A few last thoughts

Just a few areas that I feel would be worth exploring further in relation to my case study of the Thylane Blondeau photos, which we just haven’t had the time or space for in our presentation:

  • High vs Low Culture (as Reuben mentioned in a comment on one of my earlier posts)
  • Advertising and Fashion Photography, the economic exploitation of models.
  • The anglophone vs French media’s reaction to these images. Why has there not been the same vocal reaction in the French press? Particularly considering Carol Mann’s quote in this article in Fashionista regarding teen culture in France.

Looking forward to our presentation this afternoon!

An update on the cult of childhood

I just wanted to expand here a little bit on what I will say in the presentation about Darger’s reception in the 21th century and what it says about how contemporary audiences look at the cult of childhood now. And I would argue that the cult of childhood, though still a referrent in our minds, has become very much associated with a larger nostalgia for ‘how things used to be’.

There has been the emergence in the 60s and 70s of the new ‘problem novel’ which featured lonely children with less space for imagination, growing old before their time. Many parents say now that their children know more than they themselves knew at their age. In this sense, the age of Protection has ended and the age of Preparation for the challenges of adult life has begun.

We have talked about how context and genre dependent the reception of images of children are. We saw how prevalent the idea of protecting childhood innocence as a marker of first world priviledge is in documentary photography and film. In artistic circles however and especially avant-garde art which outsider artists such as Darger are often included in, I would say that  depictions of children which challenge or provoke this ideal are actually prevalent. We could think of the photographs by Bill Henson which Ryushi first brought up, or of the works of The Kid which come to my mind http://beautifuldecay.com/2014/11/21/powerfully-disturbing-certainly-controversial-art-kid/?view=true. This work is considered provocative and the reason why is that it feeds exactly into this typology of shattering the cult of childhood ideology. These are beautiful, young bodies put in situations of violence and agressivity, which are also clearly socio economic and political.

I think what this points to is an underlying assumption: that the public looking at these images is not ill-intended, that they in the first place hold a protective view over children and that this subversion/provocation being shown to them is necessary. Therefore the images will be provocative, because they will bring about a realization for the viewer. It’s related to the expectations that we have of an artistic audience: that they are educated and have a certain economic status. However when we look at the eroticism of The Kid’s works for example, it is a real question whether the audience is not participating in another kind of fetishizing young bodies. We should probably learn to not be too complacent audiences and wonder whether our gaze really is protective.

Some thoughts.

Something that’s come up a number of times in our group discussions is the desire to call into question the presupposed virtue of “inquiry”, “knowledge-seeking” and “revelation” attached to certain genres and context – in particular, this of documentary, of journalism, and even of academia. It seems that these sorts of institutions have obtained, as a result of aforementioned virtue, permission to publish/display images which are otherwise condemned as exploitative, the images themselves a form of violating the child’s body. But, since the image is considered an integral form of testimony, it is accepted. Some might argue that this is a necessary condition of the strength of the visual culture we have developed. Seeing is believing, right?

The problem is, I don’t think that can ring true when considering how the act of seeing becomes increasingly mediated (and the forces of this mediation rendering it increasingly problematic) as the image-saturation of our lives grows. I feel as if it becomes harder to “trust” what I see. Not merely because of superficial alterations of an image (cue endless photoshop before and after comparisons) but more importantly the effects of a media’s form/context upon our reception of an image, which we may not immediately consider.

Let’s back track to our formative meetings 2 months ago. When we first began thinking of the treatment of the child’s body as a topic, the discussion had developed upon mentioning the photograph of Alan Kurdi, a 3yr old Syrian boy, washed up on the Turkish shore. The publication of this image on the front page of newspapers, TV broadcasts, mass sharing via social media, etc apparently induced a global awakening of the plight of refugees (because it’s not like there has been steady reporting on drowning refugees and migrants for the last few decades… Oh wait. Yes, there has). There are a couple of points from this discussion which relate to the thesis we eventually developed:

  • It is because of the notion of a child’s purity and innocence that the washed up body of an infant, compared to that of a grown man or woman or adolescent, possessed such emotional gravity.
  • Arguably highlights an issue in the way that European societies perceive the refugee figure as not necessarily or inherently innocent, but very much politically charged. However, the child body escapes this political charge by the innocence and purity tied to its infancy.
  • It would seem that the ability for everyone to sympathise (and parents worldwide to empathise) with the image of a dead child points to a sort of universality of the sanctity of the child’s body, no matter its race, gender, nationality. The treatment of the child body should be the same the world over..
  • ….but not really, because the corpse of a Caucasian/European infant would not (and has not) been so graphically presented on the front pages of newspapers, nor broadcasted on TV. Social, political, racial, cultural factors mediate the acceptability of viewing the child’s body in this way.

I guess my point (yes, there is one..) is that the way in which our vision is mediated needs to be addressed. Our engagement with the act of seeing shouldn’t be blind to its blindness, which I feel is sometimes ironically exacerbated in the case of documentary/journalism and academic media, where images are used to facilitate a critical argument. Essentially I’m wondering if using images of violated children in this way constitutes its own form of fetishism – one which our reliance on visual testimonies prevents us from addressing because it serves a purpose of illumination. And this re-purposing of the image, in its new critical context, is supposed to overrule the initial problem that the image itself exists? I wonder if Stacey Dooley’s documentary, Young Sex For Sale in Japan, would be as popular, as convincing and impactful, if it didn’t show images of sexualised young girls and child-based pornographic material.

Just to round this off, in the spirit of self-critique, I wonder if focusing on/aggrandising the image in this debate is a mistake. Perhaps it’s a question of our appetite for detail, no matter the medium? Since, as demonstrated by Brendan O’Neill’s article, ‘Sharing a photo of a dead Syrian child isn’t compassionate, it’s narcissistic,’ his refusal to reproduce the image of Alan on the shore is supplemented by a graphic wordy description of the photograph instead.

As of yet, this issue remains very much inconclusive in my mind.


Vision A – Vietnam War – Presentation Outline

Hello all,

After discussion with Rosa on Friday 17 March, and our private group meeting on Sunday 19 March, our current presentation structure is as follow.

Title: How Imperialism is Visualised in Popular Media? In the case of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)

Part 1. Introduction (3 minutes, Penny)

  • 1.1 Introduction to imperialism, popular media of film;
  • 1.2. Justification of our case studies (from novel Heart of Darkness to the films), and methodologies;
  • 1.3 Presentation outline.

Part 2. Introduction to the films and the absence of  Vietnamese People – Orientalism (Li)

  • 2.1 Introduces the differences of the two films, similar plot structure (episodic), but the core is the same – about American people self-realisation of their participant in the war (2 minutes);
  • 2.2 Under such a background, Vietnamese people are silenced, marginalised, and remain as a backdrop (3 minutes).

Part 3. The differences in the two films – in relation to their respective political contexts (5 minutes, Gabi)

  • 3.1 Apocalypse Now (1979) as rethinking about the Vietnam War; Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) perhaps renegotiating the past in relation to the new political contexts – Iraq.
  • 3.2 Not just the two films are self-centred, but the wider film industry (perhaps data analysis)

Part 4. Imperial Hollywood and reshaping of memories (5 minutes, Cilin)

  • 4.1 Hollywood film-making are self-centred: normalises the (Euro-)American view of the rest of the world. Foreign parts are simply backdrop. When the character do learn, the learning process is the point of interest, not other cultures. Examples from this film, and other film examples.
  • 4.2 The films reshape our memories: in this case, Vietnam War becomes a predominately an American War – this is anther reflection of Imperialism.

Part 5. Conclusion (2 minutes, Penny)

  • Reiterate our points, limitation, and areas for further studies.


Our current task is to write our own part of speech, 600-700 words, uploading it to the same google sheet by 4 pm Tuesday  21 March (I will send a group email). Then we would have one day to read parts of other team member, picking out missing points, reshuffle things around before discussing with Rosa on 5 pm Wednesday 22.

If there is any error, any suggestions, and if you have useful material for others, welcome to provide in replies.

Visions of Orientalism from Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is the movie to portray Vietnam War, but it is not really about Vietnam. And Vietnamese characters seems to be missing in the plot of the movie, which adopted from Conrad’s novel, the heart of the darkness. This interesting point reminds us of the vision of orientalism by Edward Said and I will clarify how this concept is closely related to this Hollywood film on Vietnam War.

To understand why this movie can represent the vision of orientalism and how it focus on western-centric perspective to generate its story, we shall first look at the concept of orientalism. Argued by Said (1978), ‘from the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.’ This means that westerners use their own perspective to understand the works from orients or even orients themselves instead of giving orients the chances to represent themselves.

In the film of Apocalypse now, this lack of representation is an important indicator to criticism the movie from the vision of orientalism.

  1. Where are the Vietnamese characters? In this film, the main characters are Captain Willard and Colonel Kurtz. Besides, all other characters are mainly American soldiers. While the Vietnam War is about the confrontation between South and North sides of Vietnam, we cannot see any existence of Vietnamese soldiers on both sides to fight for their civil war. Instead, we can only see American people represent a way of post-imperialism and barbarism on invading the land of Vietnam and killing Vietnamese without any mercy. The Vietnamese in this movie has no voice and has to be totally surrendered to westerners because their opinions and way of thinking are not valued by the West.
  2. Misrepresentation of Viet Cong. Although the film has no role of portraying Vietnam soldiers, it is still important to notice the representation of Viet Cong from the dialogue of main character Colonel Kurtz. As he said, ”I remember when I was with Special Forces–it seems a thousand centuries ago–we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile–a pile of little arms. And I remember…I…I…I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget. And then I realized–like I was shot…like I was shot with a diamond…a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, “My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that.”

So the overall representations of Viet Cong from this short video are ruthless,and more precisely North Vietnamese soldiers are being viewed as a symbol of the savage in the Apocalypse Now. However, this way of representation is prejudiced and oversimplified.North Vietnamese soldiers also want to have their voices to be heard and one explanation for the pile of little arms can be viewed as a rather cruel punishment in order to alarm Vietnamese to keep the distance from the American, who are seen as the biggest enemies escalating the tension between the South and North.

Looking at the film Apocalypse Now from the vision of orientalism, we can demonstrate that the filmmakers produce this movie from the perspective of western-centric and pay no attention to the Vietnamese even though the movie is under the category of Vietnam war.

Silence of the Lambs: How women are represented in ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’?

Apocalypse Now Playboy Bunny

It is worth saying that this interpretation has been constructed through my own cultural ‘baggage’ (so to speak) because as Derrida explains the text (or film interpretation in this case)  ‘is no longer a finished corpus of writing  (Derrida, 1995) because firstly, the film is an interpretation of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’  and secondly, the audience that is watching the movie’s cultural background is in flux. In fact,  today I am analysing from my space in London where I see the representation of women as important in Apocalypse Now Redux however, to someone else in another time, place or with a different cultural background, they may not even have considered the role of the women in the film.

I have identified three categories in the film that show Coppola’s different representation of women. I have analysed the film myself, and also used sources to back-up my claims.

  • The Playboy women ( Their Entrance ‘ Helicopter Scene’ and Stranded in the Forest)
  • Vietnamese women at the beginning of the film
  • The French female colonist, Roxanne

(Need Minutes) The Playboy women (Entrance Scene)

  • The Playboy women are represented as an object, a symbol of the male gaze. ‘In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact’  (Mulvey, 1999, p. 837) In this way, the playboy bunnies are represented through the western, male gaze. It is suggested that this gaze is seen through the eyes of the protagonist Captain Benjamin Willard, because the camera darts to him in the crowd to the stage where the playboy bunnies are.
  • It is suggested that these women are given no authoritative voice because they have no real part to play in the Vietnam War. Using Willard’s perception of this scene, perhaps Coppolo is suggesting the savage nature of the male gaze which do not regard females as equals.
  • Barbara Enrenreich’s critiqued Playboy Magazine in 1954, to represent the consumer culture of the time. Using a post-colonial critique (in the context of the film, American interventionism) perhaps, the objectification of these women suggests all that is wrong with western intervention into ‘oriental states’ because the colonisers who symbolise the trope of American Freedom and Equality are seen as uncontrollable and savage.
  • I want to look more into Freud’s scopophilia which Laura Mulvey relates to Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and use it in analysing this moment in the film. However, I need to rent out the movie again to do this.

(78:00+ Minutes): The Playboy women (Stranded and awaiting evacuation on the boat scene)

  • The objectification of the women is exaggerated, they are traded like objects, and two fuel barrels are traded with two hours with the playmates.
  • They are incomprehensible, and are represented as mentally out of it as the women seem mentally insane. This signal is that women have no place in the Vietnam War they are incoherent to what truly is going on.
  • What is an interesting added argument  is Celin’s addition (in our 10/03/17 meeting) of the repetitive tape of the mother to her son. He is killed in a matter of minutes whilst the tape eerily plays in the background. This distance put between the male soldier and his mother distances women in general. In fact, it symbolises how the wives, the mothers and the daughters were detached from the horrors of the war.
  • ‘In Heart of Darkness’ Marlow associated European civilisation with women “They-the women, I mean-are out of it-should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours get worse (Conrad, 1988, p. 49)’ In Demroy. They represent civilisation, a CORRUPT CIVILISATION nonetheless!

(23:58-26:54)Vietnamese Women

  • They are represented much more differently to the Playmates. I have chosen this section of the film as it introduces Vietnamese women as helpless, desperate and un-authoritative which is a common characterisation of the Vietnamese women in the film. Perhaps this representation emphasises their helplessness in such an oppressively male dominated war.
  • They are silenced by Coppolo as they are the representation of the ‘Subaltern’ who cannot speak (Spivak, p. 67). Though there is this idea of American interventionism for justice, using Spivak highlights that the ‘the female subaltern […] bears the burdens of racisms, sexism, classism and imperialism’.

110 minutes+ Roxanne/ Mme Sarrault ( Need to do more work on her representation)

  • Focuses on her beauty once again and once again she has sex, but in this case, it seems consensual.
  • She is the embodiment of the colonial past – halting in time.


  • Conrad, J. (1988). Heart of Darkness. New York: Norton.
  • Derrida, J. (1995). Living On Border Lines. Deconstruction and Criticism, 75-76.
  • Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In L. Braudy, & M. Cohen, Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (pp. 833-44). New York: Oxford UP.
  • Spivak, G. (2008). Can the Subaltern Speak? In J. Sharp, Geographies of Postcolonialism (pp. 66-111). SAGE Publications.


Vision A – Vietnam War – Apocalypse Now – Research

Dear all,

After our meeting on the 10th March, some of us find it difficult to begin our research in relation to our specific areas of discussion. I’m sharing one method that can quickly help us to build up bibliography here – using JSTOR:


1. Go to www.jstor.org and type in your research keywords – Apocalypse Now.

2. In the subject area (the bottom circle in red), you can choose the disciplinaries / academic field you would like to focus on. For example, Li wants to bring in East Asian perspectives on the Vietnam War and the film, then she can choose to filter the results with ‘Asian Studies’; Gabi wants to discuss ‘female’ characters in the film so she can filter the result with ‘Feminist and Women’s studies’.

3. After ticking the relevant fields, you can click update result (the middle circle in red), then you can find academic discussions in relation to both the film and your specific topics.

Hope this helps! If I come across any particularly interesting viewpoints and relevant materials for you, I will also write them in replies to this blog post.


Because our main material is the film, perhaps we should incorporate more details/proofs from the film itself. When reading academic resources from disciplines other than Film Studies, I often find scholars tend to limit their discussion to the plot and characterisation. However, there is a lot more than just those two aspects in a film: the editing, colouring, details of performance, camerawork angle/movement, music, soundtrack… are all decisions made by the filmmakers, and these decisions shape our experience and understanding of the film. If wish to discuss your points with closer attention to the film, please let me know, I’m more than happy to chat about it.

Musings on the Veneration of Childhood

I was just thinking about the notion of childhood, and looking into the history of child labour discovered that it started to be outlawed or at least frowned upon when technology advanced (following the industrial revolution) to the extent that education became necessary to operate such technology and keep the economy going. (See Wikipedia article on child labour which is very thoroughly referenced with a comprehensive bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labour#The_Industrial_Revolution)

So one could then link the idea of preserving childhood to the need for education, in order to keep a strong economy, ironic when considering Marx stated that the British economy “could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood too.” Certainly in a capitalist society, one could argue that children are educated so that they can later feed the capitalist machine.

Just some thoughts to complicate the reasoning behind preserving childhood.

Facebook and sexualised images of children

Hey guys,

So this is something that happened very recently which questions the limits and self regulations (or absence of) huge contemporary media such as Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bbcnews/videos/10154461040417217/?autoplay_reason=all_page_organic_allowed&video_container_type=4&video_creator_product_type=0&app_id=800871226593160&live_video_guests=0.

Quite relevant since I feel like it gives us another controversial issue with contemporary media which goes beyond the domain of fashion/ art photography. Maybe we can mention in towards our conclusion as an example ?


Notes and links post meeting – Child bodies

Hey all,

In addition to Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle,’ we could look at Baudrillard’s analysis of media culture and ideology in ‘Simulacra and Simulation,’ to structure our argument. It may render our argument too abstract if we adopt the whole ‘hyperreality’ lens but his analysis of how media culture feeds into and shapes ideology in society could be v. useful. – v. brief summary here: https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/postmodernism/modules/baudlldsimulTnmainframe.html

Secondly, below are links to the clips I was referring to in the meeting. Please watch the Kusterica’s Time of the Gypsies clip because it is just spectacular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FstVoiOEPJo

Moonrise kingdom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1p6C2dX_2w

Have a good weekend!