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American Studies
Film Studies
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24 Jun

Conference Presentations Fall 2015

Written by Michael Fuchs
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"No, I will never apologize for the United States": Uncle Sam and the History of the American Nation

paper accepted for the 10th Annual Conference of the German Association for Comics Studies (Frankfurt, Germany)

The American experience is considered one of progress and constant renewal, which is why the dominant view of American history is that of an "ongoing story of […] success" (Cohen 2009: 7). The nation's orientation toward the future, Daniel Bell argued in 1991, indicates a belief that America is "exempt from the laws of […] history" (1991: 51). Alex Ross & Steve Darnall's 1997 comic Uncle Sam, however, strongly questions these notions by zeroing in on one of America's most iconic characters.

As my paper will demonstrate, Ross & Darnall's decision to employ the figure of Uncle Sam is crucial to their project. National icons such as Uncle Sam are, as Klaus Rieser notes, "highly relevant for the day-to-day integration of the otherwise heterogeneous composition of the American social landscape," for they "bond[] the nation together on a symbolic level" (2013: 3). From this perspective, the figure of Uncle Sam seems to support the "belief that America ha[s] a consensual history, that its past is less marked by conflict than other countries" (Lipset 1996: 25). However, the Sam encountered in the comic is in a schizophrenic state, which causes constant jumps between the past and the present and the sphere of mortals and the realm of national symbols. Burdened by the weight of the past and challenged by the pull of different ideologies, Sam emerges as the perfect vehicle for exploring (the making of) the history of America and the state of the nation toward the end of the twentieth century. As I will argue, Uncle Sam's engagement with America (and American history) culminates in its final panels, for even though the comic desperately tries to highlight that the icon cannot embody the multitude of heterogeneous voices that makes up America, the final panels seem to capitulate in the face of the overwhelming power of America's dominant ideology.

"You must never listen to this!" vs. "Don't you let her look!" The Sounds (and the Lack thereof) of Eating Humans in Grizzly Man & Frozen

paper accepted for the 42nd Annual Conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies (Graz, Austria)

In some respects, Grizzly Man and Frozen are very different from one another: Grizzly Man is a documentary by Werner Herzog about American wildlife conservationist Timothy Treadwell, while Frozen is a horror movie that starts innocently with three friends (BFFs Dan & Joe and Dan's girlfriend Parker) going on a skiing trip. A second look, however, reveals some similarities: Treadwell spent thirteen summers surrounded by wild grizzlies in Alaska, and the three friends find themselves surrounded by a pack of wild wolves somewhere in New England. Most importantly, however, both Grizzly Man and Frozen are centrally concerned with animals devouring human beings.

In my proposed paper, I will compare the ways in which the animals' undermining of mankind's dominant position is played out in these two films. Whereas, in Grizzly Man, Herzog tells Treadwell's former co-worker and girlfriend Jewel Pavolak to never listen to the audio recording of Treadwell's (and his then-girlfriend Amie Huguenard's) death and also denies his audiences access to the tape that he listened to while shooting the movie, Frozen, in typical horror movie fashion, provides audio-visual 'evidence' when the wolves attack and eat Dan. When this happens, Joe is solely concerned about ensuring that Dan's girlfriend Parker does not see what happens (note the presence of a female character/woman in the scenes, who must be protected from the terrifying sounds/images); no thought is wasted on the sounds of the wolves breaking bones and tearing pieces of meat from Dan's body and Dan's screams of horror and pain.

Somewhat counterintuitively, I will argue that the affective response triggered by the sounds related to the ripping apart and eating of a human in the fiction film present a more direct experience of the animals' force and, thus, a more 'objective' representation of animals than in the documentary film, which, through its explicit critique of idealized views of nature that is accompanied by the naïve attempt to represent nature in its essence, in fact, ends up fetishizing the absent sounds of the recording, the tape's mediation, and, thus, also the film's mediation.