“Filming the police” as a research topic has been taken up in a range of disciplines and subfields from legal and information studies to surveillance and police studies. In film and media studies, the 1991 George Holliday video of the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD played an important and controversial role in the formation of documentary studies as a subfield and in debates about indexicality, the nature of photographic evidence, and realism—issues at the core of the discipline. While this course will survey the topic of the filming of police from multiple perspectives, it aims to construct a specifically disciplinary framework for research on police violence. What can film and media studies bring to research on police?
With an eye toward this aim, over the quarter we will pursue the following questions: 1) Given the range of kinds of documentation and data of/on police violence, how should we understand the specificity of audio-visual records of police brutality? 2) How has the significance and uses of photographic documentation of state violence changed across time, context, and across a shifting media landscape? In other words, what are the differences between the uses to which images have been put in lynching photography, in Civil Rights Movement photography, in Holocaust photography, in the Rodney King video, in the Oscar Grant videos, and in the Laquan McDonald dashboard camera video? And how is the photographic documentation of state violence peculiar as compared with other forms of image-based documentation of violence? 3) What is the relation and interpenetration of cultural—especially televisual—representations of police (e.g. COPS, CSI, Law & Order, The Wire, etc.) and the actual organization and practices of law enforcement institutions and agents? 4) What are the political strategies that undergird citizen journalism and sousveillance practices such as “cop watching” and how effective (and for what) are such practices? 5) How have the videos of police violence circulated, and how have debates about the ethics of viewing shaped activism as well as aesthetic responses?
Readings by Susan Sontag, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Georges Didi-Huberman, Elizabeth Alexander, Eyal Weizman, Courtney Baker, Jennifer Malkowski, Jamie Kalven, Richard Ericson and Kevin Haggerty, Alex Vitale—among others. Topics to include dashboard and body cameras; surveillance, sousveillance, and the regime of visibility; citizen and investigative journalism; video storage and archiving; evidence in court proceedings and in the public sphere; police, media, and ideology; the ethics and politics of looking at black suffering; art about police violence; filming the police in an international frame.