Friday, December 14, 2012

Dora Apel's "War Culture and the Contest of Images"

Dora Apel is an associate professor and the W. Hawkins Ferry Endowed Chair in Modern and Contemporary Art History at Wayne State University. She is the author of Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing and Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, War Culture and the Contest of Images, and reported the following:
Page 99 concludes a discussion of several video and performance works by artist Coco Fusco, who critiques the expanding role of women as military perpetrators and examines female complicity with military power in response to the “war on terror” first launched by the Bush administration. Her work was inspired by the sexualized use of American female soldiers in the tortures and humiliations of Arabs and Muslims at Abu Ghraib and Guantànamo Bay. Fusco’s most daring project, Operation Atropos, involved herself and a group of six women volunteers who enrolled in a four-day interrogation training workshop led by Team Delta, a group of retired U.S. military interrogators in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, which Fusco filmed and turned into a fifty-nine minute video. Four of the seven women broke down under the stress and revealed their “mission information.” While a brave experiment, page 99 discusses the potential for trauma of such an experience, suggesting that even voluntary exposure to stress can still have damaging effects. It cites a white paper by Physicians for Human Rights on the unlawful collusion of physicians with torture and human experimentation under the Bush administration, which concluded that adverse psychological effects occurred even when “stress hardy” soldiers familiar with psychological testing were exposed to “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”

Fusco’s work is part of a larger chapter on war experience in relation to gender, sexuality and the body. This chapter discusses the sexual abuse and discrimination against women in the U.S. military and how the reception of the Abu Ghraib photos was inflected by that; it also considers the suppressed image of rape in the Abu Ghraib photos coupled with the appearance of Iraqi women raped by American soldiers on Internet pornographic sites. In addition, it examines the low resolution “mediality” of cell phone technology and its importance to the documentary affect of such images.

Overall, War Culture and the Contest of Images examines a wide variety of cultural representations of war in the United States and the Middle East that also includes photography, video gaming technologies, war reenactment, social networking sites, and advertising campaigns. I argue that in modern warfare and in the accompanying culture of war that capitalism produces, the contest of images is as critical as the war on the ground.
Learn more about War Culture and the Contest of Images at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue