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Talk: Caetlin Benson-Allott, Whose Horror? Digital Violence and White Spectatorship
Tuesday, April 3, 2018 , 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Since 2014, social and news media have been awash with images of African Americans in pain and dying at the hands of (mostly white) US police officers. These videos, captured by amateur or automated cameras, are produced in the tradition of citizen journalism and surveillance, but their circulation draws on a much older history of dehumanizing black subjects as the objects of a white gaze. Scholars, journalists, and other concerned individuals debate whether these videos should be disseminated or even viewed, what political efficacy (if any) they have in ongoing fights for racial equality. Of what use is the horror they create? How do the platforms on which they circulate condition viewers’ responses to them through the specific norms of spectatorship embedded in their design? This talk examines the spectator constructed by online video platforms like Facebook Live and draws on conversations in critical race and whiteness studies, as well as apparatus and new media theory, to argue that we must acknowledge the white spectatorial traditions informing social media. Not all social media users are white, as not all moviegoers are white, yet in both cases racialized norms pervade the structures of viewing and condition individual reception. In as much as these platforms perpetuate spectacles of the black body in pain, they continue racialized spectatorial traditions that inhibit active response to horrible images. This is the violence of white spectatorship, the ongoing unarticulated norm of film and video culture.