Panel 6: Race in Film and Fiction



Panel 6: Race in Film and Fiction

“Naturalizing White Supremacy in Low-Budget Shark Attack Movies”

Carter Soles (Associate Professor of Film Studies, The College at Brockport)

“White Flight from Planet Earth: Inverted Quarantine in Interstellar

Michelle Yates (Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies and Humanities, Columbia College Chicago)

“Performative Deferral and Climate Justice in Parable of the Sower: The Opera

Michael Horka (Ph.D. candidate in American Studies, George Washington University)


Q & A

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52 replies
  1. csoles says:

    There are two things that I didn’t cover in my recorded talk that seem to me to be the most interesting areas for expanded discussion and/or that come across as underdeveloped or missing in that video.

    The first is the ecotourism angle. Nancy is not explicitly a “textbook” ecotourist according to David A. Fennell, who writes in ECOTOURISM (4th Ed.) that “Ecotourism is an attitude and an ethic on how ecotourists and ecotourism practitioners ought to approach the natural world. As such, the three main core criteria [sustainability, learning, and nature-based] will be richly enhanced if they are informed or guided by a moral compass – an ethical underlay” (34). In THE SHALLOWS, Nancy evinces no direct evidence of an ecotourist’s ethical underlay, despite Krista Comer’s claim about contemporary surfer girls that “Surfers’ global play has created millions of new environmentalists” (127). No, Nancy seems most interested in using the “secret” beach and her surfing activities to reconnect emotionally with her dead mother; she even calls the place “our beach” in the film’s opening sequence. She seems to have more the attitude of a colonizer than a committed ecotourist, though she presumably does share the surfer’s typical investments in preserving surfing beaches and doing no overt harm to coastal environments.

    Is (eco-)tourism inherently imperialist, as Jamaica Kincaid and Zygmunt Bauman have argued?

    The second area we could discuss further is white shark biology / behavior and the related topic of the “image problem” that makes sharks — especially white sharks — less sympathetic to the general public and thereby impedes real-life shark conservation efforts.

    I welcome your questions and comments.

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      I’m fascinated by the second point you raise in this comment: how sharks are represented in this kind of film. Not only does it create an “image problem” that has real-world effects, but the way it does so is so very interesting. I noticed while watching 47 Meters Down (just now, actually, so I can prepare to watch your presentation) that the sharks come with lots of noises – sound effects for whooshing past, chomping/biting sounds, but also a sense of them making animal noises themselves. This happens in so many shark films! In some, they even roar (ahem, Sharktopus). I can’t help but wonder how it might work to make a shark film in which they are actually silent and in which the attack sounds are more realistic. I could see this being quite effective at moments, but it would be a different type of horrific/fear effect, I suppose.

      (I haven’t watched your actual presentation yet, but I will! And I’ll probably have more comments then!)

      • csoles says:

        Great point! Interestingly, Jaws itself eschews silly sounds for the shark — so despite its fairly unrealistic behavior in the third act, that (mechanical) shark at least comes across as less overtly fantasy-monster-like than the ones in 47 Meters Down. I don’t think there is any roaring in The Shallows either, but I think there *is* roaring in Jaws:The Revenge — which I suppose makes sense given that the film’s highly believable tagline is “this time it’s personal.” Again, thanks for pointing out this trope.

        On a related note, I am interested in the (otherizing vs. empathizing) effect of rubber, animatronic sharks vs. CGI sharks. 47 Meters uses only the latter, whereas The Shallows uses a combination of the two technologies.

    • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

      Hey Carter! This was such a cool talk. Connecting shark movies to the wilderness hero/ western is so interesting. I have many questions and connections . . . First, other texts . . . I wonder if the Mexican setting and characters point toward this film as even more of a western– like Magnificent Seven, etc.– than Jaws. Also, speaking of white imperialism and white women, I just kept thinking of Rider Haggard’s She as a kind of ecohorror text. And that brought me to another obvious question: the monstrous feminine. What are we supposed to think is the gender of all these great whites? I think that the biggest great whites are female, and, of course, there’s the old argument that the shark embodies a horrifying vagina dentata. So . . . if we look at the shark as female, how does that potentially complicate your argument? In some ways, we could see the shark as the ghost of the dead mother threatening to derail the protagonist’s career and drag her down into the feminine depths. She has to overcome the mother and reconcile with the father and re-join the patriarchal/ professional/ capitalist world. Maybe?

      • csoles says:

        “And that brought me to another obvious question: the monstrous feminine. What are we supposed to think is the gender of all these great whites? I think that the biggest great whites are female, and, of course, there’s the old argument that the shark embodies a horrifying vagina dentata. So . . . if we look at the shark as female, how does that potentially complicate your argument? In some ways, we could see the shark as the ghost of the dead mother threatening to derail the protagonist’s career and drag her down into the feminine depths. She has to overcome the mother and reconcile with the father and re-join the patriarchal/ professional/ capitalist world.”

        Absolutely! All of what you say here is exactly right, and interestingly, the shark in THE SHALLOWS is female — the director and effects guys discuss it explicitly in the special features though I don’t know if it is ever verbalized in the film. Yet as you point out, the notion of the shark as a kind of surrogate bad mother, or the vengeful ghost of Nancy’s actual dead mother, is totally spot-on.

      • csoles says:

        Also I think you’re right about the westerns-Mexico connection, though most of this film takes place on a beach and in the water, unusual locales for westerns. Also, if the main foe is a non-human animal or wild monster, aren’t we moving away from the western and creeping toward the horror movie at that point?

        • irooks says:

          Carter – You note below how ‘The Shallows’ feminizes the overall environment, most notably through the “pregnant” island. The setting is beautiful, but also becomes a site of horror (appropriately it becomes more dark and stormy as the film progresses). How do you feel that fits into and potentially complicates the gender dynamic Sara references?

          Fun thing I noted: while the shark is designed to be female, Nancy refers to it several times using masculine pronouns (and I suspect the average viewer doesn’t know much about sexual dimorphism in great whites, but maybe I’m projecting my ignorance onto others). It seems the shark has its own gender ambiguity to match Nancy’s Final Girl status!

          • csoles says:

            Isaac– Thanks so much for your comment on the gender ambiguity in the shark. Well spotted, that is an insightful observation.

            “The setting is beautiful, but also becomes a site of horror (appropriately it becomes more dark and stormy as the film progresses). How do you feel that fits into and potentially complicates the gender dynamic Sara references?”

            I would say it fits the horror genre’s general attraction to monstrous-feminine locales, such as caves and wet, womb-like depths that Barbara Creed describes as “the mysterious black hole that signifies female genitalia as a monstrous sign” (58). Or coded-feminine domestic spaces made uncanny like old dark houses in Gothic films, suburban homes in slashers, etc.

            And isn’t water almost always coded feminine?

    • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

      Hi Carter:
      Well, things haven’t changed much in 45 years. Substitute a white woman for three white guys and the formula remains the same. But your notation of the treatment of the “locals” is interesting. Are they tolerating the shark like the business people are trying to do during the best part of the tourist season in Jaws? Or are they seen as naive locals inhabiting the same natural space as the shark so they’re only stupid enough to be eaten by it and not able to either co-exist with it or defeat it on their own? Are things cool there till surfer babe shows up and upsets the natural order of things?

      • csoles says:

        Wonderful questions Joe. I lean toward the second interpretation, that they are naive locals inhabiting the same natural space as the shark so they’re only helpless / infantilized /stupid enough to be eaten by it, unable to either co-exist with it or defeat it themselves. The two Mexican surfer dudes do not even notice the decaying, shark-bitten whale carcass floating nearby on the first day (Nancy does), and they ignore Nancy’s warnings to not enter the water on the second day — that’s when they get attacked and brutally killed.

        Every Mexican local we meet who speaks refuses to tell Nancy the name of the beach — preserving a local secret, not exploiting it consciously for tourism.

        But I like your idea very much that in fact, things are cool there until Nancy shows up and upsets the natural order of things. That is spot-on, I think that is implied in the film by the timing of the shark’s arrival and Nancy’s gendering of the space as feminine, calling the rock formations visible at the far end of the bay “the pregnant lady” and calling the beach “our beach” — hers and her mother’s.

    • irooks says:

      Hi Carter – what a delight to get a shout out! Glad that I could play some small role in launching such a cool project!

      Could you talk some about Carlos? It feels like he rounds out the Mexican trinity – you’ve got the neutral surfers, the nasty drunk, and then the ridiculously kind local (with that Hollywood logic that one noble non-white balances out offensive stereotypes).

      I totally agree with your argument that a colonial attitude justifies Nancy’s sense that she owns this beach she’s never visited before, and that it exists to give her both recreational pleasure and emotional catharsis. I love the moment where she insists that the island in the bay looks like a pregnant woman and Carlos, who lives there and presumably sees it all the time, has no idea what she’s talking about. In ‘The Shallows’ I feel like the eco-tourism angle is fleshed out and extended in promotional materials highlighting Lord Howe Island as an exceptional location (I liked that you include a still from their tourism website).

      • csoles says:

        All great insights! I’ve been thinking of Carlos as a kind of “magical minority” figure who is just there to help the white protagonist Nancy along on her journey (while indeed fulfilling the H’wood logic that “one noble non-white balances out offensive stereotypes”). That said, Carlos does get one moment of fleeting resistance, when he calls Nancy “bossy” in Spanish without her knowing what he means.

        Also, due to the non-chronological frame story, Carlos’s son is actually the first character we see in the film — he finds the helmet camera on the beach and sees the shark killing the two surfers. It is he who essentially saves Nancy at the end by bringing that GoPro helmet-camera footage to his dad Carlos.

        Lastly, yes, we completely agree on the Lord Howe ecotourism angle.

  2. Michael_Horka says:

    Welcome to everyone viewing our panel. My name is Michael Horka and my talk above is entitled, “Performative Deferral and Climate Justice in Parable of the Sower: The Opera.”

    My aim in the larger written piece, which this talk begins to elaborate upon, is to consider how some of the most intractable historical intersections of race, gender, space, and reproduction addressed in Butler’s fiction are materially and aesthetically recreated to expand upon its political work. The talk has helped me to begin thinking through Black feminism and Black studies work, including that of Spillers and Sharpe, but I welcome those interested in recent thinking about racialized assemblages, Plantationocene, “demonic ground,” and the like, to offer their thoughts.

    In addition, I plan within my written piece to expand upon the larger “Octavia’s Brood” communities of activism, art, and practice, but for our purposes here, I also welcome any thoughts on the opera/performance and how I characterize it. There are no video clips available of the opera and I’m told by the producer that this is because the Butler Estate is quite protective when it agrees to offer artists the rights to utilize her writings. Therefore, from what I am able to provide with music, image, and staging description, I am glad to discuss what I’ve remarked upon here or to address in more detail what I experienced at the performance.

    Thanks for your participation! Feel free to leave questions or comments.

  3. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Carter, Michelle, and Michael. I’m looking forward to listening to your talks but want to apologize in advance in case my class slows down my viewing and responses. Cheers to you all for tackling important issues.

  4. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Carter,

    Hi Carter. Thank you for your provocative talk. I found it interesting that the shark served as both embodiment of extreme whiteness and monstrous “Other.” I also appreciated your choice to highlight a shark attack film with a female hero, Nancy. Could you talk a little more about how gender and sex intersects with whiteness and white supremacy in the film? I suspect your larger study goes into this further, since you suggest *The Shallows* may serve as a “Rape revenge sequel” to the opening sequence of *Jaws*. Thank you again. I especially enjoyed hearing about the Seagull representing “ordinary” whiteness.

    • csoles says:

      Robin: I was working on (and am still working on) a detailed reply to your excellent question when I saw and responded to a couple of Sara Crosby’s ideas in another thread on this panel. She mentions the monstrous-feminine (theorized by Julia Kristeva and Barbara Creed) and that is part of my answer to you. I think the shark in this scenario is an abjected, Othered, monstrous-feminine thing that is afforded essentially no empathy. And like in most slashers and horror movies, gender fluctuates ambiguously in The Shallows. The shark could be seen as masculine (1. for its aggression, 2. it is a huge swimming phallic symbol, 3. it is the perpetrator of the implied rape scenario discussed in my talk) but also feminine (for the reasons Sara brought up: “I think that the biggest great whites are female, and, of course, there’s the old argument that the shark embodies a horrifying vagina dentata.”)

      Nancy is also ambiguously (or at least oscillatingly) gendered. The pattern of the Final Girl in the slasher horror film (and I include the shark attack movie, or at least this one, in a category of film that follows a similar pattern to the slasher, but with a shark instead of a “human” killer) is to move from a more reactive, cautious state as she is stalked by the killer to a more proactive and aggressive state when she chases and vanquishes the killer in the third act.

      More to come on this . . .

  5. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Michelle. I so agree that “*Interstellar* produces and reproduces hegemonic notions of race and gender.” Cli-fi films like Interstellar and others you discuss seem to undermine their so-called environmental messages with these notions. I’m looking forward to a film adaptation of Kingsolver’s *Flight Behavior* instead. Which leaves me with a question of sorts: How might you read cli fi films such as Joon-Ho Bong’s *Snowpiercer* (2013) or Jennifer Phang’s *Half-Life* (2008) through the lenses of race and gender?

    • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

      Hi Michelle:
      Robin and I were greatly disappointed but not surprised when we say Interstellar on the big screen when it first came out. Your pointing out Brand’s comment that it was time for white people to head on out from they have just plundered sealed it for us. All the rest was palaver.
      Two questions: How do you deal with the concept of “white re-invasion” in cities like Chicago. Inverted quarantine reversed? The old outer white ring suburbs are being abandoned for the center city, re-emphasizing how great “urban spaces” now are for young white professionals. Chicago isn’t getting bigger, but it is experiencing massive gentrification. Maybe that’s one message from the professor.
      The other is the reports that the really rich smart tech heads who are already quarantined by price in Silicon Valley are now rapidly preparing to go underground as Doomsday Preppers. Elon Musk can’t get them to Mars fast enough.

      • myates says:

        Hi Joe, Yeah! Interstellar is such a disappointing film – so far its the only film that I write on that I don’t really like; even though I critique films, like WALL-E and Soylent Green, I really love those films – but it did pretty well at the box office nationally and incredibly well internationally, especially in China, so I think its an important film to address. I think your questions here are so great! I wanted to let you know that I’m in the process of formulating an answer. More soon.

        • myates says:

          Hi Joe, Gentrification is really an extension of suburbanization and white flight. What white flight did was cause an economic dis-investment in inner city neighborhoods, and now gentrification is reinvesting back into those neighborhoods – and the profitability is there because of the previous disinvestment – and then marketing campaigns are utilized to encourage white folks, usually young professionals, back to the city and in the process displacing lower-income and/or people of color from those neighborhoods. But, gentrification does sort of point to a larger systemic issue, that capitalism is very likely in a terminal crisis, and spatial fixes and expansion of the commodity frontier as a way to overcome this are becoming increasingly limited. This is one of the things that we see in Interstellar, that flight from planet Earth in the film is rooted in the desire to overcome the crisis of capitalism through the opening of a new frontier beyond the planetary, but that this is also fundamentally articulated to white supremacy and “the possessive investment in whiteness,” to borrow from George Lipsitz. And, well, the material reality of space colonization is probably really not there; we’re a very long way off from realizing Mars settlement, I think, even though SpaceX and other programs are claiming about a decade – I don’t think so, or at least not for anything resembling something comfortable on the red planet.

    • myates says:

      Hi Robin, Thank you for asking this question. I haven’t seen Half-LIfe yet, and I should. But, Snowpiercer is actually the next film I want to write about. Its representation of hegemonic white masculinity is, I think, more complex than these popular Hollywood films I’ve been writing about (Interstellar, WALL-E, Soylent Green) that as you write seem to “undermine their so-called environmental messages with these notions” of race and gender. I have so many thoughts about Snowpiercer – more to come in future talks and hopefully an article, but I think the film highlights the more destructive aspects of a patriarchal capitalist system that privileges hegemonic white masculinity (in terms of environmentalism as well as social inequality). And, unlike Interstellar, and other films like WALL-E, Snowpiercer makes clear there are no technological-spatial fixes here for the ecological-capitalist crisis; this crisis is terminal. And the ending of Snowpiercer seems bleak, but also points to the possibility of a new system, an environmental futurity that centers indigenous knowledge and the experiences of people of color.

      • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

        Hi Michelle:
        We like Snowpiercer a lot and end up comparing it to Noah (Aronofsky) in Monstrous Nature, except “In Noah, according to Noah’s vision, water cleanses. In Snowpiercer that cleansing water is frozen.”
        Joon-Ho Bong is one of the premier eco directors right now. The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja. That’s pretty good collection.

      • rlmurray50 says:

        Hi Michelle,

        I’m looking forward to seeing your take on Snowpiercer. Please do keep us apprised : ) Thank you!

        • myates says:

          Hi Robin and Joe, Absolutely! Of course, I’m always reading and citing your work too, so looking forward to incorporating your take on Snowpiercer as well.

  6. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Michael.
    Thank you for introducing us to Octavia Butler’s *Parable of the Sower: The Opera*. You’ve prompted me to re-read *Parable of the Sower* to prepare for what I hope will be a future viewing of the opera. I love Sweet Honey in the Rock and appreciated the scenes you described and song snippets you shared. You’ve intrigued me with your reading.

    • Michael_Horka says:

      Thank you, Robin. The opera is well worth your time if you can get to a performance.

  7. Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

    Hi Michelle! Fascinating talk. I love the concept of “white flight” applied to these kind of escape-from-the-apocalypse movies. I wonder how other films, especially with female and non-white protagonists, may be offering alternative narratives? I’m thinking of Mad Max: Fury Road and Moana in particular.

    • myates says:

      Hi Sara, Great question! Thank you for asking! I actually have an article on Mad Max: Fury Road in which I argue that the film, to borrow from Stacy Alaimo, recasts nature as feminist space. In particular, I argue that the film disrupts the traditional binary gender structure that associates women and nature as objects to be acted upon by male agents – this traditional gender structure is reinforced in a film like Interstellar. But, I think is disrupted in Fury Road. But, the film does not try to have women escape a connection with nature, but rather the link between women and nature is key; environmentalism is a key component of overcoming capitalist patriarchy; and both are framed as active agents. I’m happy to share that article with you if you are interested. The other aspect of Fury Road, that also applies to Moana, is the initial desire to seek a ‘home’ elsewhere, to find Edenic nature elsewhere from where humans actually inhabit – and we see this in Interstellar – but ultimately what makes Fury Road and Moana different from Interstellar is that the main characters return to where they left to actually find ‘home’ and Edenic nature. I really like that aspect of both of those films. I feel like that embodies one of the key principles of sustainability – the need to seek ‘home’ where humans actually make our living to recover environmental sustainability.

      • jmarch71 says:

        Hello, Michelle! I really enjoyed your talk here. And, look forward to your future work on Snowpiercer. I would be really interested in your article on Fury Road, as I am attempting to expand my work on seed saving as an apocalyptic trope. I was able to briefly skim it last year when it came out, but would really like to get more engaged with your work on this particular film.

        • myates says:

          Thank you so much for your comment! If you e-mail me, I would be happy to send along a pdf of the article, if you need access.

  8. deryaagis says:

    Question for all: what types of linguistic elements in these movies you talk about should raise awareness about the necessity of respect for plants and animals?

  9. irooks says:

    Michelle – really enjoyed your talk! In my memory, the main (only?) non-white person in ‘Interstellar’ is David Oyelowo as the (unnamed) school principal. Could you speak a bit about the function and significance (or lack thereof) of that character?

    • myates says:

      Thanks so much for your question! There’s actually two characters of color in the film, both black men in supporting actor roles. And, you’re right that the first is the school principle (David Oyelowo) who meets with Cooper along with the teacher Ms. Hanley (Collette Wolfe) during a parent-teacher conference. In that scene, the principle is framed as blocking Cooper’s son Tom from going to college to attain the middle-class education to which Cooper feels his son is entitled – the principle says that Tom’s scores are not high enough and Cooper is very snarky in his reply about that, something like it takes two numbers to make your pants but only one to deny kid a college education. The teacher in that scene, a white woman, wants to punish Murph, for teaching the other kids about the Apollo space mission to the moon. In Interstellar’s imagined social world, the moon landing was merely a hoax utilized by the U.S. government to encourage the Soviet Union to spend money until bankruptcy. As Ms. Hanley says, “And if we don’t want a repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th century, then we need to teach our kids about this planet, not tales of leaving it.” That’s actually the one realistic solution to addressing ecological crisis posed in the film, but she is framed as a crazy conspiracy theorist. I think this scene also reproduces the aggrieved entitlement sentiment which often erroneously blames women and people of color for economic crisis – I think it is fitting that these two characters in this scene are a black man and white woman juxtaposed to Cooper, a white man.

      • myates says:

        The other black male character is David Gyasi’s Romilly, one of the scientist-astronauts on the mission to seek a new planet. He’s super smart, but he also ages 23 years in, like, 5 minutes. Cooper and Ann Hathaway’s character Dr. Brand return to the spaceship after being on the water planet for supposedly 3 hours and Romilly has aged significantly (not unlike Murph at the end of the film). And, if you juxtapose that aging to Cooper, who at the end of the film, something like decades later, is as young as he was at the beginning, what you have is this representation of the infinite social value of white masculinity alongside the extinction of black people. This is an important part of Interstellar’s message, then, to (re)invest in white supremacy/privilege in order to save humanity; only white people, namely white men, have the innate privilege to survive the crisis. I find this film to be so explicitly racist – and that racism is intimately tied to the environmental themes of the film – and I find it troubling that this racism is hardly touched in many reviews of the film.

  10. Michael_Horka says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I enjoyed your talk and it’s nice to see you again (at least virtually)!
    There is a long science fictional fascination with colonizing other planets and there seems to be an amped up fascination with terraforming in the 1990s. My first question is do you see this film as “in conversation” with the longer-term science fictional treatment of leaving planet earth in literature or cinema or as departing from it in significant ways? I was also wondering, and this might dovetail with a question above, how “white flight” and race-as-contagion or “blight” makes sense in our present moment, particularly with significant gentrification in dense, urban areas? What do you think is going on in terms of pulling up that historical trope? Finally, if there are significant levels of denial, disavowal, and disinformation in the U.S. with regard to climate change, would you want to say more about how framing the planet as blighted (racialized as destroyed, dangerous, toxic) might be in tension with conservative discourses that do not seem to view the earth’s ecological systems in this way?

    • myates says:

      Hi Michael, So good to see you too!!! Wow!!! Great questions! I wanted to let you know that I’m in the process of formulating an answer. Will be back in touch soon!

      • Michael_Horka says:

        That sounds great, Michelle! These are larger questions that might exceed our short-term conference format, but I’d love to be in dialogue with you about them.

        • myates says:

          Hi Michael, Joe Heumann asked a similar question that I just responded to above. You might take a look at that as a start to an answer to your questions. Thanks so much again for the thoughtful questions/comments. I’m in the process of finishing up a longer piece on the film for publication. And I also enjoyed your talk too. You know, there’s a bit of dovetailing between our talks, in that what we really need are more film adaptions of feminist and postcolonial science fiction literature, like that written by Octavia Butler.

  11. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Michelle:
    Let me add an idea to your Nolan “white man rules” theory. His mega hit Dunkirk was criticized for refusing to show the Muslim/Indian(Pakistan) troops serving the British and a whole slew of French African troops(multiple countries) that were fighting for France. They were part of that world that was evacuated, too. But not in his film.

  12. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Michael:
    Thanks for taking on this opera. It’s rare to get an analysis like yours. I especially like how the opera intends to both engage the audience by having them “participate” and also can modify it’s presentation according to the place it is performed (your example of N Carolina is really fascinating). Operas are expensive and difficult to stage. Thanks for giving us a great look into how this one works.

    • Michael_Horka says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Joseph. There is so much more to say about what’s going on in the relationship of the novels to the opera (and to “Octavia’s Brood”, but I wanted to begin to put down some strings to pick up later and have others pick up. I think that what I hope to contribute to a conference like this one is a focus on (one incarnation of the) various “mediations” and reproductions involved in creating a participatory climate politics.

  13. Virginia Luzón-Aguado, University of Zaragoza says:

    Hi Michelle
    Great talk! SF is certainly a heavily masculinised genre so what you argue makes absolute sense to me. Apart from ecomedia, I do research on genre, masculinity and stardom. Do you think that a consideration of McConaughey’s persona might add something new to your reading of the film?
    Thank you!

    • myates says:

      Virginia, Yes! What a great comment/question! And Matt Damon who seems to be in all these white flight from Earth films, like Elysium and The Martian. But I especially think about this in terms of Charleton Heston from so many 1970s eco-cult classics. While I think McConaughey and Heston have different screen personas, what I think they have in common is the right balance of what Gail Bederman describes as civilized manliness and primitive masculinity – a particular kind of rugged yet sophisticated persona that is only available to white men. But, to properly do this research would require, I think, a discourse analysis of how these actors are talked about in the popular press, and I’m not currently doing that research. What about you? Is this something you work on?

      • Virginia Luzón-Aguado, University of Zaragoza says:

        Hi Michelle
        Yes, that’s something I’ve been writing about for quite sometime. I’ve written a monograph on Harrison Ford which will hopefully see the light at the end of 2018. I’m actually kind of new to ecomedia, really, but definitely enjoying the ride. I’ve also written a book chapter (also coming soon) on Harrison Ford and eco-masculinity from an environmental celebrity point of view (DiCaprio is not the only one!!!!) In a way, you could say that Ford led me to ecomedia analysis. And here I am.

  14. Virginia Luzón-Aguado, University of Zaragoza says:

    Hi Carter
    Thanks for a most interesting talk. I found your talk and mine had lots of points in common. However, I find that Nancy’s final girl status is compromised in some way. As you say, she would have died had it not been for Carlos’ son, and that “Uber” joke at the beginning of the film also demonstrates, I think, that she is not in total control of her surroundings after all, i.e. she is not “master and commander”, unlike most men in adventure narratives.
    I enjoyed (re-) watching The Shallows and am a bit surprised that nobody, I think, has mentioned that the shark was harpooned. When I watched the film for the first time I just thought of it as a revenge of nature narrative and I still do. Although the shark is vicious and attacking the “wrong” humans, I could also sympathize with it, at least more so than with Steven Seagull’s brutal peers in The Birds!

  15. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Carter, I really enjoyed your talk and look forward to reading the later written version, too. I had a couple of thoughts/questions for you.

    First, early in your presentation you spent some time on the way the shark represents an extreme whiteness – it’s too much in various ways and overwhelming. Do you see this as a form of the sublime? (Anne Schmalstig talks interestingly about the sublime in her talk in Panel 5 and I just watched her presentation, so it’s on my mind.) Would it influence your analysis at all to apply that concept here?

    Second, I’m interested in your point about higher budget shark attack films versus low budget ones. You seem to indicate that the budget and genre concerns are connected, but I wonder if you could develop this further. If Jaws and Deep Blue Sea are more action movies and also higher budget movies, do you think these things (the budget and genre) inherently go together? Is there a consistent or systemic reason that the white female heroine shows up more often in these low budget films than in the higher budget ones? Is this, too, a relic of the Gothic?

  16. Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

    Hi Carter, Michelle, and Michael,

    Thank you for your talks. This panel is appropriately organized around race given your three talks, but I wonder if any of you might speak to the role of the speculative in relation to race and environment in any of your projects? Perhaps this most explicitly relates to Michelle and Michael’s talks, given they both address future ecological disaster and the attempt to forge a new society beyond the collapse, but Carter also notes that this ‘monstrous’ great white is also a speculative creature.

    My discussion of Patricio Guzmán’s work made me think of this, because of a few specific things you all said. In my talk I discuss the way that Guzmán uses speculative fictions to ground multi-scalar visions in our own realities by distinguishing between non-human scales that are nonetheless present and what is in Guzmán’s words “unreal.” Thus while the multi-scalar visions might not represent human perception, they are nonetheless of this world.

    Michael, your example of the performance in North Carolina made me think of this. Butler’s world is a speculative future, but this seems to be one of the key features of the opera – the performers consciously work to mitigate the distance between speculative future and our historical world. It seems to me that this is also done via the performance itself, in terms of how they build their musical style from political traditions?

    Michelle, your grounding of the earth-escape narrative in white flight builds this relationship between the speculative and the real, but your reading of the narrative focus on Cooper particularly piqued my interest here as well. I haven’t seen Insterstellar since it came out, but would it be correct to say that Murph’s solution is more grounded in science whereas Cooper’s 2001-like experience is more speculative in nature (granted… they are both imagined futures, so I perhaps we have to talk about a range here)? In other words, the film predominately focuses on this sort of speculative fantasy, but then in the end suggests that the solution was actually outside of the speculative realm into which Cooper dives? How would you characterize the distinction between these two ‘solutions’ to ecological collapse?

    Carter, I already mention how I see you framing the speculative above, and I think you answer this in your talk a bit already in relation to the low-budget shark attack film’s relation to the horror genre, but I wonder if there is any more to be said about the shark not really resembling an earthly creature at all. I haven’t seen the film, so I don’t know if this is true, but it seems curious that there is this ‘secret surf spot’ locals and a few white women know about, but the danger is the sudden intrusion of the speculative monster (for the purpose of the white woman’s narrative and reconciliation with her nuclear family). This seems counter to other eco-tourist horror models where the locals knew about the danger all along, like in The Ruins, but I believe you’ve already discussed that elsewhere in this thread.

    Thanks to all three of you again for your talks!

    • Michael_Horka says:

      Hello Matt,

      I think that’s a good question. I think my premise, in thinking through Butler’s fiction and the Reagons’ work is that they are addressing an aporia—perhaps one could also speak of it as a contradiction—related to the ongoingness of a seemingly irresolvable set of injustices that are inherited by Black women. On the other hand, in the -cenes that we are living through, as it were, a deep pessimism does not lend itself to certain forms of intimacy that might allow for survival and reshaping of what’s to come.

      With that, maybe I’ll start out with something like the “form” here. My sense is that the operatic and its ideology of form is very much like that of science fiction, in its reach for totality on the one hand, but augmented by the Reagons into a historical dialogic that invites an encounter with the historical atmosphere of diaspora—one from which the very shape of the earth and the movement of bodies cannot signify in some cases, are irrecoverable, are part of the formation of our -cenes as we name them, but can, in some way, be “sung.” They can be “heard” and sensed. I’ve been thinking about how this revised form (reproduction of the novels into newness that shrewdly reaches for history) and its ability to shape encounter might be what both Benjamin and Agamben treat differently as messianism, but here also as an invitation into the shrieks and songs, the vulnerable flesh, not necessarily as something that can be redeemed. The walls coming down point to an implicated politics, surely, a call for recognition of eco-history, yes, but also as something else that perhaps we cannot name. The form that is to be “reproduced” that acknowledges the historical construction of difference and the quasi-commons of historical inheritance is what we’re left with, with a call to reshape the emergent uncertainties of material life with this form of recognition in mind.

      The speculative we could say begins with Butler’s own presentation of what seems to be her pessimism: that will need reproductions and recreations until a “something else” arrives that can break the symbolic and material shape of history open. It’s in the parable that’s meant to be easily re-told. And in the opera, various aesthetic and historical elements are added, but stay true to the not-doneness of Butler’s project. I suspect that the opera’s intervention brings various dimensions of speculative futurity into being, like spatiality, through staging and citational singing, and improvisation-as-pedagogy, that breaks down forms of disavowal which at the very minimum open up possibilities for significant recognition of interrelated problems. I hope that begins to answer your question.

      • Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

        Thank you, Michael! I particularly like this point about the opera bringing speculative futurity into being via operatic form. I would love to see it some day!

        • myates says:

          Hi Matt, Great questions! Thank you so much for asking! One of the things that I’ve been thinking about with regards to Interstellar are the irrealist aspects of the film and the way these tie into the film’s notion of futurity, i.e. the tesseract at the end of the film, the way the film posits what Jussi Parikka has called “the future acting on the now.” And, folks thinking through the notion of world-literature like the Warwick Research Collective and Michael Niblett (following on the thoughts of folks like Fredric Jameson) have written about how irrealist aesthetics have the ability to represent that which is often abstract (and therefore hard to represent) in capitalist society, like capital but also the structural violence associated with capitalism. But, also the notion of the future acting on the now is aligned with the ideologies of a financial neoliberal economy, and Annie McClanahan has a really great essay on this. I’m still thinking this through and wondering how this all plays out in the film, but here are my initial thoughts.

          • Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

            Hi Michelle,

            That is very useful! A brief follow up then: could we say Cooper’s “failure” (do we call it that – again I might be misremembering the film) represents a failure of capitalism, insofar as it is unable to undertake long term research and development strategies?

            I like this point about the visibility of capitalist though, regardless of how we interpret the distinction between the two approaches to avoiding the end of humanity in the film.


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