Did you notice that after 9/11, the depiction of torture on prime-time television went up nearly seven hundred percent? Hilary Neroni did. She had just finished a book on the changing relationship between female characters and violence in narrative cinema, and was attuned to function of violence in film and television. This was around the time the Abu Ghraib torture photos were leaked to the public. Over the next 10 years, torture porn appeared in the Saw and Hostel films, and it seemed that torture quickly became a routine element of thriller plots in movies and TV, such as the series 24. In The Subject of Torture: Psychoanalysis and Biopolitics in Television and Film (Columbia University Press, 2015), Neroni makes a compelling case that, prior to 9/11, the stage had already been set for the dehumanizing fantasy of torture to appear in mass culture – via biopolitics. With this book, Neroni takes on the task of defining and understanding torture through a psychoanalytic lens, using films and television as case studies. The book is both compelling and readable, and argues that the fantasy and depiction of torture play a role as an ideology in national politics and policy, and that it’s all more complicated than it seems–once you stop averting your eyes.
Hilary Neroni teaches in the Film and Television Studies Program at the University of Vermont and is also the author of The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative, and Violence in Contemporary American Cinema. Her areas of interest include representations of gender and race in contemporary American film, violence in film, women directors, documentary film/video, feminist theory, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. She has published essays on women directors (in particular Jane Campion and Claire Denis) and on issues surrounding gender and violence in the cinema.
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