1 The Department of Art History, Faculty of Humanities, Aarhus University, Aarhus University2 School of Communication and Culture - Art History, School of Communication and Culture, Arts, Aarhus University3 Aarhus Universitet4 School of Communication and Culture - Art History, School of Communication and Culture, Arts, Aarhus University
Erasing DavidErasing David
The article discusses the relationship between the subject of surveillance and documentary film. As its main example, it uses David Bonds Erasing David from 2009. The genre-specific and film historic aspects of this documentary is analysed and in a further perspective it serves as the point of departure for a more general theoretical discussion of surveillance. Through the treatment of its content and the conceptual framework, Bonds film place itself within what could appropriately be termed the “popular cultural documentary”. What characterises this part of the genre is a critical approach bordering on activism. This is sought combined with the ability to entertain the audience through elements of fiction and comic relief while attempting an analysis of a current and often controversial subject. Michael Moore’s productions are the most successful examples of this filmmaking strategy and two film analytical approaches based on Moore’s 1989 debut Roger & Me is used evaluate the aesthetic and conceptual coherence in Bonds work. Following this, a three-part taxonomy for the analytical and normative understand of the surveillance phenomenon and its socio-cultural and political implications is established. These are termed: The critical-subversive, the Para cultural and the affirmative mode of understanding. The critical-subversive mode is comparable to the expository documentary form. A strategy, that whether academic or aesthetic, aims at the disclosure of hidden societal mechanisms by way of facts. In a theoretical perspective, this is discussed with Foucault’s idea of the panopticon and more recently Bruno Latour’s corrective counter-concept oligopticon. The Para cultural intervention is explained with Michel de Certeau’s understanding of ‘tactical re-appropriation’. This strategy, like the previous one, is sceptical of a surveillance society and its implications, though it establishes a different, temporary form of critical stanza. The last mode of portrayal is the affirmative. This is directly connected to the popular cultural representation of surveillance technologies. According to the German art historian O. K. Werkmeister, these are ascribed an almost omnipresent potential. This creates an internalisation of the surveillance culture, one which is paradoxically endorsed by both its supporters and critics. Both the theoretical perspective and the film analytical approach to Bonds film determine problematic weaknesses in his project. Bond tends to invest more in cracking the ‘formula’ for a successful presentation of his material, than discovering new formalistic or analytical territory in the filmic exposure of current surveillance culture.