Film Rhetoric (Re)cast

February 26, 2008

Film theory as it is discussed in chapter 5 of Defining Visual Rhetorics is entirely out of my league. And so is Lacan. So while I find the discussion of identification vis a vis the filmic gaze fascinating, I’m at a loss as to how to interrogate it because the discourse is (except for Burke) relatively foreign to me.

Nevertheless, I would like to engage with the medium of film in a way that I feel I can speak about, so it’s in that spirit that I offer this first resource:

van Dijck, Jose. “Projecting the Family’s Future Past.” Mediated Memories in the Digital Age: Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford, California: Stanford UP, 2007. 122-47.

The focus of “Projecting the Family’s Future Past” is on moving images. Dijck’s goal here is to lay out contemporary theories of (home) movies, memory, and video-enabling technologies’ role in constructing identity and culture. Although she lauds the neurobiological work done by Antonio Damasio in the area of mental image maps (“movies-in-the-brain”), and Gilles Deleuze’s philosophizing on the nature of memory as an act in the present that is always in “a state of becoming,” she contends that the work of these and related thinkers does not go far enough in positing also the interconnectedness of culture in the mind/body/technology paradigm (125-26).

To demonstrate her thesis that “all mental and technological constructs of past family life are always also social and cultural constructs” (131), Dijck adopts the theory of “home mode” developed by James Moran. In brief, home mode is defined as “a historically changing effect of technological, social, and cultural determinations—a set of discursive codes that helps us negotiate the meaning of individuals in response to their shared environment” (131). Examining portrayals of family life via mainstream TV in the 1950s, personal camcorders in the 1960s and 1970s, and documentary cameras in the 1980s and 1990s through the theoretical lens of home mode leads Dijck to some interesting observations regarding cultural norms and personal and cultural memory.

After elaborating on specific shows such as An American Family and The Osbournes with respect to the technologies involved in filming these depictions of family life and the impact the shows had on popular conceptions of how families function in a historical and personal context, Dijck concludes, “While (cognitive) philosophers show little interest in the sociological component of converging brains-cum-apparatuses, cultural theorists such as Moran tend to disregard mental-cognitive functions when describing the home mode. And yet, I think we need a merger of both approaches” (139).

Dijck concludes by discussing the implications the 2003 documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, has on what families regard as their past. Since the documentary is a montage of different types of mediated familial and public images, and since the events that transpire in the life of the Friedmans (and in the film) remain perpetually unclear due to conflicting testimony and video evidence, Dijck uses the documentary to again assert 1) “Memories never just are; they are always in a state of becoming,” and 2) “Remembered families are…projected families—the simultaneous products of mind and matter, and home and Hollywood. Therefore, the future of memory will be determined as much by our tools for remembering as by our imaginations” (145).

This chapter from a larger work highlights the recursive nature of memory, technology, and culture. The broad idea of ‘mutual shaping’ is a theme I see emerging from our class discussions, the assigned readings, and the drawing activities we’ve engaged in.

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2 Responses to “Film Rhetoric (Re)cast”

  1. This is a great discussion Alicia. I have always been skeptical of “personal” documentaries (especially when they are released in theaters) made for mass consumption. I love docs, but sometimes those that make them assume too much that they are presenting anything less than “truth” or “reality”, and when they are presenting their families and baring their memories it becomes very difficult to divorce yourself from those stories and images.

    However, this idea that these films present a “state of becoming” I think is much more in line with what these films re-present, a construction of a reality, memories that occlude as much as they reveal. Just as memories repress certain unpleasurable (because they may be too pleasurable) things these films construct a “reality” from a fragmented past that can only show so much. Maybe Lacanian film theorists are right, the screen does represent at least a projection of the mother’s breast that can never really be fulfilled by the image.

    -Josh Abboud

  2. It appears not much has changed in rhetoric scholarship since my undergraduate days over 20 years ago. I remember listening and discussing how gender, race, and even documentary films are social constructs, unique to a certain time/space, illusions of reality or a simulacra of it, and ultimately institutionalized/codified to serve a certain interest. My my. I do regret not going on to graduate school to study rhetoric but it appears scholarship hasn’t progressed in 20 years.

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