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.
I really like the fact that the accompanying video is a trailer, as trailers (it seems to me) are especially adept at exploitation.
Smart point. I think speed plays into it. But it also has something to do with production values (for lack of a better term). There’s an immediacy and frankness to much of this material that would, I think, render a packaged version of it somewhat toothless.
I think that the inherent curiosity you speak of can pull us in weird directions, And our moral/ethical relationship to it is ambiguous at best. But across these types of exploitation, I think, arises the question of audience: how to get, keep, change or incite an audience.
You mentioned the actors who carried over from Gilmore Girls to Bunheads but you limited it to just a few. There were several others. Rose Abdoo (Gypsy/Sam) Gregg Henry (Mitchum Huntzburger/Rico) Jon Polito (Pete/Sal) Biff Yeager (Tom/”Fat Bob”), Chris Eigeman (Jason/Conor) Todd Lowe (Zack/Davis) & Michael DeLuise (TJ/JoJo). As well as Sam Phillips providing music for both series. If the series had continued I think the public theatre they were creating would have taken on a larger role opening up new creative possibilities for the series. Really a shame they didn’t get the time for the show to truly hit its stride.
Oh and in case anyone missed this & is interested… http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/fa/2005/05/20050505_fa_02.mp3?dl=1 (Really cool Amy Sherman Palladino interview on NPR from 2005.)
Oh and then there’s this https://twitter.com/staceyoristano/status/662063973764739072
And another notable difference is that “film noir” was, of course, a retrospective critical construction, whereas “exploitation” was a label applied to such films during their own time period—all of which doesn’t make “exploitation” any less difficult to pin down, but merely says that it was at least operating as a generic label for some players in the whole genre-naming game.
I haven’t seen “Kids” in a long time, either, but I recall finding it overly exploitative even for its time. It seems to have been marketed by Miramax as such a contemporary slice of life (all the bad things that the KIDS are doing these days), but I found its particular portrait of urban youth to be quite disingenuous. “Gummo” seems to exist outside time a bit more, although that may have more to do with its overt class connotations than anything else (e.g., the working poor as supposedly being more inclined to only afford the outdated and déclassé). I wonder if we’ve gotten far enough down the road of historical perspective for Korine’s earlier films to be now seen as “exploitation” texts, or whether enough distance has not yet accumulated to make such distinctions. It has always struck me that the very label “exploitation” seems reliant on a certain amount of historical distance, especially from the contemporary audience presumed to be “exploited by” such films. In many cases, it seems only in retrospect that “exploitation” can be clearly discerned as such—and that is perhaps all the more true now that the hyperbolic appeals of old-school grindhouse cinema are perhaps a thing of the past and we now have to contend with the generalized exploitativeness of the average Marvel comics adaptation.
Well, maybe I’ll have to break down and finally become a comics fan for the first time since Donald Duck comics did something for me as a kid. “Bitch Planet” sounds delightful! I’ve been fascinated with feminist appropriations of WIP films since seeing Michelle Johnson’s “The Best of Lezsploitation” and the more politically ambiguous WIP retro-throwback film “Sugar Boxx.” There seems to be a certain danger, perhaps, in nostalgia being used as a reinforcement of the presumed hetero-male audience for ostensibly feminist exploitation films of old (like Jack Hill’s “Switchblade Sisters,” for example), but I have to think that if nostalgia need not be inherently conservative, then the question of whether women are necessarily “exploited by” sensationalistic genre films or can exploit them for more feminist purposes becomes more complicated. If we believe canonical feminist film critics like Pam Cook and Claire Johnston, for example, a filmmaker like Stephanie Rothman could make a feminist intervention precisely because exploitation films are more likely to present blatantly broad stereotypes of gender roles, and are thus more open to contestation by viewers. Feminism would stand to gain much from “exploitation” in certain cases (e.g., compare Abel Ferarra’s “Ms. 45” with Marleen Gorris’s “A Question of Silence”), but, as Lisa Coulthard has argued in relation to the “Kill Bill” films, a major limitation might be whether narratives of female retribution against patriarchal oppressors play into more of a postfeminist story of individualistic revenge against threats to family/husband/domesticity/etc. instead of emphasizing more collective action against structural inequalities. Not having (yet) read the “Bitch Planet” series, I can’t speak to those books in particular, but I look forward to seeing how they play out.