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Algorithmic Aesthetics

Bodies and Subjects in the Era of Big Data

Andrew J. Ball

Though the authors in this general issue of Screen Bodies engage with a wide array of media, they express a shared group of concerns. Namely, how recent technological advancements and the big data cultures of the Information Age are altering social norms concerning the body, the subject, and intimacy. The first two articles focus on increasingly data-oriented cultures that have given rise to aesthetics derived from quantification and mathematics. In “Qualities Over Quantities: Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice,” Amy Christmas examines the “surveillant aesthetic” present in three multimedia art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience (2002 to present), Jill Magid’s Composite (2005), and Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions (2012–2013). Christmas argues that these artists explore new modes of subject constitution and constraint, and reveal the potential of “dataveillance” to bridge formerly disconnected processes of “quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative)” self-formation. Similarly taking up questions of aesthetics, the “quantified self,” and its relation to narrative, Kallie Strode examines the datafication of beauty in “Narrating (Sur)face: The Marquardt Mask and Interdisciplinary Beauty.” Strode reflects on the ethics of quantifying beauty and looks to the plastic surgery method patented by Stephen Marquardt, who has developed a model of facial beauty using the golden ratio. The Marquardt mask, she argues, exemplifies an algorithmic aesthetic that is being applied to the reformation of bodies. Along similar lines, in “Cyborgian Salariats” Stephanie Bender argues that the individual is subordinated and rationalized by modern technology. Bender examines how Sasha Stone’s photo essay “Hundred-Horsepower Office” presents an optimistic vision of a new kind of subject, the Weimar-era white-collar worker, a human-machine assemblage that combines the body and modern office technology.

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Jack Janes

Abstract

German-American relations have been impacted by the war in Ukraine for reasons that have to do with domestic and foreign policy challenges. Germany is struggling with its responsibilities to increased expectations in Washington and within the European Union. The responses in Berlin to the Russian invasion of Ukraine have resulted in tensions within Europe as Germany tries to shape its policies around what Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called the Zeitenwende (turning point) of German foreign policy. The u.s. has also signaled its expectations that Germany needs to be a partner in sharing the burden of confronting Russian threats in Ukraine and Europe. Another challenge for German-American relations is emerging around relations with China, which may generate friction across the Atlantic as the United States seeks to confront China on the global stage while Germany remains tightly connected to China as its largest trade partner. How and why Germany and the United States need each other is in transition.

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Lyubov Bugaeva, Rory Kelly, Susan McCabe, and Janina Wildfeuer

Ana Hedberg Olenina. Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Modern Literature and Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020, 416 pp., $36.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9780190051266.

Jennifer O’Meara. Engaging Dialogue: Cinematic Verbalism in American Independent Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018, 218 pp., $29.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9781474420624.

Malcolm Turvey. Play Time: Jacques Tati and Comedic Modernism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019, 304 pp., $30.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9780231193030.

Neil Cohn. Who Understands Comics? London: Bloomsbury, 2020, 240 pp., $42.75 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-3501-5603-6.

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Stephen F. Szabo

Abstract

The new German government resulting from the 2021 Bundestag election will have to revise and reshape the legacy of the Merkel era's policies on Russia and China. Germany's own interests as a geoeconomic power will have to be balanced against concerns about the values of these two illiberal states and the strategic challenges they pose. The new coalition government in Germany will have to find consensus between three parties that hold often conflicting views, led by a team with little foreign policy experience.

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Cyborgian Salariats

Rationalization and the White-Collar Worker in Sasha Stone’s “Hundred-Horsepower Office”

Stephanie Bender

This article examines Sasha’s Stone’s photographic constructions of the salaried worker, or die Angestellten, within the rationalized Weimar office as published in his 1926 photo essay “Das 100-Pferdige Büro—keine Utopie” (The hundred-horsepower office—no utopia). I analyze his images of the modern office and the white-collar employee as participating in the public discourse regarding the highly debated phenomenon of rationalization, presenting the Angestellter as a tool of rationalization rather than an individual, creating automata-like employees that fit with the broader trend of depicting such employees as what Matthew Biro describes as cyborgs, or human-machine hybrids. I assert that Stone’s essay performs a dialectic role in relation to other, distinct versions of the same photographs, suggesting that technology within the sphere of the modern office, while inevitable and necessary, is possible only through the subjugation of the individual humanity of those at work by such technology.

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Jose Cañas-Bajo, Johanna Silvennoinen, and Pertti Saariluoma

The success of a film depends not only on the quality of individual elements in the film but also on cultural factors that may influence the viewers’ reactions. In this study, we investigated the role of these factors by presenting Spanish and Finnish participants films produced in Finland, Spain, or the United States. Emotional reactions were assessed online through a response system synchronized with the films and offline through questionnaires. Results indicated that overall emotional reactions of the two audiences were very similar, suggesting a high degree of universality. However, we also found differences in the way the two audiences reacted to some specific sequences within the films. Qualitative analyses suggested that these differences are related to some cultural dimensions (e.g., collectivism). We interpret the data as supporting both universality and cultural mediation where cultural variation might be more evident in films varying in narrative structure, genre, or cultural origin.

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The Enduring Effect of Immigration Attitudes on Vote Choice

Evidence from the 2021 German Federal Election

Hannah M. Alarian

Abstract

Immigration attitudes have long been critical in predicting electoral behavior in Western Europe. Whether such attitudes will continue to motivate political behavior in the current pandemic environment is yet to be seen. This article addresses this topic by exploring immigration's prevalence and impact on Germany's 2021 Bundestag election. Combining evidence across multiple German election surveys, I find that immigration remains consequential in shaping political behavior throughout the country. In spite of immigration's reduced political salience, voters continued to view immigration as one of the most important political problems facing Germany. Moreover, immigration-minded voters were significantly more likely to support the Alternative for Germany on the far right and punish the Greens on the left. The article concludes that reducing immigration's salience will not necessarily change its influence over modern German elections.

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Examining the Relationship between Story Structure and Audience Response

How Shared Brain Activity Varies over the Course of a Narrative

Sara M. Grady, Ralf Schmälzle, and Joshua Baldwin

When audiences watch a movie, we can examine the similarities among their brain activity via inter-subject correlation (ISC) analysis. This study examines how the strength of ISC (how similarly brains respond) varies over the course of a Pixar short film: specifically comparing this across the exposition, rising action, climax/fall out, and resolution sections of the story. We focus on ISC in the mentalizing network, often linked to social-cognitive processes that are essential to narrative engagement. We find that ISC rises from exposition to the climax. Moreover, we explore this shared response across age groups, finding that ISC is present across age groups, albeit weak in younger children. This approach offers new insights into the brain basis of engagement and story structure.

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The Face of the Future

An Ethical Examination of Lucrecia Martel’s AI

Abby Sacks

Lucrecia Martel is an accomplished film director and creative. Her 2019 short film AI blends fiction and reality, imagining what a humanoid artificial intelligence might look like in our world. But her use of a psychiatric patient with schizophrenia to portray her vision has problematic ramifications for the present, namely contributing to the existing stigmatization of people with mental illnesses. Art does not exist in a vacuum, and it is important to examine how a piece might be interpreted or misinterpreted and how it may affect people in their everyday lives. Though AI is an effective work of science fiction, I argue that is overshadowed by the negative unintentional impact it may cause for people with schizophrenia and mental illness at large.

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Inertia and Reactiveness in Germany's Russia Policy

From the 2021 Federal Election to the Invasion of Ukraine in 2022

Jonas J. Driedger

Abstract

Despite signs that Russia was preparing an invasion of Ukraine, the newly elected German government stayed with pre-existing approaches that involved engagement and the threat of limited sanctions. However, in February 2022, just before the invasion began, Germany blocked the Nord Stream 2 pipeline system, announced weapon deliveries to Ukraine, and massively increased defense spending. This article shows that inertia and reactiveness heavily influenced the timing, nature, and extent of this massive shift in Germany's Russia policy. German leaders continued the existing policy in part because it had been formed by still influential figures and was in line with societal views. However, at the dawn of the invasion, the failure of previous policies had become undeniable, pressure from Ukraine and nato allies peaked, and societal views finally shifted. Reacting to this untenable situation, key figures in the German elite pushed through a series of measures that nato allies and Ukraine had long demanded.