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Surveillance Cinema$
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Catherine Zimmer

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479864379

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479864379.001.0001

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Video Surveillance, Torture Porn, and Zones of Indistinction

Video Surveillance, Torture Porn, and Zones of Indistinction

(p.31) 1 Video Surveillance, Torture Porn, and Zones of Indistinction
Surveillance Cinema

Catherine Zimmer

NYU Press

This chapter examines the emergence of the horror subgenre dubbed “torture porn” as a defining element of postmillennial surveillance cinema. The chapter argues that the video technology common in the cinematic narration of graphic torture reveals the interpenetrations of torture and surveillance in the exercise of contemporary biopolitical power. The chapter focuses on a number of American torture-horror films, primarily the Saw series, in combination with several films from European director Michael Haneke. The chapter employs Giorgio Agamben’s political philosophy, his biopolitical analysis of the figure of “bare life,” and the notion of “zones of indistinction” to explore the way video surveillance functions in these films as a space of narrative indeterminacy. Through close analysis of American torture-horror films and their relation to the politics of the “war on terror” as demonstrated in the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the chapter shows that this indeterminacy is involved in both the narrative and political production of bodies for torture. The chapter’s second half elaborates why the American genre films are best understood through Haneke’s films, which serve to reflexively identify surveillant mediation as essential to the ambiguous spaces of cinematic violence and the violent ambiguities defining modern politics.

Keywords:   Abu Ghraib, Agamben, bare life, biopolitics, Michael Haneke, Saw, torture porn, video surveillance, war on terror, zones of indistinction

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