Pornographies of violence? Internet spectatorship on body horror

Tait, S. (2008). Pornographies of Violence? Internet Spectatorship on Body Horror. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25(1), 91–111.


Open access: No

Notes: This paper discusses how people ‘see’ extreme violence online. First, the author sees how some people see online violence as a way of being invited to witness it. Next, he explores the tension between the purposes of productive violence and how it can be pornographic—for those seeking pleasure. Finally, the author outlines four gazes (shown in the quote below). For the author, understanding the modes of looking that the internet enables is a critical lens for future debates concerning internet regulation.

Quotes: “Other modes of looking are produced, and indeed required, within violent and warring cultures.” (p. 94).

“An amoral gaze, whereby the suffering subject becomes a source of stimulation and pleasure; a vulnerable gaze, where viewers experience harm from graphic imagery; an entitled gaze, where viewers frame their looking through anti-censorship discourses; and a responsive gaze, whereby looking is a precedent to action.” (p. 100-101)

Full abstract: Technological innovations have meant that the way images of the victims of war and other categories of body horror are procured and disseminated has changed. Soldiers in theatre may record what they witness, and upload this material online. Terrorist groups have staged the executions of hostages for the camera and distributed this imagery via the internet. Thus, the circulation of body horror is enabled in ways that evade the prerogatives of the mainstream press to produce news which accords with notions of “taste and decency”, using practices which protect publics from imagery which may cause harm yet also often map with a propagandist function to conceal the carnage of war from public view. The essay explores online spectatorship which takes place outside that which is deemed appropriate for the publics of news, arguing that we must move beyond the reductive ways in which looking at body horror has been conceptualized. Neither witnessing, as the posited correct form of spectatorship, nor the pervasive pornographic analogy used to render moral judgment on such looking account for the diversity of spectatorial positions taken up by those who choose to look at online imagery of the dead and suffering.

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