Archive for the ‘Off-topic’ Category

Last Word on the Subject

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Last night, I was disgusted that the various media outlets were giving airtime, ink, and webspace to the videotape and writings of the person behind the massacre here at Virginia Tech.

Amidst the images I saw on the New York Times website, one that stuck out as odd — an image of the young man brandishing a hammer. To me, the image called to mind a still from a movie — at first, I thought, something from a Gasper Noe film. Then, later, I remembered it was the revenge movie, OldBoy.

For others, the image might have suggested something else, but I am a filmmaker and I suppose I am inclined to make comparisons between images of cinematic texts, if one can use such coolly academic terminology for a killer’s self-taped imagery. Both images feature people looking into a camera’s eye brandishing a hammer and, importantly for me, both images are “revenge texts.” The fact that both images are of Asian males was largely inconsequential to me; if either person had been of a difference race, nationality, etc. I would have, I feel, made the same connection. As I said, at first I thought the image came from a French film.

Certainly, I thought, some readers and viewers would be perplexed by such an image, and I wanted to suggest a possible reference. Mainly, though, I wanted to use this opportunity of having the Times’ attention to tell them how I would prefer that they did not show such images in the first place. This message was included in my email to them though, perhaps not surprisingly, they chose not to acknowledge that comment. I believe that giving airtime to a killer’s ramblings does a disservice to those of us here in Blacksburg who are deeply, actively grieving; I also believe that it likely gives the killer the attention he so desperately desired. For me, sharing these images publicly goes beyond pornography.

How misguided and naive can a person be, particularly in light of the comments in my last post? I should have said nothing, done nothing, and ignored it all. I made the mistake of attempting to make sense of the nonsensical, assuming that my comment could be a simple footnote to a single still image, and above all, presuming that a person can have any control over any comment he feeds to the Media Machine.

This morning I awoke to several emails and blog comments accusing me of everything from racism against South Koreans to blaming cinema for the carnage on Monday. And all day I have been courted by several major media outlets salivating for an interview with me, as if I could somehow explain the events of Monday to them by way of a movie. How sad. How absurd. The answer to all of these individuals has been “No.”

Let me be clear: My comparison of these two images was not meant to suggest in ANY way that movies, any movie, “made him do it.” Likewise, my comparison of these two images is IN NO WAY an attempt to make ANY generalizations based on racial, nationalistic, or any other sorts of lines.

The fact that the comparison of these two images has been co-opted in various ways is extraordinarily painful to me, particularly the accusations of racism. Anyone who knows me knows that this truly, truly breaks my heart. As if it weren’t already broken.

To everyone outside of Blacksburg, the events of the past few days are a circus, an opportunity to use others’ tragedy for their own ends. It is not a circus for me. There is only the event, the profound sadness of its aftermath, and the utter confusion about what has happened.

I am mourning the loss of my colleagues, friends, family, and students. Here in Blacksburg we are all grieving. Deeply. The headline writers for many news outlets have determined that today “The Healing Begins.” It has not.

If what was intended to be my tiny footnote on a minor point has stirred up passions in you, I truly regret that. If you have taken my comment to be implicitly or explicitly racist, I hope you can believe me when I write with utter sincerity that this was never the intention.

And if you are with the media, do not bother contacting me. I have learned my lesson.

Finally, to reiterate: My point in all of this, however misguided the effort, was to initiate a conversation about what Jill Godmilow calls “the pornography of the real” — in this case, news outlets using a mass murderer’s fantasies as sick spectacle and — let us never forget — as a source of revenue.

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

The Pornography of the Real

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

The names of many of Monday’s shooting victims were released on Tuesday; more have trickled out today. What little that was still abstract to me about Monday’s events is gone. Last night, as I was drafting this post I was able to write “Ashley and I have known none of the victims directly, but I know several people who have lost immediate family, friends, classmates, and colleagues.” Now, sadly, the first half of that sentence is no longer true.

Out of respect for the privacy and dignity for those who are confronting unfathomable losses right now, I’m going to refrain from sharing any further details. Why? Because since Monday I’ve witnessed reporters sticking their microphones into the faces of people with very red eyes, hovering near the homes of those who have lost loved ones, and taking photos with extreme telephoto lenses, lenses that don’t require the photographer to have a personal relationship with his subject. Frankly, I’m sick of it.

The past 48 hours have been one long, ongoing demonstration of what Jill Godmilow, in both her incomparable film What Farocki Taught and her essay “What’s Wrong with the Liberal Documentary?, labels “the pornography of the real”:

The “pornography of the real” involves the highly suspect, psychic pleasure of viewing “the moving picture real” … a powerful pornographic interest in real people, real death, real destruction and real suffering, especially of “others”, commodities in film. These “pleasures” are not brought to our attention. The pornographic aspect is masked in the documentary by assurances that the film delivers only the actually existing real — thus sincere truths that we need to know about.

As I said in my previous post, I think of storytelling as a kind of citizenship, so I don’t blame people for wanting to know the stories unfolding in Blacksburg, nor do I blame journalists for telling those stories. Still, how one gathers the facts, why you gather them, and the way you tell them can’t be separated from the story you’re telling. Sadly I’ve been witnessing firsthand how many journalists, particularly those from out of town, seem to have forgotten that common decency is also facet of citizenship. My main consolation, and it isn’t much, is knowing that the members of the media will move on to another spectacle in very short time.

A Very Sad Day

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Today was supposed to be a good day. Last night, like a kid dreaming of proverbial sugarplum fairies, I literally dreamt of the Red Camera, which was set to be unveiled today at the National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Instead, today has been — well, there aren’t words.

As many of you know, I teach at Virginia Tech. If, somehow, you have not heard, there were a series of shootings on campus today that left over 30 people dead. Apparently this is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, though I find it sad that there’s a need to keep such statistics.

For those of you that emailed me, some of whom I’ve never even met face to face, thank you so much for your concern. I am alright. Shaken, for sure — we were under “lock down” for several nerve-wracking hours — but deeply thankful that my students and I made it through the day unscathed. More than anything else, though, my heart is just broken to pieces over the victims and their families. I expect that things will only grow sadder as more news comes out, particularly when the names of the deceased start to be released to the public. I do not look forward to waking up tomorrow and reading the news.

I tell my students that storytelling is citizenship — a “service profession”, really. Tomorrow I’ll try to think of something positive and useful for my students to do with our video cameras.

Birthday #1

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Emerson once said, “So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the path of each man’s genius contracts itself to a very few hours.”

I don’t know about the “genius” part, but in the last 365 days since this site was started there have been 138 posts, 267 comments, and untold numbers of readers and, perhaps most importantly, new friends made.

Here’s to Year Two!