What We Don’t Know: Life Before Death

In comic books, “women in refrigerators” are the brutally murdered or injured love interests of male superheroes, characters used as devices that provide the men with motivation to defeat their nemeses (Simone). One of the most famous characters who has fallen to the commonplace trope is Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s first girlfriend and potentially his one true love. Gwen was thrown off a bridge in The Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1. Issue #121, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” and died not from the fall but when Spider-Man’s web jerked her upwards too quickly, snapping her neck. Her death sparked a massive change in comic stories, as the heroes were no longer guaranteed to win. Gwen is famous only for her death, not her life or character, and in my project I explore the pieces missing from her character, the things that would make her more real, and how her death erased what few pieces of her were not directly linked to her relationship with Spider-Man.

I staged an old phone to appear as if it belongs to Gwen Stacy right around the time of her death, including bookmarks in her web browser, photographs, social media apps, and health information. The pink-and-blue color scheme is meant to match Spider-Man’s iconic suit. Gwen was a science student at the same university as Peter, a choice the writers made so that the two would run into each other easily and not because Gwen had any ambitions (Gianola and Coleman 253). From her very first thought bubble to her very last, Gwen spoke and thought only of her relationship with Peter, occasionally interspersed with doting comments on her father, a police captain with the NYPD. A few months before Gwen’s death, her father, George Stacy, died in a fight with one of Spider-Man’s nemeses, and she was still in mourning when she died in the comics. At the original time of writing, Gwen blamed Spider-Man for her father’s death, a point of contention in her relationship with Peter Parker, who she did not know was Spider-Man.

Gwen’s Photos app conveys her story most clearly. In the beginning of the album, Gwen is pictured with Peter, obviously very in love. Then in December she abruptly begins taking pictures of places in London such as Westminster Abbey and the Darwin exhibit at the National Museum. She takes pictures in London for a month, including some photos from a lab there, and then returns to New York in January. She gets lunch with Peter, hangs out with MJ, and on Valentine’s Day we see her ready for a date with Peter. After that, they have pictures as a couple again. In March, she goes to her father’s grave and takes pictures of the flowers there, has dinner with her family the next Sunday, and does more lab work with Oscorp. All of this is to reflect what we know about Gwen Stacy’s life after her father died: she decided to break up with Peter and went to study in London for a few months before returning to New York, reuniting with Peter, and abruptly dying.

Throughout the whole album, Gwen is seen drinking and partying, two things not consistent with the modern depictions and memories of Gwen. Gianola and Coleman discuss how Gwen Stacy was transformed into a saint after her death, innocent and delighted by the beauty of nature, intelligent enough to work in a chemistry lab (258). The collective memory of Gwen is not so much who her character was as who the fans wanted her to be. In her first appearances in the sixties, Gwen was flighty, interested mainly in hooking up with whoever she found attractive, and partied frequently. She was vain and frequently jealous when Peter paid attention to other women. Gwen’s sainthood came with her death, much like how society tends to idealize real people after their deaths even if that person did terrible things.

The photos in the album, which have edited metadata so they have the same date and time they would if Gwen had actually taken them, are meant to contrast and augment the cultivated Instagram feed. Gwen’s public persona, and the one people are able to reference, is sweet, smart, and loving. She posts flowers at her father’s grave and colorful lab work; her “uglier” tendencies are hidden. Arnold Blumberg suggests that because the boys who read the Spider-Man comics were meant to identify with and sees themselves as Peter Parker, they were also encouraged to see Gwen Stacy as their girlfriend. These readers do not want to see Gwen as she was but as they remember her, a perfect innocent who could not be saved, a representation of first love lost.

The differences in how Gwen presents herself in her Photos app versus her public page highlight the second focus of my project: public and private data, and how those forms of data affect how we are remembered. Gwen’s party photos are kept where those who would grieve with her cannot see them, locked behind a passcode. Her Instagram profile, on the other hand, is open and visible to everyone. The cultivated persona Gwen presents through Instagram is another form of the “packaging” Sontag describes, arranging and preserving photos for the future (5). The Instagram album emphasizes the images Gwen was willing to show others, the ones that proved that “the program was carried out, that fun was had” (Sontag 9). Her Photos app similarly provides evidence of the places she’s been and things she’s done, but only for her and the select people to whom she shows her physical phone. After Gwen dies, her private data–phone calls, iMessages, iTunes, saved articles, and especially unpublished photos–are lost. Her social media profile would exacerbate the nostalgia that erased what few parts of Gwen’s identity that were not one-hundred percent connected to Peter or her father.

As I’ve implied through the last few paragraphs, Gwen’s Instagram page, or public data, acts as a memorial to her through which others (fictional loved ones or real-world fans) can mourn her. Instagram accounts, once memorialized, do not appear any different from a regular account. As time goes on, they remain a snapshot of that time before the person’s death. When I first created the Instagram account, I followed some accounts made by fans of other characters such as Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker, and Harry Osborn for added realism. A few of the accounts followed back, and several other people have also decided to follow this fake account. In doing so, they unwittingly created a network of the sort Graham et al. describe, a secondary set of mourners beyond Gwen’s family. I also used the account to post a tribute to Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father and the second man around whom her life revolves. The post is tagged with a cemetery in New York and corresponds with a visit scheduled in Gwen’s calendar, establishing a connection between mourning in the physical world and the digital world. Gwen’s memorial page, however, is purely digital and can be “visited” in whatever moment the viewer chooses. It also does not have the same weight that a grave does; there is no gray stone or cross to indicate that Gwen is dead and rests beneath the viewer’s feet. The post is meant to highlight the difference between physical gravesites and Website memorials.

This project is meant to be something of a critique of how female characters in comics have very little to them, but it was more difficult than I expected to create a true personality for Gwen and represent it through her phone. Because there is so little information about Gwen’s life beyond Peter, anything I came up with was pure speculation. The things my project lacks–conversations with other people, evidence of mourning beyond surface-level examples, evidence of Gwen’s ambitions and plans for the future–are the same things that the comics lack. In the end, I felt that sticking purely to what was expressed in canon provided a stronger basis for the project. Even with what little information I had, I was able to construct a trip to London, friendships with other women, and an interest in science-based art.

Representation of women in media has changed quite a bit recently, illustrated by the recent release of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman; some things, however, have not changed. The Gwen Stacy of The Amazing Spider-Man series still revolves around Peter, still has no defined ambitions, and, most importantly, still dies to further Peter’s character development. What is the purpose of her death, when the shock value from the sixties has worn off and superhero stories are already dark and steeped in desperation? Her ignored backstory aligns nicely with the idea of forgotten data, the things we lose when a loved one dies. Companies like Apple cannot unlock someone else’s phone without a court order, rendering a dead person’s phone a useless brick of encrypted information. What pieces of our lives will be lost when we are gone, and will our families even know to look for what is missing?



Blumberg, Arnold. (2003). The Night Gwen Stacy Died: The End of Innocence and the Birth of the Bronze Age. Reconstruction. 3.

Gianola, Gabriel, and Janine Coleman. “THE GWENAISSANCE: GWEN STACY AND THE PROGRESSION OF WOMEN IN COMICS.” Gender and the Superhero Narrative, edited by MICHAEL GOODRUM et al., University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2018, pp. 251–284. JSTOR.

Graham, Connor, et al. “Gravesites and Websites: A Comparison of Memorialisation.” Visual Studies, vol. 30, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 37–53. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/1472586X.2015.996395.

Simone, Gail. “Women in Refrigerators.” LBY3, Beau Yarbrough, March 1999.

Sontag, Susan. “In Plato’s Cave.” On Photography, Penguin Books, 1997, pp. 3-24.

Arya’s Grief

Approaching the Haunted Media Project, I wanted to play to my strengths of not being the most technologically in touch person that I am and incorporating art into my piece instead. Mourning and grievance has been a topic I wanted to explore as pain is a human condition and the ways in which we go about dealing with loss through grievance are different. I found it fascinating how in T.V. shows related to fantasy, morals in that world are different from our present day world. Game of Thrones exemplified grievance and death due to the high number of deaths in the T.V. show. Other than the Starks grievance toward Ned, we rarely see the characters going through grievance because deaths, while tragic, are so normalized in the show. I wanted to explore the grievance and how our emotional and mental health might look like when they are physicalized and how we carry our remembrance of our lost ones in our bodies and memories.
The dance, Arya’s Grief, captures my reflection and also my actual self as there are two sides to every person: what the internal self is going through vs. the performance of the external self. The dance captures the distance one goes through in order to get up and live with grief. In this dance, the “monster” tormenting or saddening the dancer is grief itself. “The monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment – of a time, a feeling, and a place. The monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy…giving them life and an uncanny independence” (Cohen 4). Arya feels this immense “fear, desire, anxiety” in this “fantasy” world of Westeros when she loses her brother and mother as she is just about to see them after a long time of separation. The monster’s body is essentially Arya’s, the dancer’s, body. The body quite literally gives life and independence to grief, fear, and anxiety as grief literally takes refuge in Arya’s sorrow.
We first see the dancer in the mirror reflection curled up in a ball. The reflection, which is the internal self (the monster, the grief) inside the body, “inhabits the gap between the time of upheaval that created it and the moment into which it is received, to be born again” (Cohen 4). Grief works exactly by inhabiting the “gap between the time of upheaval that created it,” which is at the Red Wedding, and “the moment into which it is received,” Arya swearing to avenge the deaths of her mother and brother by killing Lord Frey for what he has committed, only to be “born again,” as pain is a human condition and grief will be born again in time of another loss that Arya experiences. The whole dance sequence represents this timeline of the mourning at hand and Arya’s desire to get up and continue with her life but her inability to literally stand up, but once she does, only to fall down again as grief is “born again.”
Game of Thrones, as a T.V. show with elements of horror, “violates our assumption that we live in a predictable, routinized world by demonstrating that we live in a minefield” by unexpectedly killing off their main characters (Pinedo 21). Arya’s grief that is uncontained and exploding at times but also calm and painful, demonstrates that “we live in a minefield” as our lives could be overturned by death at any moment. By performing grievance through a dance, there is an element to my haunted media project that is a bit “self-indulgent, and, like so much else on social media…performative” (Garber). I wanted to take this aspect of grieving and literally turn it into an actual performance as a means to physicalize how grief possesses a person in mourning.
It’s also curious to see that her grief, due to the deaths of her family members, allows viewers of the series to be more empathetic to her taking the lives of other people. “Her gruesome murder of Ser Meryn in a brothel is the execution of a sadistic pedophile. Her elimination of Walder Frey and his sons rids the world of treacherous murderers. There is at least a strong utilitarian justification for the elimination of most of her victims. The explanation for these choices of Arya’s is forcefully presented without it becoming a justification…She relentlessly repeats the names of those for whose death she prays. This is not presented as a healthy state in which to be, but it is made understandable. We’re intended to empathize with Arya and share her hatreds” (Silverman 7). As everyone’s grieving process is different, Arya’s becomes the one of vengeance. Vengeance is also a form of reaching out to the dead as murdering in the name of a deceased person is also a way (at least in Game of Thrones) to come to terms with the passing away or the murder of a loved one. By showing “Arya” walking off at the end of the dance sequence, she continues with her life but the monster, grief, is “ready to stalk again” (Cohen 5). Grief always escapes and never truly goes away, seen by how “Arya,” despite her strength to continue with her life and rise up after the “Rains of Castamere” song, is still grief ridden, knowing grief is ready to stalk again in the future.
In order to focus on the performative aspect of grievance and how our digital media comes to play with it, the camera is reflected in the mirror, showing how grievance, though inside us, is expressed differently when our digital media comes to interfere (or help) with it. There is an aspect of grief that technology has brought that makes people feel the need to express that they are in grievance or let others know just how affected they are by the death of a loved one. Those who do not post or express their grievance outwardly are criticized or seen to not be as affected, while those who also choose to express a lot through social media are also criticized for their grievance is seen as a mere performance. Either way, people have different ways of going about grieving that as long as they are not negatively harming anyone in their lives, different ways of grieving should be understood and accepted.

Works Cited
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).”
Garber, Megan. “Enter the Grief Police.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Jan. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/01/enter-the-grief-police/424746/.
Pinedo, Isabel. “RECREATIONAL TERROR: POSTMODERN ELEMENTS OF THE CONTEMPORARY HORROR FILM.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20688091.
Silverman, Eric J, and Robert Arp, editors. The Ultimate Game of Thrones and Philosophy : You
Think or Die. Open Court, 2017.

Haunted Media Artist Statement

One of the most identifying features of the millennial generation is its undying fascination with online connectivity. Everywhere a millennial goes, its almost a sure bet that there’s a shiny metal smartphone in their pocket or in their hand. This technology is extremely new, however, so there was a time when these same millennials were not constantly updating statuses or posting pictures for the world to see. Instead, the device that connected these kids was much simpler: the flip-phone. I’m sure if you think back to your middle school days, many of you will remember the first phone you had.

That phone is very representative of a simpler time. The low-quality ringtones, grainy photos (if your phone even had a camera), and requirement to press a button multiple times to type one character of a text might oddly bring back feelings of nostalgia—when the worst thing you had to worry about was whether your parents would let you go to a friend’s sleepover, or if you could scrape up enough money to go see a movie with your first boyfriend or girlfriend. Although the flip-phones of the time were extremely basic in their functionality, they still served many of the same purposes that smartphones do today.  The texts, photos, and even games are all still there, they just weren’t as dominating in everyday life as they seem to be now.

With this project, I decided to try to recreate a generic middle-school-aged boy’s phone. This flip-phone comes complete with a Minecraft themed background, cheesy ringtones, awkward photos, contact list, and well over one hundred text messages, all acting to provide a snapshot of this boy’s life in the days leading up to his mysterious and unexplained disappearance. These artifacts show how normal the kid was; he texted friends about video games, updated his mom on his whereabouts, has poorly taken team photos in his gallery, and the high scores on phone games are still saved. Presumed dead, his mother continues to text him memorializing messages, wishing him a posthumous happy birthday or telling him that she still loves him, with one of the most recent message coming in on March 27th, 2019—what would have been the boy’s 23rd birthday. In a way, the boy’s phone turns into something like an extremely private Facebook memorial page that only his mother seems to have joined.

People grieve for the dead in many ways and with the widespread use of technology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, many people have moved online to help them mourn the deceased. Cell phones are such a new technology that many people are still exploring the different ways in which they can be used to preserve memories of loved ones after they pass. For this mother, the continued texting is a private place for her to release her thoughts and grieve while not allowing external factors to potentially ruin any memories. The fact that it is a cell phone, not an online page, makes the space more intimate and better protected from trolls.

Just as Victorian Age families kept trinkets of memento mori, the mother in this project memorializes her dead son by keeping his old cell phone alive (Bell, 2016). The photos examined in Bell’s Taken from Life: The Unsettling Art of Death Photography actually contain quite a few parallels to a mid-2000’s flip phone in this context: both are able to capture a moment that is representative of a complete life, but more importantly, both can be used as tools to aid in other processes that the living who surround the dead must endure. As Bell points out in her BBC article, these photos became popular during the Victorian Era as a relatively expensive way to permanently record someone’s physical image, helping families and friends to keep memories of the deceased readily available (Bell, 2016). The flip-phone’s 21st century twist allows the mother to not only capture her son’s personality through digital media, but it also allows her to keep a record of her own emotional reactions to his death in the years following his death, both in the short term and long term. Not only that, but the flip-phone also provides the mother the opportunity to maintain her son’s character long after his death as well. Online memorial pages often times lack original information from the deceased, with a majority of the posts coming from friends or family, who post their favorite memories for the rest to see. In the case of a recovered cell phone, this is not easily done. The phone records exactly how the boy presented himself to the world, becoming a more realistic memorial of who he was while he was still present.

The phone as a memorial site also becomes a great case of what Michael Hviid Jacobson describes as the fifth phase in the history of Death: The Spectacular Death (Jacobson, 2016). The Spectacular Death is described as a phase where “paradoxical tendencies [make] death linger uneasily between liberation and denial as well as between autonomy and control.” The phone, in this case, seems to embody this quote perfectly. It is liberating in the sense that the mother is free to communicate with it however she wants, through grief, sorrow, love, or any other emotion. At the same time, however, it is very limiting in that it will never respond and will never change; it forces its reader to take the information as it is without any sugar coating. This is also what makes it autonomous, as the presence of old data is powerful enough to incite a reaction, while it is still controlled by the mother and father (or whoever is still making payments on the phone so it can receive texts). In another way, this boy’s death has become a spectacle in itself, with the mother continuing to interact with that experience. I guess every project here has become a “spectacle” in a way, due to the fact that we are presenting it in a class completely centered on death, but the fictitious context that the phone exists in is also a spectacle due to the externalization of the mother’s grief.

Lastly, the media by which this story is presented was also meant to reflect a more realistic setting that a few readers might have experience with. A story about a child’s death from only the perspective of the child’s phone could bring back experiences of when you had to endure the death of a friend, classmate, neighbor, or family member not only in the real world, but also in the digital world. I think one of the most natural reactions to this is to wonder what it must be like for the parents of the deceased. Dr. Grace Christ, Dr. George Bonannno, Dr. Ruth Malkinson, and Dr. Simon Rubin published a review, When Children Die: Improving Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Children and Their Families, in which they begin:The death of a child of any age is a profound, difficult, and painful experience. While bereavement is stressful whenever it occurs, studies continue to provide evidence that the greatest stress, and often the most enduring one, occurs for parents who experience the death of a child” (Christ, et al. 2003). The way it effects parents makes me never want to wish that on my worst enemy. It highlights how strong these individuals have to be in order to make it through emotional times, as recent findings show that parents of a child who has passed are more likely to suffer traumatic stress and emotional dysregulation than if they had lost their spouse (Christ, et al. 2003). The mother’s texts to this phone may seem a strange way to cope with her problems, but it is simply what she feels she has to do in order to properly maintain her mental health.

Not everything in this phone is all doom and gloom, though. Take a moment to browse through it and notice the artifacts that the boy had left behind. What can you learn about him from his texts? What about his pictures? Even something as little as a contact named “The Fixer” with no saved number could tell you something about who this boy was. Play some of the games he left behind, but be careful. Is it right to beat any of his high scores? Would that ruin someone else’s interpretation of these artifacts? It’s a bit of a morbid project, but I think it highlights the importance of these issues, especially as the topic is broadcast in the wake of each new school shooting, taking children away from their parents all too soon.



Works Cited

Bell, Bethan. “Taken from Life: The Unsettling Art of Death Photography.” BBC News, BBC, 5 June 2016, www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-36389581.

Christ, Grace H, et al. “BEREAVEMENT EXPERIENCES AFTER THE DEATH OF A CHILD.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK220798/.

Jacobsen, Michael Hviid. “‘Spectacular Death’-Proposing a New Fifth Phase to Philippe Ariès’s Admirable History of Death.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 29 Mar. 2016, www.mdpi.com/2076-0787/5/2/19.

Pseudo-Immortality and Para-Social Relationships between Artists and Fans

Digital Studies                                                                                     Lawrence King

Sample                                                                                                 March 28, 2019

Haunted Media Artist Statement

For my project I decided to go the ghost centric route and focus on the eeriness of social media accounts of dead people, specifically famous artists. I also wanted to focus on para-social relationships and how their existence creates a reality where the subject of their affection can become a pseudo-immortal. Finally, I wanted to highlight how the living take advantage of the artist’s death to make money and gain online gratification. I referenced Mark Fisher’s book, “The Weird and the Eerie,” to highlight how confusing and unsettling it is to see new content and an active social media account from an artist you know is dead. I referenced Bethan Bell’s article on “death photography” during the Victorian era to show that the periodic release of content and the active social media accounts are like a more advanced form of death photography because they allow us to hold onto the person dear to us and immortalize them through their art and through multiple technologies. I also referenced John Beatty’s scholarly paper on para-social relationships between fans and celebrities to highlight the investments fans make by following and supporting their favorite celebrities and the motives behind that investment.

My project is a Facebook page dedicated to the late rapper XXXTentacion who had multiple projects released by his label and estate since his death. The page acts as a personal account for him and I, the admin, play the role of the estate and post content in his place. The point of this project is to discuss the notion that if an artist dies but their social media is still active and their fans are still receiving content through the mediums they’ve used to connect with that artist, then to them at least, the artist never died. The artist is only really dead to the people who knew him personally.

On my Facebook page, you’ll see the contradictory nature of life and death in the digital age we live in. You’ll see how the people running XXXTentacion’s estate have created a kind of ambivalence towards his death. Finally, you’ll see how the label he was signed under has turned his legacy into a profiting tool and transformed him from a man into a brand. You’ll see all these things through the posts I’ve made, the comments I pulled from real people on X’s latest YouTube videos and small Easter Eggs I scattered on the page thanks to Facebook’s group page tips.

In his book, Mark Fisher defines eeriness as “a failure of absence or by a failure of presence.” According to him, “the sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing or there is nothing present when there should be something.” After someone dies, you’d expect their digital avatars to die as well but they don’t in most cases. They just remain active but usually have no new posts, like a digital purgatory. This is eerie because something that shouldn’t be there is. With a normal person this eerie feeling is minimal and you chalk it up to just being weird but it doesn’t really affect your life if you weren’t close to this person or family.

However, when a famous artist dies the eeriness is amplified because you’re not only seeing active social media accounts but you’re hearing new music and seeing new visual content. This is particularly true in XXXTentacion’s case. When he died, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was a fan of his music and suddenly hearing that he was murdered at twenty years old left me in a state of shock and confusion that took me, and would take any normal person I imagine, some time to process. During this processing stage however, I looked at my phone and saw a notification telling me that XXXTentacion had released a new video on his YouTube account. I clicked on it and saw X rapping, laughing and smiling and even though there were many “RIP” comments below, I didn’t feel like he was dead because he was right there in front of me, talking to me.

The video ended and after a little while I entered the processing stage again and again when I was about to accept reality, I hear that X has released a new album. The cycle continued again and again. In that time, I was notified about album release parties, more music videos, another album, etc. I wasn’t allowed to process my feelings over his death and didn’t have to because nothing about our relationship had changed. I knew him through his music, social media and visual content. All of those things were still active and producing new content at a steady pace so X was very much alive for me. I could see this sentiment was shared by multiple people across X’s fan base. Similar comments were made on his Instagram posts, YouTube videos and album reviews on streaming platforms. We all knew he was dead but it never felt like he was dead.

Today’s technology has provided XXXTentacion and other deceased artists with platforms that allow them to transcend their physical self and become an immortalized digital being. Our para-social relationships with them have also made this possible. Our “virtual communities,” as Beatty puts it, connect people from all across the world and creates a new reality where the artist can also exist through technology. X existed through his music, social media and music videos. We encouraged him and supported him to keep making music while he was alive for our own personal gratification but also to continue to create bonds with people on these platforms; a “meaningful communicative bond” as Beatty puts it. Now that he’s dead we still want new content to keep those communicative bonds strong.

X’s label is aware of our desire to receive new content from him so we can maintain the reality and bonds we created on these digital platforms, sustain his immortality and not have to truly deal with his death. They, like many labels before them, like Michael Jackson’s, Mac Miller’s, Tupac’s, Biggie’s, turned a dead man into a brand so they could capitalize off his death and gain profit and gratification for keeping his memory alive. I highlight this on the Facebook page I created by categorizing my page as a brand instead of a memorial page because the label doesn’t want to portray him as a dead man but as a legend because legends never die. They steadily release his new music and throw listening and album release parties and keep his social media account alive so they could continue to maintain their streaming revenue and sell his merch. I made his merch website my page’s website to further highlight that this page is really about making money not memorializing a dead artist.

My goal for the project was to make a page that showcased the ambivalence X’s estate has for his death. I believe I accomplished this goal by flooding the page with conflicting posts and images. Posts that made it seem like he was alive but had small clues that remind you that he’s dead. I named the page XXXTentacion Lives but the username right below it reads “in our hearts x minds.” The profile picture shows X happy, smiling and full of life but the cover photo is the infamous photo of him lying dead in his car after the armed robbery. I also posted a video of X going live, where he talks about death. These were some of the obvious contradictions but I had multiple subtle ones too.

Facebook gave me tips on how to make the page more popular. One of them was having a contact us section. I put in X’s real phone number but when you call it, you’ll get a message saying, “the number you have dialed is no longer available.” In the description you’ll see that the page was “born” on June 18, 2018 which is the same day X died. I created events telling people to head out to the listening and album release parties. I also posted old photos from his Instagram including his final photo with the same caption to, on one hand, keep my page active, but on the other, to subtly remind people that this was his final Instagram post. Die hard fans of X would be able to catch these subtle hints.

In addition to the subtle and obvious contradictions, I posted links to all of his new music and videos while completely ignoring his death in the captions. I complicated the post by adding ambiguous comments from real people that don’t explicitly say he’s dead but imply that he’s no longer with us. They said things like “legends never die” and that “it feels like he’s alive.” When I saw comments like this, I knew the label was succeeding in its mission to make people feel X’s presence despite having the knowledge of his death.

While the label uses his legacy for profit, I’d found that regular people, usually trolls, use his legacy for likes. They would use his name in comments like this: “Hit the like button if you miss X.” They were guilting people into liking them essentially. I saw many comments like these in the comments on YouTube and Instagram and it proves that it’s not just the music industry that’s taking advantage of death and grief but normal people are doing it too for online gratification and to rile people up and start online comment battles.

The digital age we live in today has allowed us to preserve people who’ve passed away in new ways. Like the Victorian’s did with photographs, we use social media, video-sharing services like YouTube and streaming services to hold onto the people we care about. With an artist, that you’ve only ever interacted with through these mediums, this practice allows you to delude yourself into believing that that person is still alive. Death and this preservation practice create a conflict that leaves you with an eerie feeling that you can choose to acknowledge or ignore.

These para-social relationships however leave room for exploitation by third-parties who live outside of the reality created by these individuals and online communities. People and entities like labels, family members, non-fans and trolls to name a few. These entities and people exploit the legacy of the artist for monetary gain and online gratification by steadily releasing their music along with merch on the artist’s platforms and by commenting things that guilt you into liking them. I wouldn’t consider it exploitation if they just leaked all of his music and videos at one time and gave the proceeds to charities or something.

My page’s goal was to act as a microcosm for other deceased artists’ pages that sheds light on the eeriness of this preservation practice, the exploitation of the artist, the transformation of man into brand after death and the pseudo immortality that is gained by the artist in question. While exploring my page to the utmost you will be able to see the obvious and subtle contradictions between life and death on these platforms, the ambivalence it creates and how real people react to it. The funny/sad thing about all of this is that even if you know the artist is being exploited after his/her death, you still contribute to the exploitation by buying and listening to their music and streaming their videos. We’re funding the machine but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter to us because like other people who struggle with grief, we don’t want to let go of someone who was important to us and we’ll do anything to keep up the illusion that that person is still with us to avoid dealing with the truth; even if we’re only connected through headphones or a computer/TV screen.


Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie. Repeater, 2017.

Bell, Bethan. Taken from life: The unsettling art of death photography. BBC News, 2016.

Beatty, John. Motives and para-social interactions of fan celebrity web site creators. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Communication Association, 2006.

Link to the page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/inourheartsxminds/posts/?ref=page_internal

Voices from Beyond the Grave

I have inserted the link to my project video here:

In his book The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher defines eeriness as the following: “The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing or is there is nothing present when there should be something” (61). I would assert that most people in general have a fundamental concept and notion of what eeriness and can define it when they see it, but Fisher’s definition is so beautiful in its simplicity. Something is eerie specifically when we know that something is off and that things are just not how they should be. Fisher’s fleshing out of this concept with his terms failure of absence and failure of presence do a perfect job with pinning down exactly what characterizes the eerie. My Haunted Media Project which is an edited video of a graveyard with voices plays upon both elements of the eerie.

While my project makes use of both types of eeriness as defined by Fisher, it most certainly centers more heavily upon his failure of absence. Naturally, a graveyard is a place that is meant to be deserted. There are typically no signs of life within a graveyard as it is just a plot of land full of dead corpses buried the surface. My Haunted Media Project is intended to provoke and create the eerie in the fact that my edited video of a graveyard walk is chalk full of signs of life. As the camera walks through the graveyard passing tombstone after tombstone voices can be heard in the background. The sound of voices filled with life and from the living is not something that ought to be found in a graveyard which creates the eeriness that I intended for my video. There is a true failure of absence in that we expect a graveyard to be silent aside from the sounds of nature and thus when something that should not be there such as voices is present the situation is eerie. The failure of voices emanating from graves to be absent is a direct representation of Fisher’s first type of eeriness although it is not the singular method through which I create a sense of the eerie in my Haunted Media Project.

In addition to my emphasis upon the failure of absence in order to create eeriness with voices from beyond the grave, I too make some use of a failure of presence. In this respect, while the voices of the dead ought not be present the fact that they still exist lends credence to an issue with the failure of presence. While the voices existing is creepy in and of itself, it would have been less creepy if you could discern from where they were emerging. It is evident from the project and the way that I framed it that the voices and sounds are meant to be of the graves themselves, but it is never clearly proven to be that way. If there were apparitions or even skeletons that would at least give the voices and sounds a physical manifestation and origin point but the video offers nothing. This lack of a physical body whether a ghost or a skeleton shows a failure of presence which in and of itself is chillingly eerie. As much as voices do not belong in a graveyard they do belong to physical creatures. Thus, to have no obvious source of the sounds adds even more to the eerie feel and disturbing nature of my Haunted Media Project.

The very first thing that I thought of when implementing audio into the piece to serve as voices of the dead was to literally take voices from the dead. I immediately sought to find disturbing audio such as 9/11 calls and other audio recordings of people who were literally upon the brink of death with their lives on the line. I spent hours scouring Youtube in search of disturbing phone calls in which the panic and tension of the caller rose throughout the call. I then took snippets of the videos and dispersed them across my project for a wide range and variety of fearful tracks. For obvious reasons the sounds of people pleading or screaming for their lives is quite creepy and it fits in easily with a tone of eerie graveyard video. The sounds of any human being displaying true and unadulterated fear is scary and something that sends chills down the spine. The importance of utilizing disturbing audio in my Haunted Media Project is to establish the fact this dire fear.

The use of disturbing audio is very essential for my Haunted Media Project and without the voices of the soon to be dead, the tone would not feel as disturbing and eerie as it ought to. By that same token however, to fill up the video solely with haunting audio would not suffice either as it would be limiting to the scope of death. Death is not only the pain and fear of losing life but the removal of the joy that life brings as well. In order to incorporate the true meaning of death I needed to represent too the joys and experiences of everyday life. The audio that I am classifying as everyday audio are from little videos that I have accumulated throughout my life and simply encapsulate what life is all about. If one was to truly walk through and hear the voices of the dead would be reasonable that they would hear moments of life just as much as moments of death. The inability to completely narrow down exactly what type of audio it is makes it more disturbing and sinister in my opinion.

Going along with the inability to pinpoint the audio of my Haunted Media Project, I have purposely taken advantage of anonymity to help shield the sounds in order to make it more disturbing. While there are numerous voices heard throughout the video, with some utilized more than once, never are the voices personalized or identified. While it is obvious that these voices are from beyond the grave it is never defined who these voices belong to on an individual level. This disconnect of identity helps me to create a tone of horror and eeriness and is something that Anthony Enns speaks to in his article titled: Voices of the Dead: Transmission/Translation/Transgression. “By separating the voice from the body and endowing it with a presence independent of the speaker, sound technologies disrupted any equation of the voice with individual experience and identity” (Enns 13).

In my video I have removed the audio and taken the individual identities behind the words to be represented solely by masses of graves. The voice of a person is something perfectly unique to anyone who ever lived and thus to remove that individuality yet still convey it through inanimate objects is at its root unnatural. If you factor in too the fact that much of my audio is chilling screams of people pleading at the end of their lives, the chilling fear only grows. As Enns alludes to, newly formed sound technologies have interrupted the natural equation between a voice and identity and through my Haunted Media Project I have harnessed this disconnected sound to creepily convey the dead as a wholistic rather than individual.

While the audio is the key ingredient when producing the eerie tone of my project, the true backbone of my project is a video from the YouTube channel Vic Stefanu – World Travels and Adventure in which Vic videotapes his walk-through abandoned graves within the Highgate Cemetery in London. From a visual perspective, the fact that the graves shown in the video are overrun by green forestry is really astounding but not all together surprising as it questions the idea of what a graveyard truly is. Julia Rugg notes in her article “Defining the place of burial: what makes a cemetery a cemetery?”, “A burial ground [is] a large landscaped park or ground laid out expressly for the deposition or internment of the dead . . . these graves were simply a place of disposal, where corpses could disappear” (260). Historically many have understood cemetery’s to be sacred grounds that must be kept up and maintained due to what they symbolized an represented. As Rugg points out and my Haunted Media Project shows, a cemetery is more than that (or less than that depending on point of view) in that it is simply a ground where corpses are buried. There does not need to be any type of consistent maintenance and sometimes graves can be overrun by nature lost to this world but that does not mean they lose any bit of their value as residency for the deceased.   

In essence, this is a tourism video even if the location is very secluded and one that many have not and will not visit. This found footage plays upon the impact that photography has upon our world as Susan Sontag highlighted in her piece titled: In Plato’s Cave. “As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, that also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. Thus, photography develops in tandem with one of the most characteristic of modern activities: tourism.” All of Vic’s travels highlighted upon his channel offers forms of distant tourism as he invites his viewers to explore the world around him though his eyes and the lens of his camera. This is a relatively new phenomena and as Sontag explains, is something that is unique to technology and the photographic business in particular.

While the second part of Sontag’s quotation deals with the use of photography as a tourist tool, the first part explains special features offered up by photographs moving or still. The video shows footage of graves that have been lost to nature and completely deserted in the woods.. These grave sites are extremely well hidden within the depths of the cemetery and the vast majority of people would never encounter them. They could have been lost to time forever except Vic Stefanu and his use of digital recording have exposed them to the world via the world wide web. As Sontag mentions in her quote, the use of photography allows people to experience aspects of the world in new ways that allow more comfort. Through filming or photographing people are able to encounter spaces that would otherwise make the feel insecure in more attainable and relatable ways. Vic and his filming of an abandoned graveyard is a perfect example of this notion as the location is certainly comforting but the filming and ability to traverse the site online makes it less disturbing and for a more engaging audience experience.




Anthony Enns (2005) Voices of the dead: Transmission/translation/transgression, Culture, Theory and Critique, 46:1, 11-27, DOI: 10.1080/14735780500102363

Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie. Repeater, 2017.

Julie Rugg (2000) Defining the place of burial: What makes a cemetery a cemetery?, Mortality, 5:3, 259-275, DOI: 10.1080/713686011

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. Penguin Books, 1977.














Video Sources Utilized

Crew9t, director. Chilling Real 911 Call- Amputated Foot/ Leg. YouTube, YouTube, 3 Oct. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrZQv0w_O78.

F4denfisch, director. The Name of the Doctor – Full Whisper Men Theme. YouTube, YouTube, 24 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFjROOcTo8c.

Mar, director. Disturbing 911 Call – THE TALL MAN (EMERGENCY CALL). YouTube, YouTube, 31 July 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOE7TXBZFQY.

Martin, Josph, director. (SCARY) Elderly Woman Murdered during 911 Call. YouTube, YouTube, 29 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgrG1o8vESw.

Moresey, Sera Lilly, director. The Whisper Men. YouTube, YouTube, 26 Oct. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix1P_xdPTas.

Music, Epic, director. Lullaby of Woe. YouTube, YouTube, 28 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KkTb4AMW8w.

Stefanu, Vic, director. 0:03 / 12:48 LONDON, EXPLORING HIGHGATE CEMETERY, Let’s Walk along the Hidden Paths. YouTube, YouTube, 22 June 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l69B3bcN6s.





Daniel Runck Haunted Media

Artist’s Statement

My project is designed to try and target several of the lines that we associate with the grieving process. I intentionally attempt to make both characters unlikable and rather devoid of development in order to focus on and isolate their actions and desires. Isolating these actions focuses on the grieving process and the ways in which they can be healthy, unhealthy, or have negative impacts on others. Another way this is accomplished is through the lack of names, and partial dependence on lower connotation names such as Old Man and Boy despite being family. The use of a Twine word-based game allows people to interact with the process and be as linear or nonlinear as I would like while not limiting the things I wish to accomplish. While there are things that I may have liked to flesh out more such as the game aspect, being able to create win/loss scenarios, I do believe the Twine project functions well as an interactive narrative.

While my personal experiences are not something this work is dependent on they are large influences. There is an individual in my family that likes editing old photos of lost loved ones and that is something that is hard for me to watch, even if someone may have wanted their life to be something other than it was it still seems like a rather large line is being crossed. Actions that alter the memory of one’s life, to me, are something that should not be part of a healthy grieving process. I do recognize that others have their own grieving processes and to them may make sense. While the character is rather apathetic about performing such actions, it is important to understand that I attempted to write the character as someone who is not a good person.

There are several kinds of haunting that I could have implemented in place of a spirit being bound to an object, such as a possession of a human, a ghost that manifests as a shadow of the former self, and a manifestation of the grandson’s imagination that only feels like a paranormal activity for instance. By binding the spirit of the grandfather to a piece of technology the relationship between technology and death is tightened, even if this is narratively separate from the intersection that exists in online memorials. In our age this interaction is closed all the time as physical newspaper obituaries are less common and livestreaming funerals becomes more prevalent.

The grandfather never becomes immortal but by ‘surviving’ his own death he has achieved a similar situation to the CEO mentioned by Hossein Rahnama[1] in that he Is bound to technology and that he is incapable of being more than he was in life. One of the things that is frustrating to me about the situation with Mr. Rahnama is that as a program his ‘immortalization’ is generated from records that can recreate an observed sequence and will never be able to replicate a fresh human experience. Similarly, the grandfather is bound to a phone, and has stopped accumulating experiences as a human. The grandfather, like a program generated from old memories, after his grandson goes out of his way for him so that he may pass the spirit is still devoid of empathy and feels no new emotion when encountering a different experience. Additionally, it is revealed that the grandfather has no true desire to live beyond his mortal life, but simply guessed that was what he’d want. I think that many people who would want some recording of who they were to survive them may not consider that allowing someone, and yourself, to pass is something natural and a part of death.

Another line that I tried to identify is the amount of acceptable apathy associate with the grieving process. Walter discusses the ideas of Geoffery Gorer in his Death, Grief, and Mourning in Contemporary Britain [2]and the idea of the pornography of death, meaning that societies that do not talk about death will become obsessed with things surrounding it. While the ideas are old, published in 1965, the concept that without rituals to address death people can develop psychological problems[3] I think can still apply as the modern grieving ritual is much more visible and social. No longer is mourning a private ritual, as the expectation is often a public expression of grief, be it a Facebook post or social media tribute. For example, rather than visiting his gravestone the friends of a now deceased Facebook friend will often post something to his page on Facebook along with a message. The narrative can push the reader into a situation where they are choosing between two different ways of messing with that ritual in order to increase social presence. While not explicitly obvious while playing of these options one is the best, and results in more people visiting the memorial site, objectively fulfilling the task better.

While the primary reason for creating self-serving characters was more plot based, I also like the idea that It can generate a sense eeriness. As their relationship is defined by their lack of contact it may have been easy to put a non-family member as the haunting figure, but by the “failure of presence”[4] of the total lack of anything that bound them together other than circumstance. Two of three possible endings involve the phone the spirit inhabits getting destroyed and the main character has absolutely no idea whether or not the spirit has peacefully passed on provided they do not fully trust the psychic. The other ending is completely open with no sort of concluding thoughts other than the grandfather is now gone. I attempt to leave out many familiar and expected narrative functions such as development of characters and any kind of fulfilling conclusion, which partially enables the characters to simply be the self-serving jerks that I see in some actions taken in the real world.


[1] Humphries, Courtney. “Digital Immortality: How Your Life’s Data Means a Version of You Could Live Forever.” MIT Technology Review. October 30, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612257/digital-version-after-death/.



[2] Walter, Tony. “MODERN DEATH: TABOO OR NOT TABOO?” Sociology 25, no. 2 (1991): 295. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42857623.


[3] Gorer, Geoffrey. Death, Grief, and Mourning in Contemporary Britain. Salem, NH: Ayer., 1965.


[4] Fisher, Mark. 2016. The Weird and the Eerie. A Repeater Books paperback original. London: Repeater Books.




Who Just Died?

As a form of haunted media I created a theoretical twitter-timeline style stream of the people who are passing away in real time, titled “ObituaRSS”. My motivation was to put a twist on social media in an unsettling way, but demonstrate, as well, that the idea isn’t far fetched. The project started through creating a random-information generator that could spit out a random name and date of birth. I expanded upon this to include the current time (time of death) and cause of death. I spent so long rerunning code and double checking that the functionality of my generator worked that I created a front-end UI to display the information and continued to expand upon the appearance and components of the piece.

From there the morbid dead info stream was born.

The backbone of the project is built using Python, and the random-simulating-methods that come with it. I also wanted to add a human element to the interaction with the stream, so photos were added from the StyleGAN project. I added around 300 faces, so repetitions are common, but it’s mostly a proof of concept. What’s cool about the StyleGAN project, as mentioned in class, is that the faces are made using machine learning. So although they may look 100% real, they are 100% constructed by a computer program. I hooked these Python programs into a NodeJS application and hosted it on my Davidson Domain.

early build of haunted media project. demonstrates random generator and basic website
screenshot of an early build.

My first reaction while formulating the project was in connection to how eerie the piece is. Ordinarily private, a viewer can see information regarding each fictional, but seemingly real, death in real time. This blurred line between real and fiction was a big motivation to continue building onto the project, and reminded me of our discussions in class surrounding the eerie. The most critical points from discussions were the idea of something existing that shouldn’t normally. Giving life to death. Adding a personal aspect with the images did this two-fold, both in being able to see something dead and give it a face, but also in that the faces aren’t photographs of real people. It’s eerie because I give existence to something nonexistent. A condition for the eerie is being able to understand something “without the need for specific forms of cultural mediation.” (Fisher, 61) The faces were used to further establish a connection with the viewer, and to really capture their attention. “The face is the predominant way we recognize people.” (Sanders, 1) And I wanted viewers to know they were looking at people. Due to identifying faces being a primary nature of humans, there is no need for specific cultural mediation, thus the faces are not just good indicators to use to represent people but they’re also quite eerie.

The part of my project that motivates this idea of the eerie the most is that the probability that a cause of death will appear in the stream is equivalent to that reported by the CDC in 2016.

Simulating this stat, and modeling it, brings to life the data point. No longer is it a number on a screen, now it’s attached to a face scrolling down the stream of information.

Further, in attaching names and faces to the points, a life (or death) from anywhere around the world is represented. The goal for the scope of the project was to represent death nationwide, not just in any one location, and ordinarily the specifics of who has died is limited to listings in newspaper obituaries or what information is voluntarily put onto online obituary sites. The information certainly doesn’t reside in any one updating website, or in a way that is involuntary, as I propose my project would take form. It’s also interesting to think of the implications that come with having a single place where you can receive this data. How is it gathered, is it voluntary, who has access to it, is it anonymized, etc.

Because of how morbid the piece is, I left in some functions that ground it in the absurd, or arguably comical. For example, some images are of children’s faces while their date of birth may be 1927. Or, in addition, names may be inherently masculine like John or feminine like Jane but appear below an image of the opposite sex. Although not as obvious at first glance, when you do finally realize that things aren’t exactly adding up it gives you a psychological distraction to focus on rather than the grim subject at hand. There are validations and checks I could construct to solidify completely “the impression of an encounter with the real” (Kirkland, 117), but this interruption of the digital was a clear example of hypermediation.

I wanted the user to be aware that they were looking at something that was fabricated. It may look real, but somebody had to make it. Harping, again, on the idea of the eerie and unsettling.

Another thing I realized in working through the project is how the concept is not far fetched. Although morbid, who’s to say that a hacker with access to this data doesn’t dump information of the deceased in a similar way. Or, thinking about the future of technology, who’s to say that in the future we won’t have computer chips in us that report when we die, so someone somewhere would see a stream of information just like this.

Some additions and improvements that I wish I had implemented are mostly related to user experience. Although a tall order, implementing some sort of data visualization on top of the stream might have motivated the statistical element of the project more. In addition, in retrospect adding specific social media functions like “following” a cause of death or “blocking” something may have led to interesting phenomena. Finally something that may have motivated the more social-media-facing aspect, as well, would have been to design a logo, which would cost a lot of time and energy.


Works Cited

Fisher, Mark. “Approaching the Eerie.” The Weird and the Eerie, Repeater Books, 2016, pp. 61–64.

Kirkland, E. “Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations.” Games and Culture, vol. 4, no. 2, 2008, pp. 115–126., doi:10.1177/1555412008325483.

Sanders, Robert. “Human Faces Are so Variable Because We Evolved to Look Unique.” Berkeley News, 9 July 2015, news.berkeley.edu/2014/09/16/human-faces-are-so-variable-because-we-evolved-to-look-unique/.


All Roads Lead to Radiation

To explore the idea of “haunted media”, I decided to examine the idea of post-apocalyptic New York City. A cliché, I know, but the idea of how the world might look if someone’s finger hit the proverbial “big red button” tempted me too much. However, to create a world of total nuclear destruction felt overdone, especially considering the number of Fallout games I’ve played over the years. Instead, I decided to investigate what New York would look like mid-disaster, and how exactly this would look from a more mundane perspective, say, from the viewpoint of the New York City Department of Transportation.

“Apocalypse through the mundane” is the key phrase here. While any newspaper or news channel would be plastering the latest information from the growing tragedy all over the front page of their website, things would not change so rapidly for the Department of Transportation. Political biases, usually pervasive in news outlets, would not have such a strong effect on the content of the DOT. Therefore, any changes that are made to the website indicate a lifestyle and culture change, regardless of the individual. Changes in what the DOT puts out indicate everyday life will change, which is why I used the New York City Department of Transportation website as a method of examining what everyday life would be like in a nuclear New York.

On the original DOT page, there are six main links, “Current Projects” – a list of all the various road work taking place in New York City, “Vision Zero Update” – a link to a 151 page PDF detailing the progress of “Vision Zero”, New York’s initiative to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero, “BQE Reconstruction Project” – another webpage detailing the effort to rebuild the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, “Car Free Earth Day” – information on New York City’s Earth Day celebration, along with detailed traffic advice, “Electric Vehicle Curbside Charger Pilot” – a website where New Yorkers can request the city to build electric vehicle chargers in various locations, and finally “Real-Time Traffic Conditions & Cameras” – an interactive map in which those worried about their morning commute can check everything from the traffic to whether a bus route is on time. The goal of this project is to reimagine these six links, including the home DOT page, thinking about how they may be different if a catastrophic nuclear event were to occur. Many of these sites will keep much of the same information that they hold now to keep the feeling of a purely bureaucratic website alive, with subtle changes made to introduce a feeling of unease.

  1. Current Projects

At a glance, the new “Current Projects” section of the DOT website is relatively unchanged, except for the fact that the number of ongoing projects in New York seem to be greatly reduced. However, under further investigation, some of the projects occurring seem to be just a bit different. Interspersed between regular descriptions of improving sidewalks and putting in crosswalks at busy intersections, are hints at a greater story. Mentions of “radiation shelters” and “RADSAFE approved transports” imply a lasting nuclear event that has required New York to alter its lifestyle, while never explicitly explaining the events that occurred. This pulls directly from the idea of “failure of presence” from Mark Fisher’s The Weird And The Eerie[i]. While not the ruins that Fisher describes in his work, the goal is to evoke the same feeling of wonder in the viewer. The nonchalant mention of radiation poisoning and the fictional “RADSAFE” authority imply that whatever occurred is well known in this fictional universe, and enough time has passed that governmental groups have been able to form in order to combat the threat radiation poses.

  1. Vision Zero Update

In this section, viewers receive a preview of the full Vision Zero initiative in the nuclear New York. The first four pages have gone unchanged, showing picturesque scenes of the roadways of New York City. The fifth and final page, however, holds the most narrative this project will have, a letter from the mayor. This fictional letter from the actual mayor of New York City gives hints to a tragic event that affected the entirety of New York. He also outlines some specific changes that needed to be made to “pre-event vehicles”, a subtle hint to how many people use the terms “pre/post-9/11” today. Also, in his letter, he references “radiation incidents”, which we can only gather are unpredictable and dangerous events to those without shelter, creating a harsh new world that citizens of New York City must brave. Yet all this must be viewed through the lens of the NYC DOT, which is why terms like “pedestrians” and “commuters” are used. Finally, the letter adds to the narrative a final hint, the mention of a “Zone AX1”, an area of New York that becomes more dangerous at night. Again, the idea of failure of presence is used here to show the viewer evidence of a fuller story, without giving it to them.

3 & 4. BQE Reconstruction and Car Free Earth Day

These sections I decided to leave untouched for a few reasons. First, leaving these links untouched allows them to be linked to the actual NYC DOT website, giving the sense of a more complete project world. Also, these sections left a particular “flavor” to the new website, as they are both vey uniquely New York things. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is an iconic piece of New York and leaving this section unchanged helps to keep the viewer engaged and believe the world of nuclear New York. I used similar reasoning for the Car Free Earth Day section, as New York’s progressive nature and its lean towards environmentalism is something that helps to make the city distinct, and I wanted to preserve that feeling of a uniquely New York website.

  1. RADSAFE Curbside Shelter Pilot

In this section, the viewer finds themselves looking at one of the logistical challenges of nuclear New York. The City of New York and “RADSAFE”, a fictional radiation safety group, have set out to ensure that those who are stuck on the busy streets of New York are safe in the event of a radiation incident. Originally the electric vehicle charger section, this section’s goal is to depict the challenges a government may face when tasked with the protection of its citizens from a threat that could strike at any time. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to think that the DOT would turn to the citizens of New York City to help them understand where the protection is most needed. This section also gives the impression of a relatively functional government, one that is able to receive input from its citizens and act upon said input.

  1. Real – Time Traffic Conditions & Cameras

The goal of this section is to give a visual of the “new” New York City and build the world that has so drastically changed from present-day New York. Arguably the most obvious of the changes are the large, red or yellow circles covering a section of the “map” (actually just a screenshot of the original map). These circles have labels, noting various sections of the city to be under various levels of quarantine, with the ominously named “Event Zone” only available for access to government personnel. Just outside of the Event Zone is Zone AX1, which is less heavily cordoned, but the annotation warning citizens that the area becomes restricted at night shows the viewer that nuclear New York may have new visitors that go bump in the night. If the viewer looks directly behind these circles, the viewer will quickly notice that a large part of Long Island is missing. This is the most heavy-handed bit of world building I did during this project, as I wanted to cement the idea of tragedy in the viewer’s mind. Whatever this event was, it was destructive, both in the long and short term. Also, as a subtle nod to possible environmental concerns, the shorelines of New York City have been brought in just a little bit, to hint at a worsening climate, perhaps due to the event.

The Academic Stuff

The main inspiration for this project comes from Fisher’s work quite obviously. The idea in this project was to create a sense of eeriness through the website and give the viewer an image of a broken New York City, without ever explicitly telling them what happened and the full extent of the damage. As Fisher remarked, “the question concerns the particular nature of the agent at work…we have to reckon with the traces of the departed agent whose purposes are unknown.”. The viewer knows very early on in exploring the website that New York City has gone through a tragedy, this much is made clear. What is obfuscated is the exact who, what, and why of the tragedy in New York City, thus creating that tension and feeling of eeriness.

Next we move onto the idea of avoidance of death online. In Dear Tech Companies, the author makes note of her desire to not be reminded of the death of her unborn child[ii]. While the created website does not contain ad algorithms, it does contain a similar sentiment if examined closely. The “event” alluded to in the website must have been catastrophically damaging to the population of New York City, as it destroyed a sizeable piece of Long Island. Likely tens of thousands of people died in the fictional event, leaving an incredible emotional impact on the city. Despite all this, the DOT website avoids any mention of death, for fear of upsetting those who may read it. A government uncomfortable with acknowledging death created this fictional website, instead choosing to use euphemisms and implication whenever near the realm of death.

For outside research, I turned to two very real tragedies to understand a little more of how people reacted to them and how the world might look in my created world. These tragedies are the bombing of Hiroshima and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th. I used two different articles to inform my decision making, a short paper titled from the University of Michigan How Americans Responded: A Study of Public Reactions to 9/11/01 and a journal article by Paul Boyer titled Exotic Resonances: Hiroshima in American Memory.

The information gathered from the University of Michigan paper helped to inform the writing of the “Letter from the Mayor” in the second section, along with the overall tone of the website. This paper cites a figure that after the events of 9/11, trust in both “neighbors” and “Americans” was very high[iii]. This trust leads to much of the language used in the letter, for example the fictional mayor’s usage of “team effort”, implying a trust built through this tragedy.

Finally, using the article from Paul Boyer, we gain a better understanding of how Americans might react to an event similar to Hiroshima on their own soil. Boyer describes some of the activist movements that occurred after the bombing of Hiroshima, coming from a strong sense of fear of the possibilities of nuclear conflict[iv]. The government would want to allay those fears and bring some normalcy back into the lives of its citizens. Thus the inspiration for keeping the “Car Free Earth Day” page exactly the same, as a way to encourage fearful citizens back out into the world.

[i] Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, Third edition (London: Repeater Books, 2016), 62–63.

[ii] “Perspective | Dear Tech Companies, I Don’t Want to See Pregnancy Ads After My Child Was Stillborn,” Washington Post, accessed March 27, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2018/12/12/dear-tech-companies-i-dont-want-see-pregnancy-ads-after-my-child-was-stillborn/.

[iii] Michael Traugott et al., “How Americans Responded: A Study of Public Reactions to 9/11/01,” Political Science & Politics 35, no. 03 (September 2002): 11, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096502000768.

[iv] Paul Boyer, “Exotic Resonances: Hiroshima in American Memory,” Diplomatic History 19, no. 2 (1995): 297–318.