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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 film’s end, she stands before the UN among a group of protestors and discloses this information by reading aloud the names of those who have been killed and a brief description of their fate. Her voice echoes through the halls of the UN building, and the scene concludes with the promise of the Security Council to prosecute Matobo’s head of state in the International Criminal Court. Her performance simultaneously makes a case that genocide has occurred and mobilizes political actors. This sequence points to the Enlightenment-style faith in the power of knowledge that underpins not only the sentiment of popular film narratives but also the hopes of journalists and human rights workers: if people know, they will act accordingly.1 “We investigate and expose human rights violations,” reads the Human RightsWatch mission statement articulating the confidence in visuality that is embedded in the organization’s name. The faith in the model of revelation leading to action has only been enhanced by the proliferation and development of audiovisual media technologies , whose mimetic capacities make claims of visible evidence and whose circuitry facilitates witnessing at great distances. Journalist Johanna Neumann writes of media’s promise, arguing that the advancement of communications technologies has yielded speedier policy responses.2 Amnesty International presidentWilliam Schulz (AI USA) describes the function of this organization as “the eyes of the world shining on the prisons and into the dark corners of police stations and military barracks all over the world to try to bring international pressure to bear upon governments which • 1 I N T R O D U C T I O N Screen Media and Witnessing Publics 00 Front_Torchin 9/10/2012 1:46 PM Page 1 are committing human rights violations.”3 Schultz’s statement invokes the paradigm of exposure to action while employing metaphors of extended visuality, suggestive of visual media technologies. As Thomas Keenan has observed, these shining eyes of the world conjure up the cameras, gleaming with the lighting devices that illuminate and expose what happens in those dark corners.4 Such expectations permeate the scholarly literature on human rights and genocide. In “Testing Theories Brutally,” noted genocide scholar and sociologist Helen Fein advocates the comparative study of genocide to better understand the processes that launch violence. Such a study, she suggests, should yield results in terms of intervention and prevention. Her optimistic language perpetuates the model of exposure to justice. Fein writes: “This focus on process (as well as structure) also suggests a new approach to the detection and prevention of genocide: to expose the propaganda of the mobilizers of hate and to support counter-media, such as a human rights international broadcasting network, which could unmask disinformation and propaganda, unveil the motives of agitators of hate and promote respect for human rights and peace.”5 Within this formulation , a proposed human rights broadcasting network harbors the power to “expose” propaganda and misinformation, to “unveil” the work of perpetrators, and to promote the clear ideal of human rights. Here, media circuits are transparent conduits for information and human rights, a self-evident category of meaning—an ideal that can be both shown and promoted. However, publicizing human rights abuses and genocide is hardly a straightforward enterprise. Silvia’s presentation of names in The Interpreter may presume a transparent display of information and the inevitability of political response, but, in fact, a constellation of factors drives its efficacy, both in promoting recognition and in activating response. First, her performance takes place within activist practice: a protest in process, and one outside the UN, no less. Second, a robust visual culture provides an interpretive grid, making the speech meaningful. Prior to this sequence, the narrative establishes the conditions of genocide: the story has provided flashbacks, survivor testimonies, and modes of exposition that declare the atrocities to be genocide, a crime subject to international prosecution . Moreover, Silvia’s reading of the names relies on cultural codes that signal political loss. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., perhaps best exemplifies this trend, as it marked a significant shift from figural representations of war dead to the more figurative evocations of massive 2 • I N T R O D U C T I O...

Additional Information

ISBN
9780816681921
Related ISBN
9780816676224
MARC Record
OCLC
829370505
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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