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Creating the Witness

Documenting Genocide on Film, Video, and the Internet

Leshu Torchin

Publication Year: 2012

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2003, more than 300,000 lives have been lost in Darfur. Players of the video game Darfur Is Dying learn this sobering fact and more as they work to ensure the survival of a virtual refugee camp. The video game not only puts players in the position of a struggling refugee, it shows them how they can take action in the real world.

Creating the Witness examines the role of film and the Internet in creating virtual witnesses to genocide over the last one hundred years. The book asks, how do visual media work to produce witnesses—audiences who are drawn into action? The argument is a detailed critique of the notion that there is a seamless trajectory from observing an atrocity to acting in order to intervene. According to Leshu Torchin, it is not enough to have a camera; images of genocide require an ideological framework to reinforce the messages the images are meant to convey. Torchin presents wide-ranging examples of witnessing and genocide, including the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust (engaging film as witness in the context of the Nuremburg trials), and the international human rights organization WITNESS and its sustained efforts to use video to publicize human rights advocacy and compel action.

From a historical and comparative approach, Torchin’s broad survey of media and the social practices around it investigates the development of popular understandings of genocide to achieve recognition and response—both political and judicial—ultimately calling on viewers to act on behalf of human rights.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Visible Evidence

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-viii

Writing can be a solitary experience, but the work on a project involves many people, and I am grateful for all of them and their input. New York University provided a fruitful starting ground for this book. To begin, I must thank Toby Miller and Robert Stam from Cinema Studies....

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Introduction Screen Media and Witnessing Publics

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pp. 1-20

In The Interpreter (Sydney Pollack, 2005), United Nations (UN) translator Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) overhears a plot to assassinate the leader of the fictional African nation of Matobo, her childhood home. In the ensuing investigation, she learns genocide is taking place. At the...

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1. To Acquaint America with Ravished Armenia

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pp. 21-60

In September 1896, The Ram’s Horn, a religious magazine from Chi - cago, published a political cartoon entitled “Tears, Idle Tears!” (Figure 1). The drawing depicts a swarthy Muslim, indicated by the crescent atop his turban, standing over a pale, fallen woman, identified by a nearby banner...

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2. Witness for the Prosecution: Films at Nuremberg

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pp. 61-98

The previous chapter mapped out the convergence of developing visual media technologies—namely, cinema and its contexts of operation, and graphic weekly magazines—with nascent transnational humanitarian and human rights concerns. The interests took the form of Near East...

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3. Reflections on the World Stage: Imagining Fields of Witnessing for Rwanda and the Balkans

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pp. 99-135

In September 2002, Vojvodjanka–Regional Women’s Initiative, the Center for Education in Politics, and MEDIAPACT brought the photographic exhibition Blood and Honey to a gallery in the Serbian city of Novi Sad. Originally organized by the documentary center Wars 1991–1999 and the...

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4. The Work of WITNESS: Negotiating the Challenges of Video Advocacy

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pp. 136-171

Audiovisual media technologies and the genre of documentary have long been enmeshed in practices of state propaganda, scientific study, civic promotion, and social justice movements.1 Throughout the twentieth century, these technologies developed at an ever-increasing rate,...

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5. iWitnesses and CitizenTube: Focus on Darfur

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pp. 172-215

In April 2007 YouTube launched the political video log (vlog) “Citizen- Tube,” in order to “add fuel to the revolution that is YouTube politics.”1 The phrase “YouTube Politics” hints at a democracy of speech and ideas ostensibly enabled by the new media technologies that grant tools of video...

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Conclusion Testimonial Encounters and Tempering the Celebratory Narrative

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pp. 216-220

This transhistorical analysis consistently returns to two key points. First, from early on, screen media have played a significant role in constructing the popular, political, and legal imaginary of genocide and human rights. Second, these acts of film, video, and Internet witnessing need...


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pp. 221-248


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pp. 249-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780816681921
E-ISBN-10: 0816681929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816676224

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Visible Evidence