an additional source of ideology. Chatmans term filter attempts to account for the perceptions of characters within the story world. Filter captures something of the mediating function of a characters co nsciousness perception, cognition, emotion, reverie as events are experienced from a space within the story world (Chatman, 1990, p. 144). Characters can perceive events where the narrator can only report events. Filter can be applied to analysis of character actions and perceptions but is distinct from how events are presented visually in films. However, there are times when images may be affected by character perceptions. This perceptual filter may be achieved through eyeline match, shot countershot, the 180degree rule, voice off or voice over, plot logic (Chatman, 1990, p. 157) among other devices. Perceptual filter may be present in addition to the cameras perceptual slant in a way that complicates analysis of images. Film representations are at times unmediated views of the cinematic narrator and at other times the representations are filtered
21 through a characters perception and interest focus; or it is filtered through one characters perceptual filter and another characters interest focus; or it is presented from no ones angle of perception but from a characters interest focus (Chatman, 1990, p. 157). These various perceptual filters operate on the opposite side of the discourse story divide from the narrator and introduce elements that ar e in addition to the perceptual slant of the camera. In The Memory Thief the perceptual slant of the camera and the perceptual filter operate together to complicate the invitations the film makes to the audience. Cinematic Motifs The Memory Thief contains subtle and explicit cinematic motifs in both imagery and narrative that help audience members identify with Lukas while also encouraging them to adopt the subject position of the passive voyeur. These motifs reference screens, surveillance, passi ve watching, and framing. The film opens with a close up of cars pulling through a tollbooth. One by one, the drivers hands hold money out that the tollbooth worker takes. Only the drivers and tollbooth operators hands are included in the shot as they e xchange money. This sequence is repeated in fast motion and then again in slow motion intercut with shots of Lukas spying on the occupants of the cars with binoculars from within his glass booth and shots of the people in the cars performing private actio ns like shaving and making out. From the first images of the film, the narrators slant is closely aligned with Lukass interestfocus. The mundane activities of operating a tollbooth and people watching are important to Lukas because they consume the majo rity of his day but these events do not provide the audience with much of a sense of his motivations and perceptions. Lukass voiceovers start early in the film and this narrative device attempts to give the audience an insight into Lukass unique filter In a
22 voiceover, Lukas states, I could go entire days and only touch money. This information coupled with repetitive images start s to complicate the cameras perceptual slant with Lukass filter which helps reinforce the audiences identification with Lukas. Windows and reflective surfaces also play a significant role in the perceptual slant of the narrator. A recurring visual motif in the film is of windows and reflective surfaces, particularly of Lukas looking out windows, which subtly hint that Lukas is a spectator of the events happening around him as well as reinforce that the audience is positioned as voyeurs who are also engaged in watching others who cannot watch them back. Because Lukas is typically alone in these shots, they reinforce the audiences attention on Lukas as he is literally framed by the edges of the windows. In one scene, Lukas is on his bed in his apartment. He is reading a newspaper and smoking while porn plays on a television at his side and the flicker of the television a nd Lukass body are reflected in the shiny surface of the wall on the other side of Lukas. Pornography is one of the most voyeuristic types of media content but Lukas isnt focused on the images so the images seem to exist to reinforce the idea that there are many ways the audience can participate in voyeurism. In part of the process of identifying with Lukas, the audience is shown several examples of Lukas being a spectator at the movies and at home on televisions. In the scene where Lukas watches Mr. Bir nbaums videotaped testimony, there are multiple screens: the television screen with the survivor on it and the window in Lukas s apartment that the camera shoots through capturing Lukas and reflections. Mr. Birnbaums narration carries over to the next sc ene, which contains more screens: the windshield of Lukas s car and the s urveillance cameras in the tollplaza facilities. As Lukas s obsession grows, he searches out more screens to surround him. He collects
23 televisions and simultaneously plays testimonie s on each screen so their voices overlap and compete with each other. He also carries the televisions around with him, moving them from room to room and taking them to w ork. None of the televisions is really portable size; each is bulky and conspicuous an d Lukas is literally weighed down by Holocaust testimonies. In another scene, Lukas goes to the movie theatre to watch Mr. Horowitzs Holocaust film The Selection which is a not so subtle reference to Spielberg and Schindlers List. The camera shows Lukas s face illuminated by the screen images and his body in the theatre seat but the audience never sees the screen images that Lukas is seeing. The narrators perceptual slant does not provide much escape from Lukass interest focus through the selection of shots and perspectives the camera takes. The camera is often positioned over Lukass shoulder or close to Lukass face or body, which serves t o help the audience identify with Lukas. In many shots, the camera is positioned at an angle to Lukas so the audience sees both Lukas and what Lukas is looking at. In addition, Lukas is typically the only person on screen, or he is shown with one other per son. As Lukas becomes more engrossed in survivor testimonies, he surrounds himself with television screens. In one scene, Lukas has six television screens stacked up in his apartment playing different testimonies. The camera is positioned behind Lukas so t he audience is seeing what he is seeing while also watching Lukas watch the testimonies and his reactions to the testimonies. As Lukass obsession grows, his voyeur behavior becomes more difficult for the audience to continue to identify with him. At this point in the film, The Memory Thief becomes a rote depiction of madness and less successful in its attempt to implicate the audience as irresponsible voyeurs. One reviewer noted the
24 resemblance of Lukass apartment to where a serial killer might live (He rtz, 2008). Critic Schenker (2008) is less generous in his observation that the film chronicles a rather ordinary descent into madness, complete with increasingly anti social behavior in the workplace, obsessive redecoration of the walls with newspaper cl ippings and paranoid closet hiding, in short all familiar tropes worn thin by endless screen treatments of the same material (para. 3). It is difficult for the audience to continue to feel aligned with a character whose behavior has become increasingly st range. Camera as Tool of Domination The camera is a tool that frames and presents images using the perceptual slant determined by the implied author of a narrative. The recorded images in a film are not neutral but are sources of ideology. The camera an d recorded images made by people with cameras are a source of tension in The Memory Thief. People who make movies and record testimonies have a responsibility to their audience and subjects to treat them ethically. Additionally, the film attempts to argue that recorded images have the power to deeply affect their makers and subjects. In The Memory Thief, the camera is a tool of domination, self creation, and destruction. The film invites audience members to take a critical perspective on their own consumpti on of images of trauma and pain. The camera is a tool of destruction when Lukas f inally convinces Miras father to record his testimony. Zweig is very reluctant to record his testimony because he does not think that any good can come from reliving such tr aumatic experiences. Lukas eventually convinces him to recount his experiences for a camera that Lukas has misappropriated from his internshi p at the Holocaust archive. Zweig recounts his harrowing experience in a Nazi camp including watching guards murde r his wife and son and then being forced to
25 carry their bodies to a pit to be burned. He says he wishes he had died in the camps, and in many ways, he feels he did and that his life ended in the camps. Throughout Zwiegs testimony, Lukas pays rapt attentio n but is mostly emotionless. On the other hand, Mira is intensely disturbed by hearing her fathers story particularly because she did not know he had a wife and son before her. Towards the end of the film, Mira tracks Lukas down at the toll plaza and tea rfully accuses him of killing her father. The emotional fallout from recounting his experiences drove Zweig to commit suicide. The scene where Lukas records his testimony is perhaps the clearest indictment of the film audience as passive voyeurs of trauma. If the audience behaves like Lukas, it will passively listen to Zweigs testimony but not be moved too much. Indeed, Zweigs testimony is well scripted and emotionally acted but at the same time, the scene lacks the power to shock the audience. Mira is d eeply moved because of her relationship with her father and their empathetic connection, but Lukas, and by extension the audience, simply listens to another narrative in a long history of Holocaust narratives. At the height of his madness, Lukas buys a sm all camcorder and turns it on himself and strangers on the street. Lukas reenacts snippets of testimonies for his camera and shoves the camera in strangers faces demanding to know if they are Jewish. He even keeps the camera trained on cars that pass thr ough his tollbooth and asks the drivers if they are Jewish. The narrators perceptual slant alternates between looking through Lukas s viewfinder, complete with frame lines and grainy images, and the main film camera. The audience is asked to see what Lukas sees but, at this point in the narrative, his behavior is so strange that it is nearly impossible to identify with him. It is clear that Lukas s personal sense of the difference between reality and fiction has completely
26 broken down. While Lukass interview with Zweig positions the audience alongside Lukas as impassive witnesses to another persons pain, this scene with the camcorder increases the audiences alienation from Lukas. He has become a madman, completely obsessed with the Holocaust and the fai rly uninspired film depiction of a mans break with reality keeps the audience from questioning its own relationship to images of trauma. While Lukas is storming down streets demanding to know who is Jewish, there is a voiceover of Lukas s letter to the director Victor Horowitz who m Lukas wants to meet. Lukas turns to the director in an attempt to make sense of the surplus horror in the world. Horowitz, who is a thinly veiled reference to Steven Spielberg, has taken a break from making blockbuster horr or mo vies to make the Holocaust film The Selection. A film critic noted, In his effort to discover the meaning of Auschwitz, an increasingly delusional Lukas naturally turns to a teller of fairy tales who offers the world not just the horror but hope and redemption, things the real story of the Holocaus t can never provide (Fox, 2008, para. 3). Lukas cannot separate the real horrors of the world from the manufactured horrors that Horowitz produces so he looks to Horowitz to provide meaning and closure in the real world as he does in his film. If Lukas h ad not already begun to act completely erratic ally his interes t in Horowitz might resonate with the audience. Hollywood blockbuster movies like Schindlers List and The Pianist may provide hopeful and healing narratives for receptive audiences. Questionin g the role these heroic narratives play in cultural memory is worthwhile. However, the audience has been alienated from Lukas so this critique does not quite hit its mark.
27 Mimetic Transformation of Self Lukas begins to transform his identity through m imicking the behavior and stories of survivors. After watching Birnbaums testimony, Lukas begins a process of transformation from a boring tollbooth operator into a Holocaust survivor. In a journal entry to his mother, Lukas describes Birnbaum as a real survivor . purified by pain. He goes on to say that he does not envy the tortured and bereft, but there is something noble and attractive about someone who suffers like that. This attraction to suffering may be familiar to the audience, although Lukas phrases his interest more plainly than many would. American audiences are clearly interested in the Holocaust. Schindlers List and The Pianist both won multiple Academy Awards and made millions of dollars in American theatres. Additionally, more than 35 million people have visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum since its opening in 1993 ( United States Holocaust Memorial Museum press kit). The Holocaust is a legitimate object of study and remembrance, but most people would not confess to bei ng drawn to the horrors other people endured as a form of entertainment. Lukas is so drawn to the suffering of others that he tries to become them through a complete transformation of his identity. In order to transform himself, Lukas must learn new types of behavior that suit his evolving identity. Mimicry allows Lukas to practice appropriate behavior but it also causes friction with other characters who sense that Lukas is pretending to be someone he is not. Entering Zvis traditional Jewish funeral s ervice, Lukas watches the man in front of him put on a yarmulke from a large pile of yarmulkes, and Lukas follows his lead. Later, at the house where shiva is being held, Lukas again mimics the man in front of him who touches the mezuzah on the doorframe. When Lukas also touches the mezuzah, he
28 looks at his hand as though it has been transformed. He walks around the house as though in a daze. Mira senses that Lukas is out of place and confronts him, accusing him of being a spectator, not a true mourner. Luk as insists he does belong because he cried like everyone else; his emotional connection to Zvi is as authentic as anyone elses. Lukas shows Mira Zvis testimony tape, which she accepts as proof that he belongs at the funeral. Lukass uncertain behavior at these traditional ceremonies may be familiar to some audience members. Many people would identify with the awkwardness of entering into a social situation with unfamiliar norms and rituals. At the funeral and shiva, the narrators perceptual slant frames Lukas as alone within the crowd of people and while Lukas observes others, the camera stays on Lukas showing his reactions and not what he looks at. This intense focus on Lukas continues the invitation to identify with Lukas. After Zvis funeral, Luk as is fully committed to altering his identity to that of a Holocaust survivor. He watches survivor testimony tapes obsessively. At one point, he stops and rewinds a tape to watch a man take a drink from a glass of water. Lukas gets his own glass and pract ices mimicking the man drinking. Several people ask Lukas if he is even Jewish. Lukas responds the first time by repeating his name and the second time by saying, what do you think? However, Lukass outsider status continually betrays him and creates dis comfort for others. In one scene, Lukas goes to a Judaic shop to purchase various religious items, but the shop attendant notices that Lukas is wearing a cross necklace. The attendant suggests that Lukas might want a prayer book in English, not just Hebrew but Lukas refuses. This is not a particularly disruptive exchange-just slightly strange --but Lukass mimicking behavior soon goes to extremes.
29 Lukas notices similarities among survivor testimonies in that they all claim they survived the camps due to luck rather than skill. In an attempt to gain some of that luck, Lukas records the tattoo numbers off the videotapes and uses them to play the lottery. At the end of the film, Lukas buys 100 lottery tickets all with the number he gets tattooed on his arm. He gives them to his neighbor to hold onto because they are all winners. Lukass obsession with tattoo numbers starts to create distance between Lukas and the audience. Tattooing numbers on people is a dehumanizing act but Lukas treats the numbers like good luck charms and a way to make money. Through this inappropriate behavior, the audience starts to sense that Lukas is not a stable character and that taking on another persons identity is not a safe project. Lukas eventually completes his transforma tion and appears to embody the experiences of a Holocaust victim. The transformation ultimately leads to Lukass break with reality and, potentially, his death. Lukas has become the embodiment of all the testimonies he has watched. In a letter to Horowitz, Lukas writes, When I heard their stories, something changed within me. My own dreams and memories are gradually replaced. In other words, the mediated texts Lukas watches change who he is as a person. The compelling and traumatic nature of Holocaust testimonies seduces Lukas into altering his identity in response. Lukas creates his own testimony and records it himself. His body looks like pictures of people in death camps: he has a shaved head, a tat too on his forearm, and a blackand white striped su it of clothes. Lukas shuffles to the toll plaza in a kind of death march that ends off camera with the sound of screeching tires and an uncertain future for Lukas.
30 Closing Thoughts The audience does not know if Lukas survives or dies on the road. In a voiceover at the end of the film, Lukas says, In life, you make certain decisions that allow you to survive. Although, past a certain point, you are no longer the person you were when you started. Whether you admit it or not, you are already dead. Lukass journey through the unfamiliar world of survivors provides him with a thoroughly embodied pseudo memory of the Holocaust. He tries to get others to understand that the Holocaust is not an event in the past but a continuing trauma that can never be healed. This knowledge destroys Lukass life much as it continues to affect the lives of authentic survivors. However, Lukass behavior is so strange that it removes the audience from identif ication with him. The director wants the audience to question its interest in images of pain and suffering, and through identification and subsequent alienation from the protagonist, audience members are provided an opportunity to examine their own consumption of images of pain and suffering. At the beginning of The Memory Thief audience members are invited to identify with Lukas and align their subject position with Lukas as passive voyeurs. Through cinematic motifs, a controlling camera, and the presentation of a mimetic transformation of the self, the audience is invited to question its own interest in images of pain and suffering. Although Lukass transformation is more dramatic than any transformation a typical audience member may experience in resp onse to Holocaust testimony, the extremity of his transformation allows audience members to consider how their own consumption of images may affect their lives. Several film critics expressed the failure of the film in their confusion over the directors i ntentions. Hertz (2008) states, It's hard to
31 tell if Kofman wanted to make a point about how horrible the Holocaust was or just a picture of the fall of a young man who is trying to make something of a life with no meaning (para. 6). Another review er not es, What promises to be a provocative questioning of the continued role of the Holocaust in contemporary life ends by reducing the events to a de specified embodiment of 20th century suffering and places them in the service of what devolves into a dull ps ychological thriller every bit as dispensable as any of the lurid offerings of Kofman s fictional counterpart. (Schenker, 2008, para. 6) The shift from a subject position that identifies with Lukas to a more or less unconnected spectator role alienates the audience from the narrative presented in The Memory Thief. This alienation of the audience from the initial subject position results in an unresolved ending to the film that leaves audience members questioning if there are connections between their behavior and Lukass obsession. Ultimately, The Memory Thief raises interesting questions about audience and filmmaker responsibility for viewi ng and creating images of pain and suffering.
32 CHAPTER III AVERYS BUCKET LIST Facing the death of a child is one of the most traumatic experiences a family can endure. One Texas family turned to the Internet to share their daughters diagnosis in order to gain support as well as generate publicity for the rare disorder that would ev entually take their young daughters life. Averys Bucket List is a personal blog that came to national attention in early 2012. The blog chronicles Averys life after a diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) type one. Blogs are websites that allow individuals to share writing, pictures, and video with others in reverse chronological order. Michael Canahuati started the blog days after he and his wife Laura received the diagnosis of SMA, a genetic disorder that weakens muscles in the body until breathi ng becomes impossible, for their daughter. Most infants diagnosed with SMA do not survive past their second birthday. Avery was four months old when she was diagnosed. Averys father, Michael Canahuati, writes the blog but he adopts the voice of his infant daughter. The blog follows the family members as they attempt to pack as many experiences as they can into the time that remains for Avery via a bucket list of activities. The blog quickly received an overwhelming amount of attention from the general public as well as national news media. Approximately one month after the blog was launched, Avery passed away from complications due to SMA. Averys Bucket List inspired many people to read and share Averys story through social media despite the reality that the blog was an account of a dying infants final days. Over 170,000 people liked Averys Bucket List on Facebook, and the blog has had over 6 million page views since it was launched.
33 Canahuati constructs a persona for Avery through the narration of e vents that the blog recounts. As the creator and writer of the blog, Canahuati performs a role akin to that of a Hollywood director. He determines the story and the characters but also controls what visitors to the blog see and read. Canahuati chooses the words Avery speak s the images that wrepresent her, and the experiences she has Because Avery is an infant, the themes on the blog are more representative of Canahuati than they are of Avery. Averys Bucket List invites readers to occupy a subject position that is supportive of traditional family structure and Christian conceptions of lif e after death. Through this invitation to identify with hegemonic ideals, Averys Bucket List encourages viewers to participate in the subjectification of Avery through the celebration of heteronormative behavior, appeals to sentimentality, and interactive intimacy, which ultimately renders death harmless. Because the subject position offered to viewers is so specific, it does not allow for variation in interpretation and t herefore alienates readers who refuse the invitations made by the blog. In this chapter I explore the sense of connection that communication through blogs encourages and then provide an analysis of how readers of Averys Bucket List participate in the creation of Avery as a subject through the main themes employed on the blog that reinforce dominant ideologies while creating a narrative that suggests death is not an event to be feared but rather embraced. Finally, I explain the experi ence of a resistive subject position in relationship to Averys Bucket List. Connection Through Blogs Blogs are a platform for creating connections between content creators and readers. Through text, im ages, chronology and reader s ability to share wh at they find with others, blogs allow creators and readers to form relationships. Dean (2010) explains
34 that immediacy and linking are two ways readers are bound to a blog site. She states, Even more significant than immediacy for attaching readers to blogs are those features of the blog format that contribute to cross blog connections and conversations (p. 44). Blog writer s share events and thoughts on their blog site. R eaders can keep up to date on the most recent posts as well as comment on posts and share blog content with others via permalinks and social sharing tools Many sites encourage reader identification through direct address. Direct address makes it seem as though the content is created specifically for the reader. White (2006) acknowledges the appeal of direct address because it appears to acknowledge personal interests while allowing the media producer to render an even more detailed version of the spectators desires (p. 24) including their desire to purchase things. The appearance of ind ividualization of Internet sites appeals to readers because it positions them as in control while also constraining choices. In fact, computer interactivity often means adopting pre scripted narratives and buying things (White, 2006, p. 22). While the Internet user appears to have unlimited choices for consuming and sharing media, often it is an illusion of choice that supports hegemony and consumer culture. Through the Internet, audience members can create and share content that brings them pleasure. T he process of identifying, sharing, and circulating specific content elevates these bits of content out of the flood of information on the Internet and makes them seem special. Dean (2009) calls this circulation of communication communicative capitalism, w hich designations the strange merging of democracy and capitalism in which contemporary subjects are produced and trapped (p. 22). The interaction of creating and circulating content online sets the audience experience of the Internet apart
35 from audience experiences of less interactive media. While audiences certainly make choices when selecting other media to consume like which movie to see or television show to follow, there are more limited opportunities to directly interact with those med ia texts. Blogs by design invite some interaction. Dean (2010) notes that users enjoy thei r contributions to the Internet, but our participation does not subvert communicative capitalism. It drives it (p. 114). Deans analysis of communication circulated through the Internet states that it does not produce actual communities or connections but rather the appearance or feeling of community. Dean (2009) notes, by sending an email, signing a petition, responding to an article on a blog, people can feel poli tical. And that feeling feeds communicative capitalism insofar as it leaves behind the time consuming, incremental, and risky efforts of politics (p. 42). The circulation of communication feels pleasurable and productive to the user. One avenue for the circulation of affect online is through the circulation of images. Images contain the potent ial to be more than just what they depict Dean (2010) notes that an image is not simply itself but itself plus a nugget or shadow or trace of intensity (p. 115). Images are heavily used on blogs and social networking sites particularly personal or family photographs. In her seminal work On Photography, Sontag (1973) notes the ubiquity of family photography as well as the fictions photographs create In writing about travel photography, Sontag (1973) states that photography is not only a way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir (p. 6). While Sontag was not writing about the collection and circulation of digital images through the Internet, the anxiety she describes
36 that photography appeases has become amplified with the availabi lity of camera phones and photosharing sites. Photography is a protection against the anxiety of forgetting or missing out on something important. The camera makes real what one is experiencing (Sontag, 1973, p. 6) and provides evidence for others of what one experienced out of their sight. For Sontag, photography is a primary way of experiencing the world that frames and controls the cameras subject in order to relieve anxiety. The p opular photo sharing site Instagram boasts 150 million monthly active users with an impressive catalog of 16 billion shared photographs ( http://instagram.com/press/ ). The explosion of popularity in sharing photographs online suggests that Internet users are increasingly using photographs as a way to r elieve anxiety as well as framing their experiences for others. Sontags (1973) analysis seems even more valid today: Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and mor e to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form (p. 18). The circulation of images online helps reinforce the acceptance of images as equivalent to the experience while at the same time shapes the subjects in the images Celebrating Heteronormati vity Averys Bucket List invites readers to occupy a subject position that supports heteronormative gender expression and traditional family structure primarily through the use of family photographs and gendered family roles. At the top of each page of the blog, a large photograph of a baby dressed in pink greets visitors. The background of the photograph is pink, the babys hat and gown are pink, and the babys skin is pink. The baby in the picture is wearing a hospital brace let, which suggests the baby was just born. The caption suggests the baby in the picture is Avery Canahuati who has been gendered
37 female from the very beginning of her life. Family photographs are a site for identity production and reinforcing appropriate familial roles. Holland (2004) notes that personal photographs are made to show the individual or group as they would wish to be seen and as they have chosen to show themse lves to one another . but they also display public ideologies (pp. 117118). Personal photographs are not neutral reproductions of moments in time but are carefully framed constructions of the identity that the subjects wish to present to themselves and outsiders. As outsiders, blog readers are encouraged to view the Canahuati fami ly through its photographs to accept that it is a happy, traditional family unit. Figure 1. Header image from Averys Bucket List Caption: Imagine you've been diagnosed with an incurable genetic disease and you are told you will not only lose your ability to walk and move your arms, but you will die between now and the next 18 months. What would you do? My name is Avery Lynn Canahua ti, I'm almost 5 months old, and this has become my reality. But before I die, there's a few things I'd like to accomplish...this is my bucket list and my story. SHARE IT & HELP ME TELL THE WORLD ABOUT SMA! Avery is frequently pic tured wearing feminine cl othing that includes dresses, bows, tutus, and pastel colors. The Canahuati family is a traditional family unit with a mother and a father and photographs reinforce that family structure. In the first post on
38 the blog, there are photographs of Avery dress ed in a pastel dress being held between her mother and father and other photographs of Avery being held by her grandparents. Another picture of Avery shows her wearing a pink and purple onesie with a pink tutu. In a post from April 12, 2012, Avery is pictured wearing a Texas State University cheerleaders uniform that was taken during a campus visit to Texas State University Michael and Laura Canahuati met while attending Texas State University and the trip is an opportunity for Michael Canahuati to recount their courtship. This experience reinforces a narrative of heterosexual love and marriage that the Canahuati s assume will be the same for their daughter. The focus on traditional gender roles and heterosexual families encourages readers to identify with this type of family and erases other kinds of families. Figure 2. Michael, Avery, Laura Canahuati at Texas State University. Caption: I joined the cheer team. Beat ba ba ba beat go Bobcats!
39 Figure 3 Laura, Avery, Michael Canahuati. Caption: Avery: "Hey daddy, why no bunny business?" Daddy: "Oh, I'm sorry Aviator, would yoooou prefer I join yoooou in smiling like Bill Cosby?" Mommy: (gritting her teeth) "both of you stop talking and smile." Canahuati also reinforces heteronormative behavior through the items on Averys bucket list. Many items on the bucket list are typical activities for children such as: attend a birthday party, ride a bicycle, and eat ice cream. However, other items presume a heterosexual feminine identity for Avery such as: get a mani/pedi, get married, get ears pierced, and be a cheerleader. In a post from April 13, 2012, Avery recounts receiving her first kiss from a boy. Cooper, a 19monthold with a less aggressive form of SMA, gives Avery her first kiss. The reader is provide d with pictures as well as text recounting the moment. Avery describes the kiss through her parents perception; My mommy and daddy said this might be the best kiss since Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook . . Anyway, back to Cooper, my li ttle McDreamy, here he is in all his glory (Canahuati, 13 April, 2012, para. 2). Another instance of the Canahuatis imposing gender
40 expression on Avery occurs during the episode surrounding Avery receiving surgery to implant a gastric feeding tube (gtube ). Prior to the surgery, Avery decides, gtube stands for glamorous tube and requests that her parents dress her in her most glamorous clothing for her arrival at the hospital (Canahuati, 19 April, 2012, para. 5). There are photographs of Avery dressed i n a faux fur jacket, purple tutu, and headband. When Avery returns to her hospital room after surgery, her mother immediately appli es lip gloss to Averys lips. Canahuati presents this as the family checking one more item of f the bucket list. Applying lip gloss to an infant who has recently undergone surgery seems almost unfeeling but the positivity and lightheartedness with which the act is presented preclude any judgment from readers. Figure 4. Cooper and Avery. Caption: It was everything I imagined it would be.
41 Figure 5. Avery Canahuati. Caption: Thank you? Aunt Adria for the ridiculous outfit when I was born.The glamorous, glamorous. Oh the flossy, flossy. Despite Averys incredibly young age, her parents project their own heterosexual desire onto her and, through the circulation of the blog, readers support the creation of Avery as a heterosexual subject. For readers who might have different sexual identities, the blog does not leave any space for different types of subject positions. The behaviors and attitudes on the blog are totally focused on heterosexual desir e and relationships, which call readers to occupy a subject position that affirms the exclusive expression of sexuality. The consistent presentat ion of Avery as a feminine subject through photographs, definite and positive language, and choice of bucket l ist items invites readers to accept Averys subjectivity as natural. The naturalness of her gender expression illustrates Althussers ( 1999) theor y that ideology always already shapes a subject. Even babies are always already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is expected once it has been conceived (Althusser, 1999, p. 321). Ph otographs are one way a family frames and
42 shapes their ideological configuration and presents it to themselves and the outside world. Readers of Averys Bucket List are presented with one interpretation of family that they can accept or reject. Readers who accept this interpretation feel connected to the Canahuatis while readers who question or reject the interpretation feel alienated and disconnected. Sentimentality Averys Bucket List employs sentimentality to encourage identification with a subject position that is supportive of Christian conceptions of life after death. Sentimentality is the excessive expression of an emotion, typically sadness, tenderness, or nostalgia Sentimentality takes intensities directly to qualified and simplified emotion. The sentimental expression on Averys Bucket List appeals to feelings of tenderness towards children as well as happiness in the face of death. This intense expression of tenderness contributes to the binding through circulating affect identified by Dean ( 2010) as a characteristic of blogs. She states, People enjoy the circulation of affect that presents itself as contemporary communication. The system is intense; it draws us in (Dean, 2010, p. 95). The popularity of Averys Bucket List can be partially attributed to the enjoyment afforded to site readers through the presentation of sentimental emotion on the blog. The subject position utilizes sentimentality to embrace Chr istian ideas of life after death. The primary sentimental expressions Michael Canahuati employs is happiness in the face of death as well as Averys strength of spirit that belie s the infants inability to comprehend the events of her life and impending death. These appeals to sentimental expression of emotion make the narratives of Averys life and death more palatable than
43 a more nuanced expression of grief. The language throughout the blog is relentlessly positive. The text that precedes each blog post encourages people to share Averys story so her life while cut short in time, will be beyond fulfilling in stature (Canahuati, 2012). Besides the phrase being rather awkward, it implies that Averys life will have more meaning after her death. Raising awareness of SMA so that future children will not suffer from it is a major goal for the blog as well as for the purpose of Averys life. Her death is presented as an avenue for ending the suffer ing of children. Readers need not mourn her loss because her death has a purpose in the greater good of all children. Readers of Averys Bucket List who occupy the subject position invited by the blog may be comforted by the familiarity of th e Christian afterlife narrative. While the text on the blog does not explicitly reference Christianity, readers can infer f rom the text that the Canahuati s believe in an afterlife where people who have died are brought together, free of pain and suffering. This narrative allows readers who agree with it to feel that death is not something to be feared as an end of existence but rather a joyous experience with a purpose. Another way Canahuati makes death safe is by focusing on living a good life In a post from April 22, 2012, Avery remembers her fathers desire that SMA not take Averys smile away (Canahuati, 22 April, 2012, para. 2). The rest of the post contains photos of people holding Avery and smiling. One of Averys bucket list items is to captur e 1000 smiles before she dies and this post attempts to document the many times Avery has made people smile. Furthermore, Canahuati focuses on the value of experiences in making a good life. He focuses on experiences not only through the emphasis on the bucket list by also through statements such as: you can live life dying or
44 you can die living life (Canahuati, 28 April, 2012, para. 5) and Up Next: Whatever I bring to life, because I dont have time to wait for life to bring anything to me (Canahuati, 2012) which closes each blog post. Positivity and happy experiences bring purpose to life and obscure the impending sadness of loss. For the audience, the relentless focus on positive experiences constrains expressions of grief and loss. While individual commenters express their sadness that Avery will die, they also acknowledge the Canahuati s choice to focus on positive experiences as the right choice. The most vivid use of sentimentality on the blog is the post from May 7, 2012, that recounts Avery s memorial service. Aver y passed away suddenly on April 30, 2012. Canahuati initially posted the news of her passing on May 1, 2012. In that post, Canahuati shares a note Avery wrote for him to open in the event of her death. Avery promises her parents w hile I am not here physically, I will forever live in your minds, as you will in mine (Canahuati, 1 May, 2010, para. 8). Continuing presence is a common theme in death narratives but having an infant express her continued presence after her own death is unusual. Averys letter to the readers of her blog employs direct address to acknowledge the audiences fear of death and sadness at Averys passing and reassure the audience members that, if they believe in life after death, they need not experience deep grief. Canahuati further endows Avery with thoughts beyond her actual capacity in his remarks at her memorial service: Avery showed us what it means to be courageous, she showed us what true love is, and she taught us many other lifelong lessons. And even in her darkest minutes, as she was being rolled into ICU, she looked up at her nurses and she reminded us all how to keep smiling. So as I stand before you, I will tell you that if I shed a tear today, its [sic] not a tear of sadness for my daughters pass ing, rath er its a tear of pride for what my daughter accomplished in her living. Simply put, Laura and I are the proudest parents in the world right now. (Canahuati, 7 May, 2012, para. 6)
45 Canahuati presents Avery as courageous in the face of death. H owever, Avery was a five monthold infant with minimal comprehension. His characterization of Avery both creates a positive situation for readers with which to identify while at the same time erasing any pain, shock, or grief Avery or her parents experienc ed. For the blog reader, Canahuatis remark s reassure her that Avery did not suffer and that her parents are not suffering because they are proud of their childs contributions to the world. Again, this focus on positive sentiment erases any alternative perspectives. Between Canahuati initially publishing Averys letter to her parents and the memorial service, the letter evolved to include more sentimental statements that help readers feel even more positive about Averys death. She opens the letter by li sting all the family members who have died before her and then stating that she is now with them. This reassures readers that the helpless infant is with family who care for her even in death. In the second paragraph of the letter, Avery makes jokes about public speaking and all the men she found attractive in the past month. This positive and silly tone keeps readers from dwelling on the sadness of her illness and death. In the next two paragraphs, Avery establishes her legacy. The purpose of her life was to bring awareness to SMA, and she will continue to li ve on through all who remember her. Readers who felt connected to Averys story can carry on her memory for the rest of their loves. Many commenters on the blog seem to resonate with the sentimentality. Comments express love for Avery, inspiration from her example, being touched by her story, and how their lives have changed because of Averys story. Many parents of young children express their sorrow and empathy for the Canahuatis. The sentimental approach to death on
46 Averys Bucket List dilutes the strength and duration of unpleasant feelings while extending positive feelings for readers. Interactive Intimacy Images and sentimental expression of feeling reinforce feelings of connection to the Canahuati family and this sense of connection is encouraged by blogging technology, which invites a sense of intimacy for readers. The blog opens a window into one familys intimate lives. Averys Bucket List functions as a participatory spectacle that allows readers to stage and perform [their] own entrapment (Dean, 2010, p. 111). From the very first post, readers are invited t o participate in the Canahuatis lives through sharing Averys story on social networks, in email, and in face to face communi cation. Over 170,000 people have liked Averys Bucket List on Facebook, the blog has had over 6 million page views, and the Twitter feed has over 7000 followers. The activity of sharing via social networks acts as a passive participation and endorsement of a site and it helps readers feel like they have a role to play in the stories presented on the blog. Another way the blog invites intimacy is through the use of family photographs. While the photographs on the one hand present a heteronormative image of family, they are also of familiar subject matter in familiar formats that encourage readers to identify with the images. Digital cameras allow people to take many photographs of the people in their lives choose the images that best represent the lives th ey want to present to the world and then rapidly share them online. Sontag (1973) writes, through photographs, each family constructs a portrait chronicle of itself a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness (p. 5). The Canahuati f amilys portraitchronicle, shared online, allows people around the world to feel like they are friends with the family
47 because viewing other peoples family photographs feels like an intimate act despite the fact that the images were chosen by the author of the blog. Averys Bucket List is full of the kinds of photographs that many families take: parents holding children, new babies with extended family members, and holiday celebrations. The familiar photographs help smooth the transition to less familiar photographs such as images of illness The Canahuatis publish many pictures of Avery in healthcare settings. These photographs include: medical equipment, visits to the hospital, and Ave rys post surgery body One photograph shows Averys incision site after her g tube surgery. This image stands out from the rest of the images on the blog because it is subject matter that is not typically recorded for the family album. Photographs of illness and bodies in pain are not typically included in family albums and these images are the most likely to disrupt the compliant subject position the blog encourages. However, these photographs are presented in a lighthearted fashion, and the adults in the images are typically smiling despite the setting. Figure 6. Avery post surgery. Caption: My ouchie & my Glam Tube.
48 Averys Bucket List also creates a sense of intimacy through direct address. Michael Canahuati, using the persona of Avery, writes in a f amiliar tone and often addresses the readers thoughts and desires directly. Avery uses pronouns such as you and yours when referring to the audience. At the end of each blog post, there are instructions for sending gifts and donations to Avery. The instr uctions read, Also, my mommy and daddy wanted me to make sure you know that all monetary contributions will be used towards continued SMA awareness (Canahuati, 2012). Likewise, Averys Bucket List is open for participation from readers. In the introducti on to the bucket list, Avery says, please help me come up with ideas and if possible, help me complete the items on the list and/or share in the experiences with me (Canahuati, 9 April, 2012, para. 2). While most readers will not physically p articipate in completing bucket list items, they are invited to share in the experience from a distance through following the stories on the blog. Readers can also suggest experiences for the family or offer assistance in completing more expensive or complicated exper iences such as throwing out the first pitc h at a baseball game. Even if reader s canno t help, there is the promise that they can be par t of the story given the right circumstances. By addressing the audience directly, Canahuati encourages the audience to occupy the preferred subject position created by the blog because it feels like it was written specifically for the reader. The final way Avery Bucket List invites a sense of intimacy is through the ability to comment directl y on the blog. At the end of every post, readers have the ability to comment on the post. Early posts on Averys Bucket List have dozens to hundreds of comments. The post announcing Averys death has over 2000 comments. Most of the comments are positive an d encouraging. Many commenters share experiences they have
49 with the children in their lives, their hopes for Avery, and other generally positive statements. Additionally, most commenters address Avery directly and promise to share her story as widely as po ssible. They also offer support and prayers for the Canahuati family. The combination of familiar photographs, direct address, and the ability to participate on the blog all encourage readers to feel an intimate connection to Avery. This direct connection helps situate readers in the preferred subject position through passive acceptance because to reject this position would be akin to rejecting a dying little girl. Resistive Subject Position Throughout Averys Bucket List readers are strongly encouraged to occupy a subject position that celebrates heteronormative gender expression, traditional family structure, and the Christian promise of life after death. For readers who are comfortable with this subject position, the blog is a source of pleasure. However, not all readers are comfortable with this subject position and, therefore, they may take a critical position in relationship to the text. While commenters on the blog were supportive and positive, commenters on Metafilter.com, a link sharing discussion board, were less supportive. Some commenters noted ex treme discomfort with the firstperson writing, the relentless pursuit of likes and sharing, and the sentimental language. One person noted the photographs of Avery with her parents seemed like Avery was a pet not a child. Commenter Werkzeuger (1 May, 2012) noted, What I realized is that the use of firstperson language, and the ascribing of complex, emotional sentiments to an infant is exactly what Pro life America and other groups use on thousands of billboards across the country. "I've got my daddy's eyes!" "I can't wait to go fishing with Grandpa!" and the implied "Why do you want to murder me, I'm a bundle of joy!" Usually thoughts attributed to a twelve week fetus, but accompanied by the picture of a cute eighteen month old. ( http://www.metafilter.com/115485/Avery SMAvery )
50 Werkzeuger goes on to note that the discomfort readers feel as a result of the rhetorical structure of the blog is more about their own politics than the text on the blog. While several commenters expressed negative reactions to the blog, many others immediately attacked them for not feeling appropriately which i n effect controlled the reactions of readers who did not agree with the subject position presented on Averys Bucket List. However, because Internet users can quickly make choices about what does and does not interest them and then move on, readers of Aver ys Bucket List who do not accept the preferred subject position do not need to construct a resistive or critical subject position, they can click away to the next site that interests them. Closing Thoughts Averys Bucket List invites readers to occupy a s ubject position that is supportive of traditional family structure a nd Christian conceptions of life after death. Relentless positivity, Christian narratives of the afterlife, and familiar family photographs encourage readers to occupy the preferred subject position while at the same time restricting responses to the blog. The inclusion of personal photographs serves to constrain and frame the Canahuati family as a specific type of heterosexual white family. The relentlessly positive tone of the writing on the blog does not allow readers to make their own interpretations of the events recounted. Because Avery is so young, she does not have a developed sense of identity and therefore she serves as a blank slate onto which her parents can project their hopes for their children as well as their own desires. This text stands apart from the other texts in this study because the text alone does not challenge the audiences conceptions of self. Instead, Averys Bucket List reproduces normative identities in a nove l yet restrictive fashion that, to the reader who rejects these
51 identities, is reprehensible. Instead of embracing the subject position as presented, these readers can easily refuse to participate by not interacting and not sharing the blog. For readers o f the blog, their participation in Averys story allows them to experience the death of a child from a safe distance and in a manner that is more diluted form than many other media texts that depict the death of a child. To return to Dean (2010), the circulation of communication binds users to sites but does not incite them to act. The ability to create and share content creates passivity. She states, ubiquitous, personal media, communic ation for its own sake, turn our activity into passivity. They capture it, use it (Dean, 2010, p. 122). Averys Bucket List encourages passivity in its audience through its unified narrative of positivity and the constant exhortation to share the blog with others. Averys Bucket List encourages passive acceptance of subject position through the illusion of choice and action.
52 CHAPTER IV THE ARTIST IS PRESENT Over the past 40 years, Marina Abramovic has built an impressive body of performance art, including several significant pie ces that challenge the limits of physical endurance and pain thresholds. Abramovics Rhythm series pushed the artists bodily limits through pain, psychotropic drugs, and passivity. Together with artist Ulay, Abramovic continued to push her bodily limits i n epic performances such as The Lovers The Great Wall Walk. For this piece, the artist pair started at opposite ends of the Great Wall in China and walked toward each other. For this performance, each artist walked approximately 2500 km over the course of several weeks. In more recent years, Abramovic began to incl ude audiences in her performances, which included smaller feats of endurance, which she guided. In 2010, she staged not only her longest performance piece but also her most straightforwardly interactive piece, The Artist is Present The body is a constant presence and theme in Abramovics work. With The Artist is Present the bodies that are present are not just the body of the artist but al so the bodies of the spectators and most crucially, the bodies of the participant viewers. There are three d ifferent subject positions available in The Artist is Present : the position of the artist, the position of the viewer within the performance, and the position of the viewer outside the performance. Each subject position invites a different level of engagem ent with the performance. The position of the viewers outside the performance is important but the most revolutionary subject position in this pe rformance is that of the viewers within the performance because they have the opportunity to be both a part of the piece as
53 well as a spectator. The Artist is Present invites participant viewers to occupy a subject position that mirrors the artist and provides access to an embodied affective experience of duration and presence through stillness, place, and scale. Through the aesthetic and affective experience of duration and presence, The Artist is Present encourages viewers to eschew their perceived stable subjectivity in favor of experiencing the self in the flow of becoming. In this chapter, I provide an overvie w of Abramovics work and the persistent themes with which she works and then outline the concept of affective spectator experience as it applies to this particular performance. I then provide a detailed analysis of how The Artist is Present employs stilln ess, duration and scale to invite viewers to participate in a deeply affective experience that challenges the viewers sense of self in relationship to another. The Artist Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramovic is considered one of the matriarchs of performance art. Her artistic oeuvre contains threads of a committed work ethic as well as deep spirituality. Abramovic has been creating challenging performance art since the 1970s and in recent years has had the opportunity to present work on the internationa l stage. Her recent exhibitions include performances at the 47th Venice Biennial, a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Whitworth Art Gallery during the Manchester International Art Festival. Many of the performances in recent years hav e utilized video and sets and not just the artists body. Abramovics Venice Biennial piece, Balkan Baroque (1997), was comprised of projected images, copper sinks and 1,500 fresh beef bones as well as the artist. In The House with the Ocean View (2002),
54 Abramovic performed for 12 days in a simplified house like set where she slept, bathed, and relieved herself in front of visitors to the gallery. In her performances, Abramovic aggressively challenges her limits of pain and endurance and frequently invi tes the audience to directly participate with her. In Rhythm 0 (1974) Abramovic placed 72 objects on a table and stood passively in front of the audience. The instructions for the performance were, There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired. I am the object. During this period I take full responsibility (Biesenbach, 2010, p. 74). Over the course of six hours, the audience used all the items on the table on the artist and became increasingly violent. The entire time, Abramovic rem ained passive altho ugh documentary images show her clothes torn off and with tears running down her face. Her work with Ulay often challenged physical limits through interaction with anothers body. They locked their mouths together and breathed each other s recycled breath until they passed out in Breathing In/Breathing O ut (1977). They repeatedly ran into one another at increasing speeds in Relation in Space (1976). In Rest Energy (1980), they grasped opposite sides of a bow and arrow and let the tension of their bodies hold them apart. All the while, an arrow was aimed at Marinas heart. Over the course of her artistic career, Abramovic has continued to explore bodily experience and her physical limits. The Artist is Present On March 14, 2010, Abramovic embarked on her longest duration performance piece in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. From March 14 until May 31, 2010, Abramovic sat in the atrium for the entire time the museum was open. The premise of the piece is simple as were the materials. The artist sat
55 in a simple wooden chair across from another wooden chair separated by a small square table. After two months of performing, the table was removed, leaving just two chairs facing each other. The table and chairs were placed in the center of the atrium, which soars 110 feet above street level ( http://www.moma.org/about/MoMA_builds para. 4), and a large square of floor space around the table and chairs was marked o ff with white tape on the floor. Four large klieg lights with soft boxes were positioned in the four corners of the marked off floor space. These lights flooded the performance area with even brighter light. Abramovic positioned herself in her chair before the museum opened each day and visitors queued up at the edges of the atrium to wait for a chance to sit in the empty chair. In The Artist is Present, Abramovic creates an event that invites audience members to phy sically occupy a subject position that mirrors the subject position that is constantly occupied by the artist. To take this position, a museum visitor must first wait in line, often for hours, and then, when the moment comes to take a seat across from the artist, the visitor must walk from outside the performance space toward the artist. Abramovic reset between each participant by closing her eyes and l owering her head a little. T he next participant would walk alone toward Abramovic who had her eyes closed, take the seat and wait for the artist to open her eyes. Then, the two looked at one another. The constraints of the performance dictated that there would be no talking or touching just sustained sitting and looking. The physical experience for particip ants mirrored that of the artist but was not equivalent. Abramovic was in control of the performance and determined the setting and parameters of the performance. She could even signal for security to remove a participant
56 if she felt threatened. She sat fo r the entire duration of the performance while other participants came and went at will. Participants could sit as long as they liked. Some sat for a few minutes and some sat for hours. Several people made repeated visits to the performance. For Abramovic The Artist is Present presented the possibility of failure because the length of the performance might have exceeded her physical stamina. For participant spectators, once they were participating, there was no threat of failure because they determined th e duration of their participation. The stamina required for this performance is not immediately apparent but the statistics for the performance are impressive. Abramovic sat for over 700 hours over the course of three months. She sat without breaks for seven hours a day six days a week. Almost 1400 people participated in the performance. Several people made repeat visits including one man who participated 21 times. Over 700,000 people visited the exhibit and countless people accessed a live feed via the MOMA website and viewed headshots of all the participants on Flickr.com. A documentary titled Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present chronicles the process of developing the MoMA retrospective and new performance. In the documentary Abramovic is shown at the end of a day of performance totally physically exhausted. At one point, the security guards and curator Klaus Biesenbach become worried about her health. Biesenbach tells Abramovic that she can stop the performance but she refuses. The risk of failure of her body is one of the aspects of the performance with which the curator and the artist are preoccupied. One of the attractions as well as difficulties of performa nce art is that it is necessarily ephemeral. In the 1960s, performance art was a radical rejection of the commodification of art objects. The performances were specific to a time and place and
57 did not produce objects to be sold or displayed. However, these ideals quickly started to break down. Photographs, films, and artifacts from performances were shown in galleries. In addition, documentation of performances became expected. In 2005, Abramovic took a daring step and staged re performances of six canonical performance art pieces at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The show, titled Seven Easy Pieces, was based on the premise that performance art could be preserved and experienced t hrough r e performance. In the Mo MA retrospective, 30 specially trained performers re perform several of Abramovics early works. Physical presence, while still the crux of performance art, is just one part of the life of a performance. While I was not able to be physically present for the performance of The Artist is Present, the extensive documentation, both official forms and unofficial audience reviews, is available for analysis. The documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, the exhibition website hosted by MoMA, and the official exhibition catalog provide ample visual and temporal documentation of the exhibit. Additionally, unofficial documentation of the exhibit is available on YouTube and personal blogs. For the purposes of my analysis, I rely prim arily on the official forms of documentation and turn to unofficial documentation for added details. For example, the ambient sound in the atrium is mixed with music in the documentary but in YouTube videos the white noise of many people moving and talki ng throughout the museum has a stronger presence. While being physically present to participate in Abramovics performance is the ideal source of material for analysis, the artist herself argues for the reproducibility and preservation of performance art.
58 Perfo rm ance Art Performance art challenges traditional notions of the form and purpose of art. Art criticism has long relied on analysis of representation and signification. However, performance art does not easily lend itself to representational readings. This genre of a rt developed in the 1960s as a response to the increasingly commodified art world. When artists rejected the art object for events that could not be bought and sold, they also rejected formal concerns of representation in favor of other ways of sense makin g. Performance art presents embodied experiences that take place over time in a specific place. Often, these performances utilize the body of the artist first and foremost with narrative and other physical materials taking a supporting role when they are present in a performance. To attempt to read many performance pieces from a representational perspective is to be frustrated with what is found. Criticism that pays attention to the embodied experience of the spectator and performer affords more rich infor mation than a merely representational reading. As experiential and durational art, performance art is an ideal format to examine how experiences of affect are created by the artist and accessed by the audience. Affect is a term that has a variety of defin itions and applications. OSullivan (2001) states art is a bundle of affects or, as Deleuze and Guattari would say, a bloc of sensations waiting to be reactivated by a spectator or participant. Indeed, you cannot read affects, you can only experience them (p. 126). Performance art is not waiting to be reactivated; it is active for the duration of the performance with sensations available for spectators to access should they wish to engage with invitations made by the performance. Hemmings (2005) summariz es affect as a texture that refers to our qualitative experience of the social
59 world, to embodied experience that has the capacity to transform as well as exceed social subjection (p. 549). Affect is not the same as emotion, although it may become quali fied as emotion. Massumi (1995) identifies emotion as quantified intensity, the conventional, consensual point of insertion of intensity onto semantically and semiotically formed progressions, into narrativizable actionreaction circuits, into function a nd mean (p. 88). Once affect is identified and named, it moves from intensity to semiotics and representation. Performance art, as art of the body, invites engagement with intensities that move along the surface of the body. Furthermore, because performan ce art is specifically concerned with duration, it is a fertile medium through which to explore Deleuzes concept of becoming. Colebrook (2002) explains the connection between affect and time for Deleuze: A body makes certain affective connections, its mo uth is drawn to a breast, its eye directed to a face, its hands attracted to tools. These investments or connections create what it is to be human. The body is produced through time, through becoming. . Neither art not philosophy are about representing a world that is already there, they are about making connections or becoming desir ing machines. (pp. 61 62) For Deleuze, time is a process of becoming where new connections are made and not just an orderly march of events one after another. Performanc e art calls attention to the experience of time in many ways not least of which is the viewers experience of the duration of a performance. Participants in The Artist is Present are invited to experience themselves becoming through time through the aesthetic features of stillness, place, and scale. Stillness One key aesthetic feature of The Artist is Present is stillness. Both the artist and the participant spectator are required to sit still for the duration of their performance
60 together. Abramovic stat es that doing nothing is often harder than doing something (Abraham, Akers, & Dupre, 2012). Stillness is a challenge to capitalist frameworks because it is not productive. There are very few opportunities in the course of daily life for most Americans to s it completely still. Audiences at theatres are expected to sit still and be silent for the duration of a movie or live performances. However, while the audience is still, the performance taking place in front of them is not still, which provides and imaginative outlet for the immobile audience. In Abramovics performance, the participating audience member faces the artist who is mostly immobile as well. The stillness invited in The Artist is Present is more akin to zen meditation than the stillness invited by cinema. Zen meditation invites complete stillness of the body and mind, which is achieved through careful attention to breath. Participants in the performance attempted to articulate why they were drawn to sit motionless with the artist for extended pe riods. One visitor, Paco Blancas, sat across from Abramovic a total of 21 times. His unique face with large dark eyes and his carefully combed hair is easy to pick out among all the other participant images. In the documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012), Blancas shows off the tattoo he got to commemorate the 21 times he participated with Abramovic. A MoMA intern interviewed Blancas and asked about his experience of stillness in the performance. Blancas responded, were always li ke, I have to do this, I have to do that. But when I come here, I dont make any plans because I know Im going to be here and I dont care what time it is. I just let go and forget about it. Sometimes weve been there for so many hours on line and you dont even notice it, its like Oh, how come its so late? You dont feel time anymore. Time stops, and theres just this energy. (Kaganskiy, 10 May, 2010, para. 15)
61 He also describes the pull of the artists eye contact and his experience of sitting, br eathing, and being present. Another participant described their experience as being out of time (Kaganskiy, 29 March, 2010, para. 4) and then goes on to describe the toll being still took on her body, Your body is working so hard from being still or try ing to be still. Its just something Ive never experienced before. Its not like meditation because youre with somebody else and youre both looking at each other (para. 10). Stillness is not simply an absence of movement but is its own kind of movement Curator Biesenbach says, Time is a weight on the performers shoulders (Abraham, 2012). Abramovics performance makes time a physical sensation for the participants. Participants in The Artist is Present are required to set aside capitalist ideol ogy that encourages productive use of time and productive bodies in favor of passive bodies that are open to the affective experience of time. Capitalism prefers bodies that are engaged in production of exchangeable goods and punishes unproductive bodies. The Artist is Present rewards unproductive bodies first with the chance to sit with the artist (many people waited through the night presumably foregoing attendance at their jobs in favor of participating in an art performance) and second with the chance to experience time as a physical and affective experience not just the representation of time. The time spent participating in The Artist is Present is not productive of any commodity for the participant. The performance did produce a commodity for the art ist and the museum. For tparticipants their time was productive of an experience of affect and connection between the participant and artist that challenges hegemonic approaches to stillness and movement.
62 Place Performing within a museum creates a particular set of expectations regarding audience behavior. The art institution confers legitimacy on particular art objects and artists. Additionally, visitors to museums are expected to behave in very specific ways. In large museums, the space i s typical ly divided into small galleries with each gallery containing works that are related in some way. The work can be related through artistic style, theme, materials, or some other way as determined by a curator. Audience members are invited to move through t he galleries at their own pace, often in whatever order they choose although architecture and signage can encourage a particular path. The work the audience views has been anointed as a legitimate and worthwhile cultural production by the curators and dir ectors in charge of the institution. This is to say that behavior and expectations within the art institution are regulated by specific power structures. That The Artist is Present is staged within the MoMA is a significant aesthetic and experiential elem ent of the piece. In the documentary of Abramovics retrospective, an art critic states, the MoMA is the most significant context for a living artist to show work (Abraham, 2012). The act of two people sitting across from one another is elevated to art p artially because it takes place at a museum. While the same act could take place anywhere, it would not be art. OSullivan (2001) identifies the work that art does on the spectator as transformative: it transforms, if only f or a moment, our sense of our selves and our notion of our world (p. 128). Painting, for example, can provide access to unique perspectives of common scenes and, at times, these perspectives are challenging. Abstract expressionist painting challenge not only the form and content of p ainting but
63 also reliance on representation. While the potential for experiencing intensities in daily life is present, art occupies a position outside regular life that allows it to open up opportunities to experience the world differently. Viewers who ha d the opportunity to participate with Abramovic were afforded an opportunity to access another world, a world of impermanence and interpenetration, a molecular world of becoming (OSullivan, 2001, p. 128) that would not be possible outside the art instit ution. Audience members expect a certain kind of experience at the museum, one where they are spectators not participants. The spectator experience at art museums is typically one of the flneur, a wandering spectator who seeks out art that pleases his or her sensibilities. While museum visitor s are on display because they are in a public space, attention is focused on art objects and not other visitors. Once museum visitor s decide to participate in Abramovics perf ormance, they move from being spect ator s to performers The participant has a private, affective experience with the artist while other museum visitors engage in a public experience of viewing a performance in MoMAs atrium. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012) depicts these paral lel experiences in several shots. The camera shows the artist and a participant engaged in silent communication while across the atrium, countless people stand, sit, walk, and talk. In one shot, two children sit on the floor of the atrium engaging in thei r own staring contest while in the background, the performance continues. All the participants were photographed and the length of time they sat with Abramovic recorded and then posted online on both MoMAs website and Flickr.com as well as published in a book. The position of spectator turnedperformer is an easy transition for some and more exhausting for others. Curator Klaus Biesenbach and Abramovics assistant
64 explain s that some participants view Abramovics performance as a stage of their own while others fall in love with the artist. Abramovic states that she becomes a mirror for the selves of the people who sit across from her. Her subjectivity no longer matters as the participants use the performance to experience aspects of their selves on a pub lic stage. Participants in The Artist is Present were invited to set aside their normal spectator behavior and make a direct connection to the artist. To return to Deleuze, a body makes certain affective connections , and these connections create what it is to be human (Colebrook, 2002, p. 61). When the participant sat down across from Abramovic and Abramovic opened her eyes, the two subjects were provided an opportunity to make an affective connection. In the documentary, there are several shots of Abra movics eyes focusing on a participants face and with minimal movement, the artist appears to truly look at the person across from her. This intense, focused experience of affective connection produced overwhelming sensations for some participants. Many participants were documented crying. In fact, the crying inspired a meme and a tumbler: Marina Abramovic made me cry. This level of public experience of affect is not encouraged in other public settings, and is typically not permitted in an art institution but within the boundaries of a performance art piece, individuals may behave in ways that would not be permitted otherwise Scale The scale of The Artist is Present contributes to spectator experiences of presence and duration through the performance. There are two physical scales of the performance depending on where the spectator is positioned. Within the performance, the scale is very intimate. The table is smallabout three feet squareand the chairs are positioned very
65 close to the table. After per forming in the MoMA atrium for several weeks, Abramovic decided the table needed to be removed from the performance space. Without the table, artist and participants were afforded more direct interaction. The table and chairs were evocative of personal rel ationships such as eating dinner or having tea together. The scale was one of familiarity and comfort. This physical closeness along with the distance to other spectators allowed Abramovic and participant viewers to interact in a semiprivate space. The closeness of performer and participant heightens the affective experience of the performance because the two bodies are physically very close with very little to impede their contact. The closeness of the bodies creates a kind of suspense that the distance between artist and participant might be or is in the process of breaking down. At the end of Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, a young woman can barely contain her excitement to be close to the artist. As she approaches the center of the performance space, the young woman removes her dress and stands for a moment completely nude. Before she can sit, security guards surround her and remove her from the atrium. Later, she confesses through tears that she wanted to give a gift to the artist, to have a special experience that was just between the two of them. The suspense created by the possibility of closeness between the artist and the participant overwhelmed this young woman and many other participants who waited hours to participate. Non participat ing spectators did not have direct access to the same experience of affect and presence as participating spectators due to their distance from the artist. The performance space extended quite far into the atrium and was demarcated by tape on the floor and a bright flood of light on the performance. Beyond the tape and light, spectators
66 were not participating in the performance and could behave as they liked by coming and going, sitting, talking, or ignoring the performance. Furthermore, there were even more distant spectators because the performance was streamed online and even several years after the performance ended, spectators can view headshots of all the participants as well as YouTube videos taken by spectators at the original performance. View er s of online videos and photographs are provided with a closer point of view than viewers in the gallery space. The close up images of the artist s and participants faces are similar to Deleuzes affection image. Pisters (2003) explains Deleuze relates th e affection image to firstness, the level of all possibilities, where all becomings and all affects are possible but not (yet) an action or a thought (p. 71). The still images of participants hold the subjects in a state of suspension where anything is possible. Likewise, viewing documentary images from the performance allows spectators to remain in a state of suspension with the images. Spectators in the museum had access to a different subject position than spectators removed in space and time from the performance. Spectators in the MoMA atrium were invited to occupy the subject position of attentive art viewer. They were expected to quietly view the performance, consider the experience, and then move on much like viewers of paintings. If they stayed long enough, they might have been able to make comparisons between the behavior and duration of different participants but they could not view the performance as a whole piece, only as fragments that occurred while they were physically in the gallery. The au dience that viewed t he performance through various mediated sites like Flickr, YouTube, the documentary, and printed catalog, was afforded a more contemplative subject position. While it was still expected to be an accepting art
67 audience, it had a privileg ed position from which to view the entirety of the performance. However, without access to the bodily sensations of participating in the performance, the subject position available to remote viewers relies more on representation and discourse to make sense of the work than affect and duration. The pleasure derived from The Artist is Present for nonparticipant spectators is more associated with the pleasure of voyeurism than with the expectation of connection with the artist. Non participant spectators are invited to observe the performance from a removed distance either at the edges of the gallery or online. While they are still invited to open themselves to the experience of duration and presence, they are detached from the physical presence of the arti st and are therefore not afforded the possibility of affective connection. These distant spectators are removed from the intensities experienced by the participants and can only imaginatively construct the affective experience from which they are excluded. Closing Thoughts In this chapter, I have explored the experience of viewers, both participating and nonparticipating, of the performance art piece The Artist is Present. Participants who were afforded the opportunity to sit across from the artist were invited to set aside notions of their subjectivity in favor of experiencing the self through the flow of becoming. This experience of becoming was facilitated through the aesthetic features of stillness, place, and scale. While participants were able to make affective connections that moved them deeply, nonparticipant viewers were excluded from making affective connections because of their experience of scale In the documentary of her performance, Abramovic explains that the longer she sits, the more she fee ls the boundary between her body and
68 the space break down. She is seeking, through the performance, to bring the artist and the audience into the same state of consciousness. While participants and the artist may be afforded the opportunity to make affecti ve connections that help them experience a similar state of consciousness, nonparticipant viewers are relegated to acting as voyeurs who take pleasure from looking at others who are experiencing a connection. The performance that the artist and the audien ce participate in together is an embodied experience of duration and presence that for a select few, challenges ideas of how connections are made among individual subjects.
69 CHAPTER V CONCLUSION In this study, I examined the nature and function of subject positions in media texts. I analyzed three media texts: the film The Memory Thief the personal blog Averys Bucket List and the performance art piece The Artist is Present. Each text invites the audience to occupy a specific subject position that either supports hegemony or asks the audience to question its behavior in the world. In addition, the different media technologies through which these texts are presented further invite audiences to be different kinds of subjects who express their selves in a manner specific to the media technologies. In this chapter, I will review my analysis, develop an explanatory schema that unites the three texts in this study and offer suggesti ons for future research. Review of Analysis In chapter two, I analyzed the film The Memory Thief. This film utilizes cinematic motifs, a controlling camera apparatus, and mimetic transformation of the self to invite the audience to identify with a subje ct position that aligns with the films protagonist. The preferred subject position seeks to implicate the viewer in a disordered obsession with horror but ultimately alienates the viewer from the preferred subject position without offering an alternative. This process of identification and alienation is activated through the strategic use of cinematic motifs, the controlling camera apparatus, and mimetic transformation of the self. The cinematic motifs in The Memory Thief are found in both subtle and explicit aesthetic and narrative features. There are many images of windows, screens, and reflections, particularly of Lukas, the protagonist, looking out widows and
70 looking at screens. Lukas is depicted performing the role of a spectator by watching television, going to the movies, and watching people through windows or binoculars. These motifs encourage the audience to identify with a subject position that aligns with Lukass perspective. The second important dimension of The Memory Thief is the controlling camera apparatus. Through this motif, the film seeks to remind the audience that the camera and the images it produces are not neutral depictions of the world but rather sources of ideology. In The Memory Thief the camer a is a tool of both destruction and self creation. Lukas uses a camera to record Zweigs survivor testimony but the experience of remembering traumatic experiences drives him to commit suicide. The camera is a tool for selfcreation for Lukas when, at the height of his madness, he buys a camcorder and turns it on himself. Lukas physically transforms himself into a Holocaust survivor and uses his camcorder to record his own testimony. He recites memorized lines from other survivor testimonies in a mimicked accent for his own camera. The audience is given multiple perspectives of Lukass transformation through the viewfinder of the camera as well as from the perspective of the implied narrator. The third major element of the film I found is the mimetic tran sformation of self. Through mimicking others, Lukas transforms his identity from tollbooth worker to Holocaust survivor. Lukas is attracted to the suffering of survivors and in order to become closer to that suffering, he decides to become a Jew. In order to complete this project, he has to learn appropriate behavior and narratives, which he accomplishes through careful observation and mimicry While mimicry allows Lukas to try on different behaviors, it also creates tension between perceived identity and performed identity.
71 Some of Lukass mimicking behaviors also alienate the audience from the subject position that aligns with Lukas. The tens ion manifests in small ways such as a Judaica shopkeeper noticing that Lukas is wearing a cross necklace when he buys a Hebrew prayer book, prayer shawl, and other accouterments of observant Judaism Lukas also attempts to mimic the luck of survivors throu gh appropriating their tattooed numbers as lottery picks. This action is disconcerting for characters in the film; Mira is offended, as is the audience, because it is clear the Lukas is not maintaining an appropriate relationship with survivor testimonies. Finally, Lukass complete physical transformation into a Holocaust survivor signals his mimetic transformation but also alienates the audience from the preferred subject position because Lukas has become a clichd mad man. Instead of the audience feelin g implicated in an obsession with images and narratives of horror, it is alienated from Lukass perspective by the end of the film that critical examination of their own behavior is interrupted. The subject position offered by Averys Bucket List invites audience members to align themselves with dominant ideologies of gender and family through celebration of heteronormitivity, sentimentality, and interactive intimacy. Averys Bucket List is a personal blog that chronicles the Canahuati familys experience of receiving and responding to a fatal diagnosis for their infant daughter. The blog is written in the voice of the infant Avery and follows the family as it tries to cram as many experiences as it can into the time Avery has left. Through the preferred subject position, the audience is invited to participate in the creation of Avery as a subject bound in the hegemony of the traditional family structure.
72 The blog invites readers to occupy a subjec t position that supports heteronormative gender expression and family structure through the narrative presentation of highly gendered roles and family photographs that visually reinforce these roles. Avery is consistently gendered female through the colors in which she is dressed to the kinds of experiences the Canahuatis seek out for her. The photographs the family posts on the blog present how they see themselves and how they wish to be seen by others. The constant focus of Averys Bucket List on one part icular kind of family with very specific gender roles encourages the audience to identify with this kind of family and erases or restricts identification with other kinds of families. Another way Averys Bucket List encourages identification with a preferred subject position is through the use of sentimentality. The intense expression of tenderness connects the audience to the Canahuati family and the narratives that are presented make Averys death palatable where a more nuanced expression of grief or a more open narrative might have been challenging for the audience. Michael Canahuati uses relentlessly positive language even in the direst circumstances such as during a health crisis and after Avery dies. The bucket list items and the way in which they a re presented focus on living a good life, being happy, and having positive experiences that asks the audience to identify with a subject position that also values positive experiences and happiness over other possible emotional responses. The blog also employs a narrative that resembles a Christian conception of the afterlife, which encourages the audience to view death as a positive transition not a sad loss. The use of sentimentality on the blog dilutes unpleasant feelings and extends positive feelings for a receptive audience.
73 The final way Averys Bucket List encourages identification with the preferred subject position is through interactive intimacy. Images, personal narratives, and sentimental treatment of death encourage audience members to feel intimately connected to the Canahuati family. Through sharing the website, donating money, and commenting on blog posts, readers can feel that they have an important role to play in Averys story and in helping other families avoid the same diagnosis. In addition, family photographs encourage closeness because, through the images, the Canahuatis appear to be sharing intimate family moments while at the same time the images are of familiar content and events. It would be rare audience member s who did not have similar photographs of themselves from their childhood. Even the photographs that present more unusual events and subject matter such as receiving medical care and sick bodies are contextualized on the blog as presenting regular family outings. Direct address also encourages the audience to feel intimately connected to the Canahuati family and reinforces identification with the preferred subject position and construction of Avery as a subject. The final media text I analyzed in this study is The Artist is Present a longduration piece of performance art by Marina Abramovic. This text presented several possible subject positions for t he audience to occupy based on its level of interaction with the performance. Some audience members were afforded the opportunity to participate directly in the performance, while other s were kept at a distance as observers. For those who participated, The Artist is Present provided access to an embodied affective experience of duration and presence through stillness, place, and scale. The invitation to occupy a preferred subject position is issued through aesthetic features of the performance rather than narrative or discursive aspects.
74 Stillness is perhaps the strongest aesthetic feature that invites participants to occupy a subject position that eschews typical behavior and capitalis t expectations for productive uses of time and bodies. Participants were invited to sit across from Abramovic in complete stillness and silence for as long as they liked. In a culture that encourages activity and constant motion, sitting still for an extended period is a physical challenge that takes concentration. Several participants noted the effort they put forth in sitting completely still. Stillness is a challenge to capitalist ideologies because instead of being productive, the artist and the participant were immobile connecting with one another, not producing a commodity to be sold. However, the artist was actually producing work to be sold through her inaction. Abramovic was paid for her perfo rmance, the MoMA made money on ticket and book sales, and a documentary was made of the performance. But the subject position the participant occupied through stillness challenged expectations for productive use of time. The place where the performance w as held contributed to the creation of the subject position offered through The Artist is Present. Because the performance took place in a major United States art institution, the simple act of sitting silently was elevated to a unique and desirable experi ence. Museum guests who participated in the performance challenged the expected behavior of art audiences because, typically these audiences are involved in looking at art not being a cocreator of a work. Direct connection to the artist within the museum also challenged expectations. Many participants were overcome by the opportunity to share space with a famous artist. Typically, there is little to no connection between art audiences and artists.
75 Finally, various levels of scale and closeness contribut ed to the affective experience of subject position in The Artist is Present. Participant spectators sat very close to Abramovic, evoking an intimate, personal experience. Nonparticipating audience members at the museum were separated from the performance by the negative space among the artist, participant, and the edge of the performance space that extended significantly out into the atrium. This distance inhibited the nonparticipating audience members from accessing an embodied experience of the performa nce. These museum visitors along with remote viewers watching the performance online were invited to occupy a more contemplative, analytical subject position that is more typical of museum spectators The distant audience as left to make sense of the performance through discourse and signification rather than affect or bodily sensation. The subject position the distant audience was asked to occupy was less defined than the subject position of the participant spectators who were invited to challenge their ideas of how connection are made between individuals. The Technology of Subject Positions In this study, I sought to examine the nature and function of subject positions in media texts. Through aesthetics, narrative, and varying levels of interactivity, the texts in this study challenge or support prevailing understandings of subjectivity. The Memory Thief and The Artist is Present challenge various aspects of normative experiences of subjectivity. Averys Bucket List employs similar features in a manner that supports normative subjectivity for many readers. The potential political and social consequences of subject positions that support prevailing notions of subjectivity are that these s ubject positions reduce possible expressions of self, they control and restrict discourse, and they
76 have the potential to alienate viewers who do not accept the invitation made by the text. Conversely, media texts whose subject positions challenge prevaili ng notions of subjectivity introduce new ways t o experience self and society, present a way to challenge hegemonic thought, and introduce ways to change cultural and political power dynamics At the same time, the media technologies through which these subject positions are presented also invite audiences to be particular types of subjects due to the nature of the technologies. Subject positions that support prevailing notions of subjectivity reduce the available possible expressions of self. Media texts, as an aspect of culture, influence how individuals make sense of themselves and society Subject positions allow viewers to try on identities that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. However, when subject positions reproduce normative identities, audiences are not permitted the opportunity to experience nonnormative identities. B ell hookss theory of resistive subject positions expresses some of the discomfort and opportunities for in dividuals when they are asked to occupy a subject position that aligns with restrictive cultural expectations. On the other hand, for those who identify with normative identities, media texts that affirm these identities can be very pleasurable. Averys Bu cket List invites audiences to inhabit a subject position that reproduces heteronormative gender roles, which many audience members found to be pleasurable. Despite some of the more unusual aspects of the blog such as the personification of an infant and t he depiction of illness as a normal family occurrence, millions of people liked and shared the blog across their social networks and did not respond with horror or disgust. The limitation of
77 available identities can be pleasurable or restrictive dependin g on the identity and desires individual audience members bring to bear on the text. In contrast to the pleasure experienced by audience members who identify with subject positions that reproduce normative identities, audience members who do not identify with these subject positions can feel alienated. Audience members who reject the invitation to inhabit a subject position can choose to take up a critical stance or simply reject the text altogether. Audience members who rejected the subject position presented on Averys Bucket List did not interact with the site in the same way as other audience members. They did not post critical comments but took their criticism to other sites or simply ignored the blog completely. Unlike traditional cinema experiences where the audience is expected to sit still for the duration of the film, Internet sites do not demand a commitment of time and attention. If the subject position presented by a website is not attracti ve to individual audience members, the audience members can simply click away without much thought. This lack of required commitment to experience unfamiliar subject positions may allow audience members to only attend to subject positions with which they a lready agree. Media texts that reproduce normative identities control cultural and political discourse that, in turn, controls subjects. Those in power determine what can be spoken about. Foucault (1978) explains that repression is an injunction to si lence, an affirmation of nonexistence, and by implication, and admission that there was nothing to say about such things (p. 4). Media texts are one way societies express what identities are acceptable and what identities are not allowable. On Averys Bucket List, Michael Canahuati never mentions the possibility that his child may not express her sexuality in
78 the same way her parents express their sexuality and gender. The silence surrounding other possible expres sions of self affirms that the s ubject positions expressed through these media texts are the only acceptable identities to perform. In contrast to media texts that reproduce normative identities, media texts that challenge identities introduce new ways of experiencing the self. When au dience members are invited to inhabit subject positions that are unfamiliar, they have an opportunity to challenge how they view themselves and others. The Memory Thief utilizes cinema tic techniques to encourage the audience to think critically about its relationship with images, particularly images of trauma. The Artist is Present also encourages audience members to challenge normative identities but the invitation issued is gentler than the invitation from The Memory Thief. Abramovic encourages partici pant viewers to alter their expectations through close physical proximity and duration. The interactive aspects of this performance effectively engage participants in trying on a subject position that they might not otherwise have experienced where the pas sive aspects of film viewing could allow the audience to disengage with material that becomes too challenging or uninteresting. Subject positions that encourage the audience to question how their subjectivity is formed also pose a challenge to hegemony. H egemony encourages subjects to see the status quo as inevitable and natural instead of a social construct. Cultural texts can reinforce the status quo or challenge it through the construction of subject positions. When an audience is asked to experience new roles, it allows these new roles to be considered which in turn starts to create cracks in the assumptions of hegemony. In my analysis of The Artist is Present, I identified that one of the key aesthetic features,
79 stillness, is a challenge to capitalist assumptions about productive bodies. The performance does not force its preferred subject position on the audience but thoughtfully invites bodily engagement with the constructed setting. The routine treatment of cultural traumas is challenged by the subj ect position presented in The Memory Thief. Audience members are invited to question how as individuals within a society they participate in consuming and remembering pain that others have experienced and their responsibility as spectators in the continued recycling of specific cultural traumas. Even though the preferred subject position presented on Averys Bucket List supports hegemonic identities, for audience members who choose to take a critical stance, the text presents an opportunity to question se veral cultural institutions within which they are constituted as subjects. For example, a critical stance would allow audience members to question how they themselves were shaped by the ideology of their parents and how that ideology is presented and repro duced through their own family album even as they reject the subject position of the blog. Questioning hegemony and allowing audiences to try on new identities that are unfamiliar can begin to change power dynamics within a society and provide individual audience members with agency to choose to alter their conceptions of self in ways that suit their political aims. While individuals are always already interpellated as subjects within cultural institutions, the ability to play with identity through media texts is an opportunity for individuals to push on the boundaries of what identities are acceptable. The ability to interact with a text appears to be a powerful way to engage audiences in a preferred subject position. The Artist is Present uses interact ion to challenge the audience, while Averys Bucket List uses interaction as an avenue for enlisting the
80 audience in continuing the reproduction of the normative identities presented on the blog. Both texts were successful beyond initial expectations and interaction is one of the features they share. The ability to interact with the se texts is a compelling invitation to engage with the preferred subject position of each text. The concept of subject position has largely been applied to traditional and narra tive media texts that typically had inactive audiences. Performance art and Internet sites allow for interactivity from audience members who can pick and choose the texts with which they engage and what is ignored. Inviting the audience to directly interac t with a text garners more commitment to the text and to the preferred subject position, which can be used to reproduce or challenge normative identities. In addition to the ways in which subject positions challenge or reproduce normative views of subjectivity, media technologies are not neutral expressions of self but constitute different ways of being. The material conditions of each media technology shape and constrain the kinds of subjects their audiences are invited to become. The film apparatus enables the creation of highly imaginative texts with a wide variety of subject positions. Film is a very rich medium but it keeps audiences immobile and separa ted from direct interaction with the text. Therefore, film teaches audiences the pleasures of looking at others from a distance. The Memory Thief attempts to address the problems that can arise when audiences become too detached from images of trauma and p ain but because of the technology through which the filmmaker constructs this argument, the audience is not required to fully engage directly with the pain and trauma behind the images.
81 Other media technologies invite more direct interaction than film, which can allow for the creation of different types of subj ects. Blogging platforms, image sharing sites, and social media sites invite audiences to express their fantasies and desi res virtually and collectively. While the options for performance of the se lf online seem unlimited, they are constrained by the platforms and sites for sharing that are offered by companies. In addition, interactivity is limited to the attention an individual site may receive. While Averys Bucket List had a large reach for a personal blog, other sites may be limited in reach. Audiences for online media technologies are offered the promise of unlimited expression of fantasies and desires but they are restricted in this expression to the sites and structures offered by companie s who seek to make a profit on these expressions and their circulation. Finally, p erformance art invites audiences to have a lived affective experience in a specific moment. Performance art engages the bodies of performers and audience members for a speci fic duration in a specific place. The bodily engagement places the audience in the middle of the action and also requires them to risk the discomfort or pleasure of an unknown experience. Of the three media technologies I examined in this study, performanc e art appears to have the highest level of risk for the audience because it is asked to not simply observe but to actively become a participant in the work and, through this engagement, the audience can truly try on a new way of being in the world. However the apparent promise of performance art for teaching audiences new ways of being is limited by the time and site specificity of performance art that necessarily constrain the reach of this type of media technology. The material conditions of each media t echnology presents opportunities for teaching audiences ways of being in the
82 world but there are also limitations to these ways of being. Through narrative and aesthetics, media texts present subject positions that challenge or support prevailing notions of subjectivity and the characteristics of media technologies provide audiences with additional ways of being. Limitations One limitation of this study is the differences among the texts that I selected to analyze. The texts are from different media, have different themes and narratives, and appeal to different audiences, which makes identifying the common features of subject positions challenging. More closely related texts might have resulted in a more robust theory of subject positions for a common media or theme. However, the diversity of texts does allow for a n investigation of subject positions that encompasses a variety of media, ideological positions, and subject matter. Subject positions have primarily been investigated in relationship to narra tive cinema ; bringing art and new media into theories of subject positions allows for an expansion of understanding of subject positions in media texts. Another limitation of this study is my inability to experience Abramovics performance in person. I a ddressed this limitation in chapter four but even with ample documentation of the performance and a vivid imagination, there is no substitute for experiencing performance art in person. While I fully utilized the wide variety of documentation available, I believe this study would only have been improved with the inclusion of first person experience of the text. Abramovic recognizes the ephemeral nature of performance art and is working to develop a center for the preservation of this genre of art and she has made a practice of staging reperformances of her own and other
83 artists work While not physically experiencing the performance is a limitation of this study, Abramovic is an ideal artist to analyze given her attention to the necessity of documentation to preserve performance art for audiences who are removed in time and space. Finally, subject positions are only one aspect of media texts and analysis that focused on a different aspect of media t exts such as narrative or medium might have identif ied different key features of these texts and drawn different conclusions from the same texts. However, examination of subject positions allows for analysis of many different aspects of a text from narrative to aesthetics to audience experience. Therefore, analysis of subject position encompasses many individual features of media texts and provides a useful avenue for developing theories of how media texts influence audiences to challenge or support prevailing views of subjectivity. Suggestions for Future Research My first suggestion for future research is to examine t exts with high degrees of interactivity in order to uncover whether or not interactivity is an effective way to engage the audience with preferred subject positions. The two most interactive texts I examined in this study were the most successful at engaging their audiences in identifying with the texts preferred subject position. Another study that only examined highly interactive texts could start to develop a theory of interactive spectators and subject positions. This avenue of research could bring new and novel texts together with previous notions of subject positions to determine if subject positions operate differently for more active audiences.
84 A related area for future research wou ld be to focus on media texts that exhibit a high degree of bodily engagement. The Artist is Present required participant viewers to perform a role with their body in close proximity to the artists body, which set the text apart from the other texts in th is study as well as other mediated texts. Clearly the physical nature of the performance was affecting for many audience members and I am curious if putti ng one s own body into the text make s the experience of a subject position more powerful than being held at a distance from /by the text. A study comprised of first hand experience of texts that directly engage the body would be a compelling area of research. A final avenue for future research would be to focus on nonnarrative media texts and how subject positions are constructed in these texts. While all aspects of the texts in this study were examined including nonnarrative aspects, narrative is a strong organizing feature that influences the possible in terpretations of a text. Narrative is one way an audience makes sense of a text but materiality affect, and aesthetic features can also have powerful if subtle impact on an audience. How subject positions are created and maintained in nonnarrative tex ts is an under studied area where significant contributions to the literature can be made.
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