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Sequence 02: A Video Case Study of Online Detournement(s) and “Sexual Decoys”

Denise Ackerl

Chelsea College of Art

Sequence 02

This case study explores the techniques of montage and Detournement through the online video work Sequence 02 to create a critique towards a new legacy of young women who use social media as platforms for spreading nationalist ideologies.

In 2011, German right-wing-movement expert Andrea Röpke claimed in her book Mädelsache, which translates as girls’ stuff, that those movements are actively trying to make their female members more visible as women lower the inhibitions for new members for which social media proves to be ideal as a platform (Fink and Mittelstaedt). In the last few years we have witnessed a wave of young female right-wing politicians occupying legal mandates in parliaments in Germany and France in particular, using their social media channels in a more subversive form of manipulation. Here, Twitter and YouTube, especially, have become reproduction surfaces for their reactionary political programs, led by women but controlled by men.

In the following case study on the video work Sequence 02, I explore how an overall critique of young women using their social media channels as new projection surfaces for reactionary ideologies of right wing movements can be created. For this purpose, I am reusing the overflowing online presence of their female bodies in a video montage and juxtapose it with a male voice, as a means to unveil underlying power structures.

Based on the concept of sexual decoys by Zillah Eisenstein, in which she describes certain political figures from minority groups “whose actual function is to perpetuate the discrimination visited upon the very minority group/s to which they belong” (McIntyre 199), I claim that the bodies of these mostly young women such as Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, become active agents in the process of right-wing ideology reproduction. Through their feminine appearance, they are making reactionary ideas acceptable and almost appear as progressive. For example, Alice Weidel, a leading member from the German Far right AfD party, is an open lesbian woman while her party advocates traditional family models. For this hypocrisy, the AfD has faced criticism in the past, but, because of Weidel’s contribution to a more balanced and diverse image of the party, she has their guaranteed support.

As a way to subvert these tactics in my research and practice, which I place in the context of artivism, I apply the strategy of over-identification and Detournement. According to the political philosopher Chantal Mouffe (see Mouffe 2012), artivism can be defined as a combination of art and activism. It refers to artistic interventions strongly related to the concept of Detournement, which is defined as the technique of “turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself” (Holt 252) and is also known as the rerouting or hijacking technique of media. It was first developed by the Lettrist International[1] in the 1950s which later turned into the Situationist International in 1957 (Plant 55). Over-identification, which was originally coined by Slavoj Žižek (see Žižek 1996) to describe the work of the Slovenian Avant Garde group NSK, can be defined as an approach where in order to create critique you become the subject of critique through the excessive adoption of a set of ideas, images, or politics (Shukaitis 598).

In my practice I appropriate the techniques of manipulation by right-wing movements, as the key to Detournement is not to appropriate the image, but to appropriate the power of appropriation itself (see Wark 2009). Montage as a technique is well-suited to the Right insofar as they thrive on uncertainty, insecurity, and turbulence (Dean 29).  To create a critique, I use montage in my video works to form new bodies mounting moving heads, sounds, and different backdrops on top of each other and appropriate and perform already existing political speeches.[2] From a historic point of view, this technique is similar to the works of Berlin Dadaist Hanna Höch in the 1930s, where her intention was to reveal the hypocrisy around the “New Woman” that was portrayed as emancipated in the media and politics but was embedded in a still conservative society in Weimar Germany. Höch cut up images of female body parts from fashion magazines and put them together in collages in order to depict the violence against women.

Sequence 02 is intended as an act of “detourning” the right-wing movements application of Detournement and thereby re-appropriating the appropriated. In the video I montaged an image of my upper body on top of a YouTube video (2014) titled “Marion Maréchal Lepen Enceinte? Ca se voit !,” which translates as “Marion Maréchal Lepen pregnant ? See here!” . It shows a close-up of the pregnant French Front National politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s swollen breast played over with slow saxophone music. This video is based on another YouTube video that she uploaded previously, titled “Intervention de Marion Maréchal-Le Pen sur le redecoupage des regions” which translates as “Intervention[3] by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen on the re-cutting of the regions”. It shows her giving a speech in French parliament (2014) being seven months pregnant at the age of twenty-four. In the montage I also added a voiceover from the last scene of Charlie Chaplin’s famous film The Great Dictator from 1940. Here, similarly to a live-performance I did called Merci Liberte(May 2016).[4] I over-identify with Maréchal-Le Pen in the same way Chaplin mimicked Hitler in The Great Dictator, which was achieved by similarities in visual appearance and biographic parallels. Hitler and Chaplin were born in the same year and shared the same moustache; Maréchal-Le Pen and I both have long blond hair and were born two years apart. I claim that to be successful as a strategy of subversion, the application of over-identification on a visual basis requires the subject of critique and the critic to look almost identical, so that one could be replaced by the other like Chaplin did with his role in The Great Dictator[5] Hence, I include Ivanka Trump (b. 1981) and Alice Weidel from the German AfD (b. 1979) in this analysis as potential subjects of over-identification as they share a similar visual appearance and are public faces of political parties.

In Sequence 02,[6] through the technique of over-identification, reusing Maréchal-Le Pen’s pregnant body is a way for me to highlight its function as a reproductive agent of ideology as well as family legacy. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen is the granddaughter of Jean Marie Le Pen, the founder of the French Front National. In contrast to her aunt Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean Marie Le Pen, she represents a much harder line regarding women’s rights to abortion and gay marriage. When looking at the U.S., we can observe a similar form of legacy reproduction between Ivanka Trump and her father, the president of the United States. Looking at her Twitter profile, where she headlines with a photograph with her newborn, she mainly describes herself in relation to the men in her life by using the words “wife, mother, daughter, sister.” Her account depicts the reproduction of family legacy physically and digitally by re-tweeting her father’s tweets, making his face re-appear on several occasions in her feed. Twitter, next to YouTube, occupies a particular function within the context of ideology reproduction and propaganda where re-tweeting becomes an act of reiteration through a direct copy, allowing the effective circulation of propaganda.

Zillah Eisenstein, in her concept of the sexual decoy, a female place-holder for a male ideology, refers to Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State under the Bush administration, as an example. “Central to Eisenstein’s arguments regarding the causes and effects of sexual decoys is the necessary distinction between sex and gender. Her emphasis of post-structuralist sex/gender fluidity is especially important in her reconceptualization of who is able to occupy the position of, and act in the interests of, the rich white man; according to Eisenstein: ‘men can be either male or female, white or “other-than”’(xi) and if someone is female and/or black and/or gay in a politically powerful position, the chances are that they function as one of these ‘men’” (McIntyre 200). In all cases, although differently outspoken, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Ivanka Trump, and Alice Weidel could be said to similarly function as these men, reproducing their power through their own bodies and social media channels. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen was put into this function at an early age when she posed with her grandfather on an election poster; similarly, Ivanka Trump’s images of her as a young girl with her father find a much stronger media circulation today than images with his sons. Weidel most recently gained attention through a selfie posted onto her Twitter account with Chinese contemporary artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei  (see “Al Weiei Defends…” 2018) who uses Twitter as one of the main mediums of his practice and recently released a movie critically depicting the drama of the European refugee crisis. In her tweet she appropriates the artist Ai Weiwei for the purpose of advocating pluralism while her own party acts from a point similar to fascism.[7] Both artist and politician used a pluralistic position as an excuse for posing together.

I came across the first video part of Sequence 02 while browsing on YouTube. Here, the YouTube user “Les fameuses video” uploaded a misogynist version of Maréchal-Le Pen’s own video, focusing onto her swollen breasts and adding slow saxophone music while removing her voice. The second part of the montage is my out-of-synch re-enactment of Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of The Great Dictator (1940) filmed on one of the main public squares in Vienna, Austria where, since October 2017, a new rightwing-conservative-government is in power under the world’s youngest head-of-state Sebastian Kurz, aged 31. The chest upwards frame used in this video matches the one used in The Great Dictator. Performed with slightly indirect gaze into the camera, the background, in contrast to the original movie scene, which was shot in a film studio, features a real location, Vienna’s Karlsplatz. It shows the Baroque Catholic church known as Karlskirche in the background.

In the appropriated misogynist YouTube video of Maréchal-Le Pen, her head, pregnant womb, and the backdrop of the parliament, as well as her constituency and therefore her role as a politician, are removed from her through the use of the close-up. Here, the viewer’s focus is directed onto the breasts and onto the proximity of the microphones in relation to the mouth, creating a phallic association. What is left of Maréchal-Le Pen in this framing is her moving but mute mouth and her swollen breasts. Her attempt to use YouTube for her political purposes and further contribute to her image-building of a serious and potent politician was reversed immediately through the transformation into an erotic video, depriving her from the three empowering factors in the original video: her voice, the politically potent environment of the parliament, and her pregnant womb. In the misogynist YouTube video Maréchal-Le Pen is actively rendered into an erotic object through the close-up where her entire body is transformed into a fragmented flat body where the space for recreation is removed (see Mulvey 1975 and Phelan 1993).

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen uses the video-platform YouTube as a campaign tool to publish and circulate public speeches while the comment function of her channel is disabled. Originally, the comment function was one of the initiatives for online platforms to seek the restoring of notions of “collectivity” and the platform’s facilitation of interest groups and sub-channels (Uriccio 370). The refusal to accept comments disables this process but only in so far as removing it from the location of where the video is uploaded. At the same time, it acknowledges the potential for satire and aggression against her. The majority of YouTube commentaries underneath videos of female politicians and politicians in general, when permitted, often contain insults rather than constructive comments and are used as opportunities for misogyny and sexism. On social media platforms and, in particular, YouTube because of the presence of the body, attacks on gender and/or race are very common and, in most cases, remain without censorship by the platform moderators. Their main focus lies in avoiding scenes of nudity or cases of extreme violence as described in the usage regulations. Hence, categories such as gender and race render some online bodies more vulnerable than others.

In all three videos,  including my re-enactment, the misogynist YouTube video and their montage on top of each other in Sequence 02, the act of removing and adding different media layers and elements in the frame created detourning effects. In my re-enactment a male voice is added onto a female body. In the misogynist YouTube video it is the close-up on Maréchal-Le Pen’s breast, removing her mouth and the background, and the addition of the slow saxophone music. In Sequence 02, the juxtaposition of both bodies on top of each other redirects a misogynist attack on a young female right wing politician to one that focuses on her political program and her function as a “decoy.” By reversing the intention of each video, the result is also a devaluing of each. At the same time there is a potential for them to be revalued “via the organisation of another meaningful ensemble which incorporates it” (Wark 146). The male voice of Chaplin eventually overtly emphasizes the femininity of our combined bodies by becoming the floating signifier above them (Phelan 155). Through their juxtaposition in the montage, my body is transformed into a potentially pregnant one. Through this extension, we both end up embodying a male voice that is not ours. Despite the lack of the visibility of the womb that has been removed through the closeup in the YouTube video focusing on Maréchal-Le Pen’s chest, the potential pregnancy is hinted through the swollen breasts. Here, the YouTube business model of linking ads to user profiles instead of watched content is re-iterated. Hence, I repeatedly encounter pregnancy test ads as a hint towards a potential pregnancy linked to my gender and age.

In my intention to create critique in applying over-identification and form a new body via online montage while browsing on YouTube, the result is a video work overloaded with political references and superimposed several identities onto one video, Maréchal-Le Pen, Chaplin and myself.

This was made possible through having all these bodies online available. Although this overflow of Detournements poses the risk of completely blurring any critique, this overflow of bodies potentially keeps the work from closure, avoiding a detourning from the Detournement by another outside party. It potentially creates a discomfort in the viewer by not making a definite statement of what the critique is, resulting in a “anti-statement” which is at the center of Detournement (Wark 151).

Works Cited

“Ai Weiwei Defends Selfie with Far-Right AfD Leader.” Frieze.com. 23 April 2018. https://frieze.com/article/ai-weiwei-defends-selfie-far-right-afd-leader. Accessed 10 June 2018.

Dean, Jodi. “Affective Networks.” MediaTropes. 2:2 (2010), 19–44

Eisenstein, Zillah. “Sexual Decoys: Gender, Race and War in Imperial Democracy.” Zed Books, 2006.

Fink, Anna Giulia and Katharina Mittelstaedt. “Die Postergirls der neuen Rechten.” derStandard.at.15 April 2018. https://derstandard.at/2000077899548/Die-Postergirls-der-neuen-Rechten. Accessed 10 June 2018.

Holt, Douglas B., and Douglas Cameron. Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands. Oxford University Press, 2012.

McIntyre, Joanne. Not a Thing of the Past.”Linqs. 36 (2009), 199-201

Mouffe, Chantal.“Chantal Mouffe: Strategies of Radical Politics and Aesthetic Resistance.” Truth.steirischerherbst.at. 8 September 2012. http://truth.steirischerherbst.at/texts/?p=19. Accessed 13 June 2018.

Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. Verso, 2013.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema.” Screen. 16:3 (1975), 6-18

Plant, Sadie. The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age. Routledge, 1992.

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. Routledge, 1993.

Shukaitis, Stevphen. “Fascists as Much as Painters: Imagination, Overidentification, and Strategies of Intervention.” The Sociological Review. 59:3 (2011), 597–615. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2011.02021.x

Uricchio, William “ The Future of a Medium once Known as Television “, in Pelle Snikkars. , Patrick Vonderau. The YouTube Reader, London, Wallflower Press, 2009, p. 24‑39.

Wark, McKenzie. “Détournement: An Abuser’s Guide.” Angelaki. 14:1 (2009), 145–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/09697250903006641.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Universal Exception: Selected Writings, Volume Two. Continuum, 2006.

[1]. The Lettrist International was established after a subgroup of  the Parisian lettrists  who were known for their Dadaist interventions under the direction of Isidor Isou, attacked Charlie Chaplin’s enthusiastic reception in Paris in 1952. Disagreements over this last scandal provided the excuse for some of the lettrists to break with Isou and establish the Lettrist International; including Debord, Gil Wolman, and Michèle Bernstein (Plant 55).

[2].For example, in my series of resignation speeches produced during a research-residency at the British School at Rome in July 2016 in reaction to the recent Brexit referendum in the UK, I appropriated resignation speeches by David Cameron, the pope and Roy Hogdson, the former head of the English football team. vacanzeromane2016.tumblr.com

[3]. The term ‘intervention’ in her title simultaneously can be used to describe acts of artivism.

[4]. Merci Liberte!took place on Mayday at Speaker’s corner in Hyde Park in 2016. Delivered in the French language, my intention was on the one hand, to create a space of appearance for a female speaking body in Speaker’s Corner that was missing before and on the other to re-create the live-moment with corresponding video footage. For this, I set-up an own blogfor the work which allows the combination of text and video..

[5].InThe Great Dictator released in 1940 Chaplin slipped in the role of a Jewish Barber who gets mistaken for the Great Dictator Hynkler.

[6]. The title of the video can be understood as a reference to genetic sequencing.

[7]. The Journalist Andrea Röpke was excluded as a member of the press covering the AfD party convention through a democratic vote within the party in February 2016. https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article152455165/Journalistin-fliegt-bei-AfD-Parteitag-raus.html

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