Dead Beginnings/Dead Ends: Circulations of Dead Women in an Era of Disposability

Joanne Clarke-Dillman

Major Professor: Alison Landsberg

Committee Members: Debra Bergoffen, Denise Albanese

Johnson Center, Room 240A
November 30, 2009, 07:00 PM to 07:00 PM


At the turn of the millennium the visual landscape is littered with dead women. They appear as spectral presences whose images anchor news reports about their own macabre deaths and comprise the inciting incidents (or "dead beginnings") that launch countless narratives of disappearance on films and television shows. Using examples from three sites across the visual field- film, television and news, especially through the mediations of the internet. I make the case that these bodies have both a haunting power and a disciplining function. In the American domestic arena which circulates these images, but also worldwide where they are dispersed, these images and the stories in which they are embedded express the profound ambivalence to social change that the women's movement endorsed, and that globalization has exploited to its own ends. I argue that women's gains in social, political and economic life have come with a price, and one effect is this collateral damage in the visual sphere where it can be seen but not stated as such. While feminism blossomed as an emergent discourse in the 1960s and 1970s, it failed to become a cultural dominant, and instead, by the 2000s has gone all but underground in mainstream cultural sites. Instead, the dead women that litter our visual landscape visualize a form of masculine anger and resentment at the actual gains women have made. Also, while women are necessary to the global workforce, by framing them as disposable global corporations are able to exploit women's labor while at the same time undervalue their contributions. I propose that the media representations under study facilitate this "myth of disposability" (Wright 2006) by time and again depicting women as negligible objects who turn up dead in show after show, on channel after channel, in film after film, across the visual landscape. In an era characterized by mobility and global flows, these images might be said to depict the forced immobility of the world's increasingly mobile women. That in the current contextual moment a preponderance of women need to be dead before an exploration of their lives, subjectivities and experiences is authorized in mainstream representations points to the rancor and ambivalence with which the feminist project has been met and to our anxieties about women's place in a changing world.

Print Friendly and PDF