Hyperrhiz 02: Introduction

Introduction: Video Kill'd

Helen J. Burgess

University of Maryland Baltimore County


2006 was the year of video. As I write, footage of Saddam Hussein's execution is hurtling its way to the top of YouTube, with captions eerily similar to online porn advertising: Saddam hanging (full including drop) (posted by jesuitson), the REAL footage of Saddam Hussein's execution (posted by CivetaDei12), SADDAM -- DEATH (posted by rvprvprvp), Saddam Full executing!!! exclusief (posted by arabteam).

The prurient desire to see the "money shot" is palpable. But the general sense that video is falsity, that video is being used to obscure or rewrite history, is also evident. Conspiracy theories mount, focussed not on the trial or execution as political procedures but on the documentary evidence of the final moment:

i dont think its him. you dont see him fall through the floor, and why was he lying down at the end it takes up to 20minutes to die from hanging so he should be still upright swinging away, i hope it is him but i dont think it is. Hes prbly working as a spy for the USA to find bin-laden (fx76)
they didn't show the whole thing on this video. Don't be stupid. Watch some of the other footage. (jeffysmom)
why would the video be so clear up to the rope being placed, then so grainy you can't tell if it was actually him?. why is a still photo the only "proof" that is offered?. (HP9J3DU)

Video is thus in the peculiar position of offering both truth and untruth: documentary "evidence" and material for a lifetime's conspiracy analysis. Raw footage, filtered through cellphones and YouTube, passing through Sky News and CNN and Al Jazeera, has its day on the ultimate marketplace of moving images.

The video selections in Hyperrhiz.02 are not aimed at the raw documentation of an obscene moment - but they often work as pointers to a broken place, a wound: becoming "a text in the manner of a bandage or suture across the wound of a sememe" (Sondheim). Donna Kuhn's grief-work in the personal register and Alan Sondheim and Sandy Baldwin's explorations of the mechanisms of war in Iraq and Indonesia are texts that both suture a wound and reveal it. On a more philosophical register, the very practices of media are shown to conceal a violence: Leo Kacenjar documents the death of the voice in radio; Sandra Powers' glowing, painterly mediations are split with the hard lines and squares of video interlacing and compression. Craig Saper and Lynn Tomlinson work with soft fabrics and cool networks, but their documentary is made up of split screens and decapitated speaking bodies.

The violence of mediation is in the violence of the cover-up: the lengths to which we will go to reconstruct a supposedly unmediated event in language, image, sound, film. It is the violence not of the cut-up but of the put-together, the juxtaposition of the sound of milling crowds with the prime-time news anthem, the juxtaposition of video game and dance and paint and digital sampling. This is a violence so intuitive to the YouTube generation that it is hard to say whether the complaints about Hussein's execution video are complaints about truth, or its inherently inaccurate re/recording: whether the commenters are offering analysis of an obscene cultural moment -- or a critique of its representation.

— Winter 2006


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http://dx.doi.org/10.20415/hyp/002.i01