Nov. 2, 2018 — Jennifer Fay

Please join us on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the next meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop. We are delighted to have Jennifer Fay, Associate Professor of Film and English at Vanderbilt University. She will be presenting a chapter from her recent book Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene (Oxford, 2018). The chapter is entitled “The Ecologies of Film Noir: Or, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene.”

Jennifer’s chapter is available for download here.

Please email either Gary [gkafer@uchicago.edu] or Cooper [cooperlong@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Gary and Cooper


The Ecologies of Film Noir: Or, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

I am circulating the Introduction and third chapter of my recent book Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene. The introduction makes the case that cinema both archives the Anthropocene (especially as this proposed geological epoch gathers momentum in the Great Acceleration) as well as mirrors the Anthropocene as an aesthetic practice, especially in the dark studio. Filmmaking occasions the production of temporary, artificial worlds and equally synthetic weather. However much our planetary crisis is an unwitting and ugly effect of humanity’s aggregated actions, we can also understand it as a collective act of design inclusive of its inhospitable and devastating consequences.

The chapter, “The Ecologies of Film Noir,” considers the way this genre implicitly critiques the consumer happiness and accumulation associated with the immediate postwar economic boom and the good life underwritten by the Great Acceleration. In contrast to most other Hollywood characters, noir heroes find that that the harder they toil, the more they and others suffer. And in contrast to the very real industrious population altering the planet, noir characters contribute nothing to the economy, leave behind no legacies, and they often desire, above all, to disappear without a trace.  They neither produce nor reproduce the conditions of their existence. Thus, noir offers us a vision of not so much a fallen but a fallow humanity. This chapter argues that film noir is a useful genre for environmental thinking in part because these characters inhabit the most unnatural, and anti-humanist of worlds.  Following from the title of Roy Scranton’s book, I argue that noir teaches us how to die in the Anthropocene.

Jennifer Fay is Associate Professor of Film and English at Vanderbilt University where she also directs the Program in Cinema & Media Arts.  Her research is broadly concerned with the relationship between film aesthetics and politics, and, more recently, environmental media theory and the philosophical considerations of hospitality and human dwelling in the world. She is the author of Theaters of Occupation: Hollywood and the Reeducation of Postwar Germany (Minnesota, 2008), and co-author of Film Noir: Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Occupation (Routledge, 2010). Her most recent book, the intro and one chapter of which is being circulated for the seminar, is Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene, published by Oxford in April of 2018.

Oct. 19, 2018 — Steven Maye

Please join us on Friday, October 19, 2018 at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the next meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop. We are delighted to have Steven Maye, PhD candidate in English at the University of Chicago. He will be presenting an article in-progress titled “The Cold Cold Open: Residues of Container Shipping in The X-Files and Later Television Dramas.”

Steven’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Gary [gkafer@uchicago.edu] or Cooper [cooperlong@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Gary and Cooper


The Cold Cold Open: Residues of Container Shipping in The X-Files and Later Television Dramas

The place of The X-Files within the genealogy of complex television should be understood through its innovative use of the pre-credit sequence or “cold open,” which points to a new availability of space in American culture. These cold opens foreground an affect of unknowing that the series links to international logistical networks, which radically transformed the global distribution of labor in the 1990s. While most accounts of narrative complexity focus on disjunctions in time, The X-Files demonstrates the importance of space in these same television narratives, and in doing so suggests the political and historical content of narrative complexity.

Steven Maye is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Chicago.

Oct. 5, 2018 – Nicholas Baer

Please join us on Friday, October 5, 2018 at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the first meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop for the 2018-19 academic year. We are delighted to have Nicholas Baer, Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities and Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago. He will be presenting an article in-progress titled “Aesthetic Perfection in Film Theory and Criticism: A Brief Conceptual History.”

Nicholas’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Gary [gkafer@uchicago.edu] or Cooper [cooperlong@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Gary and Cooper


Aesthetic Perfection in Film Theory and Criticism: A Brief Conceptual History

As Hito Steyerl has observed, the concept of perfection has enormous currency in today’s digital economy, where the high-resolution image functions as a commodity fetish. While Steyerl defends the “imperfect” or “poor” moving image as an antidote to hegemonic media structures, I demonstrate that perfection itself has hardly been stable or unequivocal in its meanings across the history of film theory and criticism. Offering a brief conceptual history, I argue that cinema challenged classical conceptions of aesthetic perfection and contributed to a modernist redefinition of the term for the age of industrial technologies. Furthermore, I highlight formal affinities between the process of filmmaking and the psychoanalytic account of perfectionism, whereby the uncompromising director becomes the figure of the perfectionist par excellence.

Nicholas Baer is Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities and Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago. His monograph-in-progress, Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism, places films of the Weimar Republic in conversation with the “crisis of historicism” that was widely diagnosed by Central European intellectuals in the interwar period. Baer co-edited The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (University of California Press, 2016), which won the Limina Award for the Best International Film Studies Book and the SCMS Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection. He is also the co-editor of Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019), which offers multidisciplinary approaches to the vast array of troubling images that circulate in global visual culture. A regular columnist for Film Quarterly, Baer has published on film and media, critical theory, and intellectual history in numerous journals and edited volumes, and his writings have been translated into Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, and Italian.