An Elegy to Mortality

“Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art.” (15)

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” (15)

As bleak as it sounds, we are always getting older, stepping closer towards death. And whether you like it or not, there is no pill, diet, or exercise in the world that will stave off the eventual decay of our organic bodies. Time continues to steadily move forward no matter if we are ready or not. That being said, we as a species have always found methods to record and archive our lives for future generations.

Photography presents an opportunity for us to immortalize a brief second in our own history and freeze that moment full of emotion and narrative. Early photography provided people a tangible representation of a memory or moment. But like memory itself, the physicality of the photo paralleled the body- aging and eventually decaying, mortal. Even the best methods of preservation cannot stave off eventual decay of old film. However, with the prominence of digital photography and online media, we are immortalizing the mortal and giving eternal life to the memories these photos contain.

I titled this post “An Elegy to Mortality” because photographs, specifically ones that have been digitized and posted online or saved to the cloud, allow these captured stills to live on seemingly forever. Nothing is mortal anymore because it can be archived online as long as “online” exists. Though we can never truly relive a moment in our lives, digital photography, more so digital media as a whole, is the closest we can come to immortalizing events in our lives. This reading, and through writing my blog post, has made me question how I choose to remember significant life events. I know that photography, especially digital photography, allows me to never forget. But is that how I want to live? Always “remembering the good old days”? Always fondly looking back at “the hey day”? While I will still continue to take photos, I believe this article has made me realize that it is better to let time take you with it than fight against it. Being mortal means living in the moment and not letting the past keep you from moving forward.

Is the Postmodern Movement Over? Self Aware Postmodern Works

The Psycho Hiding in Plain Sight

Creep (2014), directed by Patrick Brice, utilizes and subverts elements of postmodern horror to evoke fear through metalepsis. Pinedo discusses the violation of boundaries, the blurring of “boundaries between subjective and objective representation” (Pinedo, 22), as a method of generating metalepsis, the transgression of said boundaries. In the film, we are presented with the POV (point of view) perspective of Aaron’s relationship with Josef. Immediately, this puts us in the shoes, rather the eyes, of the protagonist and allows us to better empathize with the character. However, Brice subverts the POV perspective by carefully weaving in alternate perspectives that create a greater sense of voyeurism towards the found footage. The film interestingly intersplices the POV perspective with set stills of the camera resting on a table or counter, as well as pull backs that remind us that we are in fact still watching a film. The play between immediacy and hypermediacy (Bolter, Grusin) creates a sense of uneasy voyeurism that evokes aspects of postmodern horror. For example, the haircutting scene has us helplessly watching Aaron sleep when all the sudden, Josef takes the camera and begins to “check out”, a la the male gaze, his victim. He then sets the camera down and begins to cut a lock of Aaron’s hair. This shift from immediacy to hypermediacy and then back to immediacy, alongside the act itself, is unsettling for the viewer because we are forced to reconcile the nature of the film, a found footage film. Similarly, the film utilizes pull back shots to again remind us that we are in fact watching a found footage film. The first instance of this shot is the “burial” scene. At first, we think Josef is burying a Aaron’s dead corpse, but the camera quickly pulls back and we realize it is Aaron just recording the television screen. This abrupt jump from perceived immediacy to hypermediacy creates more unease that we as viewers feel as we try and determine what is real and what is not. Additionally, this scene incorporates aspects of metaphysicality because we are watching Aaron view found footage. Typically in found footage horror, we maintain our immediacy because the film is shot from solely one perspective, the  singular POV. In her article, “Found-Footage Horror and the Frame’s Undoing”, Cecilia Sayad argues that the found footage genre is so effective in generating metalepsis “because the camera through which we see things is not external to the diegesis” (Sayad). Creep metaphysically subverts that postmodern element of a transgression of boundaries, of which POV found footage is an example of, by playing with the diegesis of the camera, by interweaving multiple alternate perspectives with the original POV that shift our perception of the film from immediate to hypermediate, forcing us to think critically about the genre itself.

Creep additionally evokes elements of postmodern horror by see-sawing the sympathy and empathy for the monster. The film continually builds and breaks the sympathy Aaron, and the viewer, feels for Josef, thus playing with the monster form as described by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen in his essay, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. Cohen claims that monsters are “disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration” (Cohen, 4). I argue that the film plays with Aaron’s sense of sympathy through a back and forth exhibited by the monster, Josef. Though Cohen is discussing the physical problems with monster structuralization/categorization, I think his argument applies here as well as we the viewers try to categorize our sympathy, or lack thereof, for Josef. At the start of the film, we are given key plot to the story itself through Josef’s background. We learn that Josef hires Aaron to film himself talking to his unborn son, as his cancer returns and he is given only a few months left to live. We, through Aaron’s view, immediately feel sympathy towards Josef, a dying father who wants to leave some sort of remembrance for his unborn son. However, directly following Josef’s garnered sympathy is an awkward invitation to film him in the tub. The tub scene begins the see-sawing of Aaron’s, and our, sympathy as we start to see Josef in this dual, give and take nature. Our sympathy remains here, but is thrown into question because the awkwardness of the scenario. Imagine meeting somebody for the first time and then within the first few moments of interaction, they ask you to film themselves in the bathroom. The film purposefully includes these dynamic shifts in sympathy and lack thereof to play with our understanding of the monster. Another example of this see-saw of emotion is how Josef continually garner’s sympathy and then pretends to scare Aaron, and the audience, through jumpscares (a horror film trope). Multiple times in the film, Josef will encourage Aaron and ourselves to give him some sympathy, one example is the initial invitation for a casual drink. We are forced to feel some sense of sympathy for the monster; what is the harm in a casual drink? However, Brice intentionally throws the sympathy back at Aaron and the audience through jumpscares that revoke the emotion. The last example of this in the film is of Josef’s earnest confession and then his analysis of Aaron as a victim. We sympathize for a lonely man who is just looking for a friend because we know that loneliness is agony. However, that sympathy that continually drives the narrative is what leads to Aaron’s death and our confusion surrounding Josef as a monster. Because we feel both extremes of the emotion in play, we are unsure what to make of it as a whole. I believe the film intentionally plays with this emotion to play with genre norms, in this case, with how we view the monster in horror film. Where we typically feel no direct sympathy for the monster, postmodern horror throws that sympathy on its head and makes us critically analyze every detail in an effort to categorize our own emotions towards a dual natured monster.

Living in the Dream

P.T. (Silent Hills) (2014), developed by Konami and Hideo Kojima, evokes postmodernism through its use of the surreal to generate metalepsis, a blurring of lines between what’s real and what’s not. Aiding the surreal in the postmodern game is the lack of logic, as Pinedo writes “that not everything can or should be dealt with in rational terms” (Pinedo, 22). Beginning with the setting of the game, you are situated in a corridor that has one entrance and one exit. This exit seemingly leads back to the entrance of the original corridor. Pinedo writes that in postmodern horror, we are “caught within a closed system from which there is no exit” (Pinedo, 22). I believe that this game plays that quote literally, where there is no real exit from this suburban corridor (there is a front door to the outside but it is locked). What generates the metalepsis is that to progress through the game, you never move on to another area, you instead descend into a more twisted and surreal version of the same looped corridor you have been in since the beginning. The realistic setting of the suburban home contrasting the increasingly dreamlike logic creates a lack of bearing that ultimately blurs the lines between fact and fiction. Furthermore, the progression through the game requires the player to look for enigmatic clues, ones that would not necessary think of doing. One example is in the later part of the game, you must listen to the radio give you instructions and then examine a portrait on the table in order to progress. The radio’s broadcast interspersed with fourth wall breaking (more surrealism) instructions and the fantastical gunshot wound to the woman’s head inside the portrait help create more metalepsis and blur lines because the offputting logic does not follow the realistic setting of the suburban home. Because we all assume the home to be a safe space, the lack of logic here creates a sense of unease that we as the players drown in. It is hard to determine what we can classify as real and what is a dream. However, P.T. (Silent Hills) has a scene in the game where its own logic becomes broken, a dream within a dream. Here you are in the house but in an even more nightmarish version. The game’s setting becomes overtly distorted as “reality” warps into a living nightmare. The looping corridor that you have been inside all game seems to coil itself into a maze of eyeballs and bare photos. Sonically, the non diegetic music also shifts into an even more ominous, foreboding haze the engulfs the player. The idea of a dream inside of a dream metaphysically takes the logic postmodernism subverts and pushes it through the glass ceiling. I argue that this is one of the strongest points of postmodernism in the game and that it takes the line between what’s real and what’s not and obliterates it, to the point where we can only assume that we as the player are stuck in the dream. However, after all logic and illogic have homogenized into one, the game throws a curveball at the player and pretends to glitch out. This scene also includes more enigmatic, surreal clues (a series of numbers), spoken by an outside voice that add to the overall metalepsis but what peaks the fourth wall meter is when the game seemingly resets and catches the player off guard, a true transgression of boundaries. This abrupt shift hypermediates the mainly immediate view of the player. For most of the game, the only fact we can hold onto is the camera’s perspective, first person view. Kojima intentionally throws this “bug” into the game in order shake up the only thing we as players have left to hold onto, the framing. This fourth wall breaking scene makes us reanalyze the game as a medium and creates a distance between us the player and the player character. But we have to reacclimate ourselves to the game’s setting once it reboots so that we can continue pressing forward towards the unknown goal. Parallel to found footage horror as described by Sayad, “the frame’s elasticity and permeability” (Sayad) envelops us the player because we have moment of withdraw from the game itself through the “glitch”. The frame extends to include us, the player, which enters us into the dreamlike setting of the game as a whole. P.T. (Silent Hills) takes surrealism and makes the player agree to play by its terms so that it can then break those terms and further isolate the player.

The Birth of Self Aware Postmodernism (coin new term here←)

I believe that by comparing these two postmodern horror works, I am able to say that the genre has began to sprout an offshoot subgenre of postmodernism. A brand of postmodernism that itself is aware of genre code and works to play with that code. Firstly, both medias serve to point out mediacy and dismantle their own logic. While Creep shifts its mediacy through the movement in the camera (pull back shots), P.T. (Silent Hills) shifts the mediacy through the introduction of the fourth wall (the game glitch). I believe that this concurrent shift from immediacy to hypermediacy and then back to immediacy disorrients our logic and then requires it to work and resituate itself in an attempt to make sense of what is what. In Creep, the entire movie, we assume it is Aaron that has control over the camera, our view. Even when the camera shifts between immediacy and hypermediacy, we know that it is Aaron that holds us metaphorically in his hands. However, the ending  of the movie plays with that when it is revealed that Josef is the one that has the camera, it is his footage we as viewers find. Similarly, P.T. (Silent Hills) sets up the gameplay inside dreamlike logic. It commands the player to adhere to the logic, or lack thereof, in order to progress throughout the game. Even when there is a shift in mediacy, when the game pretends to glitch, we have time to resituate ourselves in the logic that was presented to us earlier in the game. However, in the red hallway scene, our newfound sense in dream logic is taken from us when we the player lose all bearing in the setting we thought to be true. We are forced to learn the new rules or risk being stuck in the infinite loop. Both medias intentionally throw their own rules out in an effort to critique the postmodern horror genre itself. Secondly, both works serve to cause confusion in the audience by presenting two extremes and forcing the audience to reconcile for themselves what is real and what is not. In Creep, we are presented with a dual natured villain, one who displays sympathy, even begs for it at the end, but who ultimately revokes it from us. He continually plays off of Aaron’s good nature and then immediately throws it back at his face to make a point (a wolf in sheep’s clothes!). He garners sympathy in his stories but his actions serve to undermine Aaron’s, and our, sympathy. We are left to decide whether or not we should feel bad for the monster. The film plays with our emotions by presenting us with two extremes and causing us to see-saw back and forth between each. Similarly, P.T. (Silent Hills) plays with our emotions through its deliberate setting and mechanics. Because it situates us inside the home, we assume that we are allowed to be at ease. However, it takes the suburban setting and contrasts it with surreal and gruesome images. Additionally, I think the decision to maintain the same floorplan of the corridor throughout the game was intentionally chosen in order to give the player something concrete to rely on, something to situate ourselves around while the exterior slowly deteriorates into a nightmare. Because we as players cannot distinctly feel the presence of the home or the surreal singularly, we cannot separate out what is real and what is dream. The “glitch” scene itself begs us to reconcile with the game and determine which parts are real and which parts are not. Both medias understand that an element of postmodern horror is the transgression of boundaries, the unreal bleeding into the real. However, unlike previous postmodern works, they both effectively move from real to unreal and vice versa seamlessly to push our emotions to edge just swing them back in again. These two medias display the postmodernism can be reflexive upon itself and can be self aware. I argue that one of the genre’s fundamental characteristics, subverting norms, can be self reflexive upon itself and that a new subgenre of postmodernism is beginning to form. A subgenre that critiques what postmodern horror has laid out in an effort to make the genre fully self aware, not just of other genres and mediums but of itself as well.

 

Bibliography

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bolter, Jay David, Blair MacIntyre, Maribeth Gandy, and Petra Schweitzer. 2006. “New Media and the Permanent Crisis of Aura.” Convergence 12 (1): 21– 39.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, “Monster Theory : Reading Culture”, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=310376.

Duplass, Mark. Creep. Netflix, Independent, 2014, www.netflix.com/watch/70306646?tctx=0%2C0%2Ca96e4838-3f4f-4973-a033-0652cbacf968-4284972%2C%2C.

English, ODiN OnLiNe, director. P.T. Silent Hills ★ NO COMMENTARY FULL Walkthrough Movie Gameplay PS4 Playable Teaser PT Ending. YouTube, YouTube, 16 Aug. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=blD2TiavFJA.

GameZone, director. YouTube. YouTube, YouTube, 14 Aug. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6NCC-nnvMU&t=972s.

Grusin, Richard. 2010. Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Sayad, Cecilia. “Found-Footage Horror and the Frame’s Undoing.” Cinema Journal, vol. 55 no. 2, 2016, pp. 43-66. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/cj.2016.0003

Ryan, Marie-Laure & Emerson, Lori & Robertson, J.. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. Project MUSE

In Response to Kocurek

To quickly summarize “Who hearkens to the monster’s scream? Death, violence and the veil of the monstrous in video games”, Carly Kocurek argues that we as a society moralize death and violence in video games by dehumanizing the enemy, by turning them into monsters. She calls for further research into the issue stating that it may be causing intergroup bias (87) or illustrate those we commit violence against as inherently monstrous (88). After sitting on the reading for some time, I am still hesitant to say that I fully agree with the basis of her argument. I understand, and agree, with the point she brings up about we as consumers justifying violence through dehumanization of the victim. In fact, we are complicit with the violence the second we purchase the game to play because we are telling the developers that we are okay with their practices of normalizing violence. However, I just can’t fully buy into her argument because I think she disregards the purpose of video games and entertainment in general.

To me, a video game is a chance to experience something that is not available in reality. It is a chance to fantasize and escape your life in favor of a digital creation of a controlled environment. That being said, games serve to give us control that we lack in real life. I think that violence in video games is just another instance of giving us dominance or control that every human craves, as morbid as it sounds. We as people enjoy having some sense of control in our lives because it gives us a sense of stability and contentment. I think that unless we are feeling the literal sensations of killing a monster/zombie/alien/human, we are physically and mentally disconnected from the violence via the game interface. It is obvious then, that the violence on screen is not meant to represent real life. Even in cases of realistic portrayals of violence, see Grand Theft Auto or Postal, you have to remember that these are games, imaginary environments that have imaginary rules. If we were to take all entertainment, games, movies, books, music, as reality, I think we would be creating unnecessary metalepsis. I argue that we need to step back and take entertainment at face value.

If Kocurek was to reevaluate her argument, I would suggest that she argue that we as a society moralize violence in video games because we understand that video games are meant to be controlled, imaginary experiences separate from our reality. To reiterate, I agree with the points she makes, I just think that she went overlooked the purpose that entertainment in general serves us. I agree that we dehumanize victims in order to justify digital violence. But I want to ask Kocurek, why does the violence exist in the first place?

Duality Seen Through Women in the Horror Genre

After reading Creed’s article on the sexualization of the feminine in the horror genre, and continuing to read A Head Full of Ghosts, a movie I had previously watched came to mind entitled It Follows (trailer). I believe this movie simultaneously reinforces and rejects Creed’s claims of the horror genre’s stereotypical “feminine evil – beautiful on the outside/corrupt within” in an interesting way.

The movie summed up (with no spoilers) is about a girl, Jay, who inherits a sexually transmitted “disease” that comes in the form of the possessed trying to kill her, only seen by those who have this same STD/curse. She is told from her sexual assailant that the only way she can get rid of the possessed killer is to pass the STD on to somebody else. The catch is that if the person who she passes it on to dies, the killer will come back to get her. The killer can come in any form, a family member, a friend, or a stranger and the only way to identify them is that they walk slowly towards you and try to kill you.

It Follows reinforces Creed’s claim that the horror genre relies on the sexualization of women and the exaggerated duality of their innocent outside and corrupted inside. In the movie, Jay is introduced as an innocent teenage girl just wanting to find a decent boyfriend. Jay meets a boy and the two go on a picturesque date, a movie spiced with sexual tension. The two then spend some alone time together which ultimately leads to a consensual sex scene. Her date then precedes to drug her and relocate her to an abandoned building where he informs her of the STD he has gave her. This quickly moving plot flips Jay into a sexual deviant, more or less suggesting that her consequence of this deviancy is an STD (baffling, I know). Many of Creed’s points are seen/validated in the exposition of this film as the woman’s innocence is contorted and how a strict male gaze is enforced upon her, not only for his benefit but for the audience’s as well.

However, most of film’s remaining plot rejects Creed’s claim by building Jay herself to be the one who tackles her “indirect possession” (that taking the form of the stalking killer) instead of a male force as seen in many horror films. Though Jay eventually enlists the help of her friends, both male and female, it is ultimately her that needs to take on the demon. She is more or less alone in the effort to kill the demon once and for all because she is the only one who can see it. This detail is where I see It Follows rejecting the established horror tropes of sexualized women. Instead of relying on the powerful male presence to defeat evil, Jay uses both male and female friends, and more importantly herself, to take on the evil presented by the film. Whereas The Exorcist and A Head Full of Ghosts have external male powers attempting to defeat evil (religious clergymen), It Follows has a combination of internal (Jay) and external male and female powers combating the possessed.

Spoiler ahead:

Unfortunately, the end of movie finds one of Jay’s friends, male, nabbing the final kill of the demon. It Follows tries to subvert the horror tropes it is critiquing but ultimately relies on them to tie the movie up and bring it to a close. It is interesting to see when horror films try to turn the horror genre on its head by characterizing the female as the one who rids evil instead of a male (see Nightmare on Elm Street or Hellraiser II), but these still rely on some male force to drive the plot to an end. I can see future horror films trying to portray women as the ones who “take care of business” but I have yet to see one that does it one hundred percent without sexualizing the protagonist (a la Kill Bill or Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Let me know if you know of any that do so effectively.