Crowds played a prominent role in early cinema and cinema theory. While their on-screen presence shaped the political aesthetics of socialism and fascism, critical debates about the dangers and pleasures of the new medium significantly overlapped with contemporary crowd theory: sociological, phenomenological, and psychoanalytic interests in the—particularly affective—dynamics of physically assembled collectives. Post-1945, however, crowds virtually disappeared from the screen. Gilles Deleuze would famously declare: The “people”—or masses as a political actor—“are missing” in “modern political cinema” (Cinema 2, 216).
In which ways does this verdict still hold today, or no longer? Political concerns about and theoretical interests in crowds have had a comeback in response to the rise of new populisms and fascisms: the openly hateful crowds of Donald Trump & Co, but also progressive/resistance movements across the globe (see, for example, Butler 2015; in-progress work by Deb Gould). Contributions to the envisioned panel (or possibly panel series) for SCMS 2020 might ask how contemporary (post-)cinema has begun to engage such contemporary political crowds. More generally, contributions might engage these crowds as a starting point for rethinking the phenomena of collective physical assembly on the screens of classical and contemporary audiovisual media, considering questions such as the following:
- How to revisit and modify twentiethcentury theories of crowds, affect and political collectivity today,
- How to map techniques of (re)presenting crowds across different genres and media (fiction and documentary; cinema and shorter vernacular, news, or video art formats),
- How to compare early 20th vs. early 21stcentury on-screen crowds,
- How to describe the role(s) of affect(s) in the composition/production and reception/exhibition of (post)cinematic crowds,
- How to model (post)cinematic crowd politics: in which ways do fascist crowds look and sound different from progressive/minoritized/alternative protest crowds? Can we establish such political distinctions aesthetically? Is there an emerging (post-)cinematic aesthetics of contemporary social movements, from Occupy to Gezi Park, Black Lives matter to the Hong Kong umbrella movement and beyond?
Please send abstracts (per SCMS guidelines: up to 2500 characters with 3-5 sources; 500 character bios) to Claudia Breger (email@example.com) by August 10.
Claudia Breger, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature