Pedagogies of Re-Enactment: Bystanding and the Media of Re-Experiencing Violence

Carrie Rentschler, McGill University

11 July 2017

My research examines the media history of the bystander as a social change agent, drawing from feminist cultural studies perspectives.  In it, I aim to understand why and how the subject position of the bystander has become such a visible target of public outcry, and why bystanders are currently being hailed as a potential intervener in social violence—that is, as people who can be trained to stop violence around their roles as witnesses to it. 

From 1960s journalistic and public outcry over “do nothing” citizens and “the sickness of public apathy” to contemporary activism against street harassment, gender violence and racialized police violence in the U.S. and Canada, the bystander represents a subject who can be mobilized to intervene. In the context of increasing calls for community-based responses to and responsibility for social violence, the bystander position offers, in its most radical orientations, the promise of community based intervention and collective movement.

The 1964 murder and sexual assault of Catherine Genovese — one of the 20th century’s most well known crime cases — and the legacies of social psychological research inspired by it, have framed public discussions about the problem of bystanding for over 50 years. A group of British social psychologists describes the Genovese case as the most widely cited real-life example in their field (Rachel Manning et. al. “The Parable of the 38 Witnesses,” 2007). The case is the subject of introductory courses and textbooks in the field of social psychology, and widely circulates in law, sociology, and urban studies. In social psychology, the New York Times’ story “37 Who Saw Murder Did Not Call Police” about Genovese’s sexual assault and murder inspired new forms of theatrical experimentation around the problem of bystander non-intervention.

Their experiments in turn have inspired students, amateur media producers and even US TV shows such as “What Would You Do” to re-enact some of their social psychological experimental models drawing on hidden-camera conventions popularized in the U.S. TV show “Candid Camera.”

While high profile violent crimes are often the subject of true crime TV re-enactments, the Genovese case is unusual in its propensity to be re-enacted across media formats over time, becoming a popular form of pedagogy about bystander intervention. Unlike true crime productions, with their focus on what Mark Seltzer referred to as wound cultures (crime scenes, weapons, wounded bodies), which make up only a small proportion of re-enactments of the Genovese murder, most re-enactments of the Genovese case focus instead on the main subjects of the Genovese story: the witnesses who were said to have watched or heard her being assaulted and did not call the police. They rarely focus on the victim or perpetrator, who were never central agents in the dominant story of the crime.

The case’s re-enactment culture reveals the role re-performance plays in constructing a historical dossier of the crime in which cultural producers and educators transform the meaning of legal and social responsibility tied to bystanders. Learning about the Genovese case – whether in a classroom or through civic TV programming — is tied to processes of experiencing its re-enactment by spectating a media re-enactment for the crime’s witnesses or, for students, doing one’s own re-enactment in which they become witnessing re-enactors of the historical case.

In the 1960s, the Genovese case helped articulate a racist street crime framework that replicated the white supremacist and racially androcentric system of terror that constituted slavery and Jim Crow laws on the myth of black male rapists and the cult of white womanhood (see Carol Stabile’s great book White Victims, Black Villains: Gender, Race and Crime News in US Culture, 2006). It dramatized a white identified middle class crime fearing public that would soon take shape in the first U.S. national crime victimization survey in 1967.

Today its re-enactment often represents conditions of individual responsibilization and the dominance of risk management frameworks in violence prevention. While framed by these earlier narratives, contemporary re-enactments focus on the individual witness as responsible, and irresponsible, agent.

My talk, “Pedagogies of Re-Enactment: Bystanding and the Media of Re-Experiencing Violence” examines the affective pedagogies performed through and in media re-enactments of the Genovese sexual assault and murder. Media re-enactments set up conditions for virtually witnessing the form of the Genovese sexual assault and murder through proxies, purporting to offer lessons about the structures of feeling that might transform bystanders into active witnesses. To do so, they invite spectators to experience the re-enactment as proxy witnesses – as witnesses to other’s bystanding – and as amateur investigators and surrogate judges.

I call this an affective pedagogy of spectatorship. Re-enactments produce a genre of media witnessing that prompts its viewers to judge those who failed to act and to project themselves into the position of possible interveners based on the (largely unfulfilled) promise of an emotional and experiential conversion: from bystander to witness. I approach media re-enactments as “technologies of orientation,” modes of re-enacted performance that are meant to orient viewers towards particular ways of judging oneself and others as potential bystanders to social violence through spectator’s experiential conversion process. 

The talk draws from a digitized archive of media re-enactments of the 1964 assault and murder case that I’ve been collecting and analyzing over the past 6 years. To watch clips and read additional critical commentary on several films and TV programs that represent and re-enact the Genovese murder, access the archive in Critical Commons

*Critical Commons is an online initiative to make the texts of media culture available for study and teaching under fair use and critical transformative re-use purposes.

Carrie Rentschler is Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar of Feminist Media Studies in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies and an Associate of the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at McGill University. She is the author of Second Wounds: Victims’ Rights and the Media in the U.S. (Duke UP, 2011), and co-editor of Girlhood Studies and the Politics of Place (Berghahn Press, 2016). Her current research examines the history of the bystander as an agent of social change, feminist social media responses to sexual violence, campus activism against rape culture, and the role media infrastructures play in social movement activism.

Film Finances: Making Hollywood Happen

Charles Drazin, Queen Mary – University of London

4 July 2017

As I begin to write this blog on the world’s first completion guarantor Film Finances, I can’t help wondering what the company’s founder Bobby Garrett would have made of today’s online world. During World War II, he had been deputy head of the Air Section at Bletchley Park. When the war was over, he returned to the publicity-hungry movie industry, but ran his little-known corner of that industry with all the tact, discretion and knack for eluding attention that characterised his previous career in secret intelligence.

I was recently amused to find in the company’s archive a letter from the early 1970s that explained to a new business partner: “Our UK and European operation as far as we are concerned has been restricted within a very confined area; bankers, distributors, etc, are aware of our function within the Industry. Therefore, we have found that there has been no need for any publicity.” It was perhaps some left-over from Garrett’s day that helped to explain why, when I was first invited to explore Film Finances’ archive in 2009, I had not heard of the company and had no idea what a completion guarantor did. The fact that the IAMHIST conference will be hosting a panel on Film Finances offers some index of the increased awareness eight years on of this company’s crucial importance to post-war film history.

Founded in London in 1950, Film Finances pioneered a system of guaranteeing budget overcosts, as well as the certainty of completion and delivery by a specified date, which facilitated the financing of independent production. By “independent production” I mean a film that is not funded directly by a major studio but requires its producer to raise its budget from separate, independent financiers. In order to obtain a guarantee that Film Finances would meet any extra costs, a producer had to provide not only a plan of production but also regular reports on progress. Once the film had been completed and delivered to its distributor, Film Finances would then archive the paperwork relating to the project.

Over the nearly seventy years of its existence, Film Finances was an important catalyst in the spread of independent film-making from Britain and Europe to Canada, Australia and Hollywood. The result today is a vast collection of papers –  including correspondence, scripts, budgets, schedules, call sheets and progress reports –  that detail the behind-the-scenes production of thousands of feature films, including some of the most celebrated ever made –  The African Queen (1951), Dr No (1962), Cabaret (1972), Terminator (1984), Pulp Fiction (1994) and so on all the way to La La Land (2016). It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of an archive that encompasses so many industries and so many significant films.

In 2012 Film Finances agreed to grant scholars access to the papers relating to the first thirty years of its history. A special issue of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television in 2014 offered a taste to the academic community of the archive’s treasures. Since then the company has continued to facilitate research, most recently welcoming researchers from the BFI/AHRC project, “Transformation and Tradition in Sixties British Cinema”. In the long term, Film Finances plans to work with institutions that can help to develop the research potential of the archive, whether through digital access, cataloguing the collection or arranging exhibitions.

When Bobby Garrett retired in 1982, the British film industry was in the doldrums. In a difficult climate, publicity became important even to Film Finances, as Garrett’s successor, the much more gregarious Richard Soames, sought to explain the value of what the company did to new markets that had not previously been aware of its function. The biggest of those new markets was Hollywood, where the advent of video distribution was fuelling the growth of independently financed films.

My paper at the IAMHIST conference will tell the story of how Film Finances came to Hollywood. Drawing on original documents in the Film Finances Archive, it will focus on Francis Ford Coppola’s Outsiders (1983), which Film Finances took the risk of guaranteeing even though the director’s previous two films, Apocalypse Now (1979) and One From the Heart (1982), had incurred massive overcosts. The production turned out to be the perfect calling card, as Film Finances took out a full-page advert in Variety to congratulate Coppola on finishing the film “on schedule and on budget”.

Opening an office on Sunset Boulevard only weeks later, Film Finances was keen during its early years in Hollywood to explain what it could offer to an industry that was still unfamiliar with how the completion guarantee worked. In an article that appeared in the Hollywood Reporter in 1985 Soames discussed the difference that Film Finances might have made if only it had been around to provide a completion guarantee for Heaven’s Gate (1980).

Budgeted at $11.5m, the film notoriously ended up costing over $40m and nearly ruined United Artists.  “The big advantage that the production would have had if we’d been there would have been to have an objective party who was involved in the creative aspects and who could point out where the film was really going.” In another interview with a trade journal called The Business of Film, Soames pointed out that over more than three decades “practically every set of circumstances in the making of a film has come past our door”. There were few other companies that could match the experience it had accumulated in solving the problems of production. “The very fact that there are problems with pictures is the reason that we’re in business.”

When a special issue of the Hollywood Reporter celebrated Film Finances’ fiftieth anniversary in 2000, the company had guaranteed approximately 3,000 films. Although the Hollywood office was now the headquarters of the company, the last page of the issue offered a nod to its British origins.

“Excellent Batsman for 50 years,” declared the advertisement from Merchant Ivory Productions. “May you continue for the next 50.”  It will be some time until scholars can hope to have access to the papers relating to films that Film Finances guaranteed after its arrival in Hollywood in 1982, but meanwhile the first thirty years of Film Finances’ history, relating chiefly to the British film industry, are likely to keep researchers busy for quite some time.

Charles Drazin is Senior Lecturer in Film at Queen Mary, University of London, and the author of Finest Years: British Cinema of the 1940s (1998), In Search of ‘The Third Man’ (1999) and Korda: Britain’s Only Movie Mogul (2002). Charles will be presenting a paper, ‘Film Finances goes to Hollywood’, at this year’s IAMHIST Conference.


To review or not to review…?

Ciara Chambers, University College Cork

27 June 2017

Top ten tips for writing engaging, fair and publishable book reviews:

James Chapman recently shared his top ten tips for getting research published in academic film and media journals. His invaluable insight and practical advice has inspired this set of “top ten tips” for writing book reviews. The book review is both a rite of passage for early career researchers and, hopefully, an enjoyable aspect of shorter-form publishing for seasoned academics throughout the course of their careers. This blog aims to make a few suggestions for those new to the format about avoiding some of the common pitfalls that often arise for journal editors during the review process

1. Know your text!

Read the book in its entirety. It’s important that you’re familiar with the full text before you construct your review. Take notes while reading in the way that is most efficient for you in terms of signposting the main areas you want to address and summarizing particular sections or arguments.

2. Context is crucial

 What’s the book about and who is it for? Clearly set out the central topic of the book and consider its audience. Do you see it as most useful as a textbook for an undergraduate course or is it a niche study in a specialist area? Who will benefit from this book in terms of subject area and career level? Comment on the structure of the book, the topics covered, the sources utilized and the methodology employed. Is there a set theoretical framework? What areas of previous scholarly research does the study elaborate on or debunk? If you were to summarise the overall achievement or contribution of the book, what would it be?

3. Self-promotion is not cool

Don’t use the review to publicise your own work. The editor will most likely ask you to remove any overt references to your own publications, unless you can make a very good argument that they are closely tied to the book under review.  

4. Maintain objectivity


Don’t offer to review the book of a close colleague or friend. It’s useful if you know about the field in which the book is situated, but having a friendship with the author may cloud your judgment and obvious championing of the work of a colleague will not reflect well on you or the author.

5. Pursue vengeance elsewhere

Equally, don’t use the book review as a chance to take revenge on someone you’ve clashed with or to take up a broader academic argument you have with them. This kind of (often legitimate) academic debate is better played out in a forum where everyone involved has the right to reply.

6. Criticism should be constructive

Whether glowing, unfavourable or mixed, reviewers should always express criticism respectfully. Book review editors are responsible for maintaining professional standards and may ask reviewers to reword or rewrite sections of the reviews for a range of reasons, but always to improve the publication with a view to maintaining the standards of the relevant journal. Diplomatic critique will always be welcome.

7. Follow the house style

Appropriately, and with due deference, this tip is directly plagiarized from James Chapman’s blog “Publish or be Damned”. Following the rules is tedious, especially when they relate to pedantic style sheets and some journals will have more prescriptive and detailed rules than others. The clearer the guidelines the better, and if you’re unsure of what’s expected from your review you should always clarify this with the editor before you begin writing.

8. Proof reading is key

Always check your work carefully before submission. Does each sentence make sense? Is there a flow to the piece? Does your prose engage the reader? Because book reviewers often make notes while reading, the review can sometimes appear like a list of disjointed comments rather than a polished academic piece. This is usually easily addressed by imposing a coherent structure and checking for grammatical errors, strengthening syntax and rewriting overly long sentences.

9. Respect the deadline

If you’re not going to make the deadline, let the editor know as soon as possible. Editors always appreciate an advance warning if their list of proposed contributions will change when it comes to final publication.

10. Turnaround edits swiftly

Complete suggested edits as quickly as possible. Usually this is the shortest phase of the process and if you are efficient, it is likely that the editor will add you to a list of reliable contributors.

Finally, remember to enjoy the process. Don’t take on a review when you are overworked as you’ll just resent doing it. Taking the time to thoroughly read and review a book should be one of the more pleasurable aspects of the academic experience; particularly when academia is now so often saturated with draining administrative activity. Writing a book review offers the chance to get back to the world of the mind, ideas and scholarly pursuits, even if only for a short time, so it should be a fulfilling and rewarding experience…

Dr Ciara Chambers is book reviews editor for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and Lecturer in Film and Screen Media in University College Cork. Her research interests include newsreels, amateur film and the recycling of archival images. She has worked on a range of archival projects and digitization initiatives with the Irish Film Archive, Northern Ireland Screen, Belfast Exposed Photography, UTV, BBC, and the British Universities Film and Video Council. She is scriptwriter and associate producer on Éire na Nuachtscannán (Ireland in the Newsreels), a six part television series to be broadcast on TG4 in autumn 2017


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