Glad to hear this is a text that interests you. I knew that creating my initial post around something so new would be a risk in that it would be unfamiliar to most, but if that drives some interest in to investigating the comic, all the better. You are absolutely right in your comment that Penny is criminalized not just because of her lack of desire around idealized corporeality, but also because she refuses to engage in the neoliberal postfeminist project of the self. What is interesting about this is that she does engage in work of self-improvement over the course of the issues in the form of training for her participation on a team bent on taking down The Fathers. So while she rejects bodily improvement as a form of governmental control, she simultaneously subverts the neoliberal postfeminist project of the self by working to remake herself into a weaponzied body to destroy the oppressive regime that criminalized her initially.
Thanks for your comment! Glad to hear you this is a comic that interests you; I think it has a lot to offer even within its first 5 issues. I think your point about Rothman is in interesting one, especially since I think her films and Bitch Planet are doing some similar work—creating nuanced and specific female characters within the broad scope of exploitation as particular feminist interventions. What I would say is different about Rothman’s films and Bitch Planet is that their intervention’s are not depend on negotiations by the viewers—they are presented plainly on the surface of the material. Which constructs them as outliers in a way. Their politics are not dependent on deep readings or textual negotiation; it is built into the structure, narrative, and ideology of the text itself. I think bringing Coulthard into the conversation is a great move, particularly because Bitch Planet is, in my opinion, doing what she is arguing in favor of—constructing a collective rather than individualist revolution and in this way rejecting neoliberal postfeminist individualization in favor of political collectivity. I’ll give an example that isn’t a spoiler! There is a Hunger Games-type sporting event that the women of Bitch Planet are asked to participate in. They decide to pull together to form a team because the event will be taking place in an isolated location, filled with The Fathers. The women plan to use that opportunity to blow up the entire space, eradicating the oppressive government in one fell swoop. Their plan is, however, totally dependency on them working together, leveraging their individual talents (and in some cases, lives) for the liberation of everyone from The Fathers. Of course, being only 5 issues in, we will have to wait to see how that plays out!
“So as much as groups like ISIS may make beheading videos as sensationalistic propaganda and tools of terror, there is something almost mundane about the actual murders themselves that would seem at cross-purposes with what the murderers are trying to accomplish (which may even be why some ISIS videos cut away from the actual moments of death).”
Yes. Exactly. And I think the cycle turns in on itself as well. So that, our potential exposures to actual trauma caught on video (and really, this extends well past ISIS propaganda) have rendered our attempts to exploit fictional suffering somewhat impotent.
I’m interested in the fact that the direction some of us see “exploitation” moving in (LVT and Harmony Korine are brought in this conversation in really interesting ways), seems to capitalize on the exploitability of sexuality…Noe’s LOVE would seem to play into this as well, with its now legendary 3d cumshot into the audience rhyming with the end of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY.
Although there are a few historical precursors that I love for various reasons (such as ‘Jeanne Dielman’), I can’t help but find the recent (and, in my opinion, regrettably navel-gazing) vogue for “slow cinema” to be exploitative in another, more troubling sense. Sure, these films may “exploit” the viewer by making reception itself a more laborious process (which would fit well with various arguments about flexible labor’s colonization of leisure in the neoliberal era), but their celebration by predominantly first-world, bourgeois cinephiles strikes me as quite disingenuous. That is, these dour, feel-bad films about the effects of global capitalism may actually assuage the liberal-bourgeois guilt of first-world viewers by making them feel that watching such narratives is somehow akin to doing something about the socioeconomic inequalities located “over there” (wherever “over there” may be). The “labor of reception” practiced by those with access to the international festival circuit (the typical home for such films) hardly compares with the day-to-day survival of the impoverished people in these films—people whose own moviegoing experiences, it probably stands to reason, would be far more likely to incline toward the more populist thrills of a typical sex/violence/action-style exploitation film than a formally elitist stripe of contemporary art cinema.
Great stuff, Adam - I especially love your point about the “labor of reception,” which adds a necessary corrective to other discussion of exploitation (including mine!) that focus on purely textual matters. As I was reading your post, I didn’t imagine it was going to end with Costa, but rather a discussion of the New French Extremism or similar “art house” products that seem to “exploit” both a national cinema framework while also appealing to the kinds of sex/violence previously relegated to the grindhouse instead of the arthouse. Which makes me think that the “labor of reception” might be critical to those more explicitly “violent” film.
My hope would be that using “exploitation” as a term might be a kind of stealth feminism - those who wouldn’t pick up an avowedly “feminist” book without some other “hook.” And I don’t know that that’s just a marketing ploy. Rather, I think that exploitation films have traditionally broken all kinds of boundaries, and some of those tools offer the possibility for feminist detournement. Sadly, I’ve only read the first issue (which I loved!), but it would be great to explore some of those other tools.
This may be taking the topic further afield than the question of “exploitation” per se, but I can’t help think that what you’re all is pointing to with the qualities of Liveleak beheading videos (the speed of production/distribution, the immediacy of the unprofessional DV footage, the queasy mix of curiosity and ethical dubiousness in willingly becoming a viewer of such documents) has something to do with the rather terrifying banality of real death (much like the actual execution footage that slips past almost unnoticed during the Green Inferno segment of “Cannibal Holocaust,” for example, compared to the gory-but-fictional found-footage scenes that conclude that film). Unlike the theatricalized scenes of torture/murder in your typical horror film, or even in the (largely) faked mondo-style films like “Cannibal Holocaust” or “Faces of Death,” Liveleak death videos seem to reveal something truly disturbing about just how tenuous the dividing line of mortality really is. The elaborate scenes of death seen in so much genre cinema “doth protest too much,” whereas the actual passage from life to death as captured on camera does not play out like a great drama of exceptional resistance than the death throes of any other animal. So as much as groups like ISIS may make beheading videos as sensationalistic propaganda and tools of terror, there is something almost mundane about the actual murders themselves that would seem at cross-purposes with what the murderers are trying to accomplish (which may even be why some ISIS videos cut away from the actual moments of death). Of course, I don’t say that to diminish the value of the real human lives lost, but rather to say that perhaps some element of what makes such videos truly frightening (but also capable of inspiring curiosity) is that they admit something about the fragility of human life that the more conventional exploitation film can only ever repress through the overt theatricality of fictional violence.
Hi Alicia, this is a really interesting post, thanks for sharing. Like David, I have not read these comics and have only recently learned of them. I am curious though, based on the image you provide and the way you contextualize it, if some kind of neoliberal “work-on-the-self” is being explored here, specifically the rejection of this ethos as the crime itself? If so, it would also seem productive to think about the character highlighted in your image as a criminal not merely because she doesn’t desire a more “ideal” body image for her own but also that she refuses to constitute herself through endless self-improvement, which is traditionally, I think, a construct of the patriarchy you evoke.
I like your time capsule idea…and the idea of a film that will be deemed exploitative at some point in the future. Gordon brings up KIDS. And, while it does hold up to some degree, it topicality exploits a moment.