I have not seen the video above. As a teenager, I saw the film Iron-Jawed Angels, which includes a scene (embedded at the end of this piece) in which Hilary Swank is force-fed. It is, to this day, still one of the most disturbing pieces of visual media I've ever ingested (and I'm not proud to say I've seen some pretty disturbing stuff), and I do not think it would be productive or beneficial for me to see a graphic depiction of the act a second time. I still carry that scene with me and relive it every time I read the phrase "force-feeding" in journalism and literature today. I am posting these videos because, prior to seeing IJA, I did not understand in the slightest what was meant by the term "force-feeding." Surely it had to be some humane process, with strong consideration for the comfort and dignity of the person being force-fed?
I was so terribly mistaken.
I ask you: if you do not have any idea what "force-feeding" entails, please consider adequately preparing yourself and watching one of the two of these videos -- preferably the prior, as I believe it may be more accurate than the cinematic depiction at the bottom of this post.
Why, one may ask, am I posting such disturbing pieces of visual media here?
I would like to point to a piece of art that I believe may answer this question.
I will not link to it here, but it is a Vimeo clip consisting solely of the most infamous scene from Gaspar Noé's Irréversible, a film which I do not believe engages with violence productively, particularly in its lengthy single-take depiction of a violent beating and rape. As the scene begins in this Vimeo clip, however, an overlay of white text appears on-screen, over Noé's footage, obscuring much of the characters' actions from view. The text follows as such, not all at once, but spread out in chunks over the course of the ten-minute clip:
if you are still watching this
ask yourself why
if you are a sadist
in search of a safe outlet for such a socially-unsanctioned itch
then there is not much benefit to be earned from asking this question
but if you are not
if you consider yourself a sane, rational, relatively normal consumer of word and image
ask yourself why
why do you feel you must consume the images that are flashing before you at a rate so fast that your eyes can barely distinguish them from an actual occurrence?
why do you feel obligated by your entry into the unwritten contract between producer and consumer to watch all which I have to offer?
why does your entry into the visual world which I have created demand that you consume every last drop?
what is to be gained from keeping your eyes on screen?
is the probability of there being a crucial, life-changing statement underlying my creative choices so high that you feel any gain made
or loss avoided
if only temporarily
your ingestion and digestion of my image-sequences
would ultimately be more detrimental than keeping your eyes on-screen?
are you thinking that rationally that quickly?
or are you simply doing as you are told?
why have you placed so much faith in me, the artist?
why do you believe I have your best interests at heart?
why is the possibility of my being a sadist so slim it never crossed your mind before now?
who is to say I do not sit on a self-crafted throne each night
as the opening credits roll
and masturbate furiously for the length of this film
as I imagine all the psyches scarred each night
as the image-sequences flash incessantly before further hordes of unwitting victims
falling prey to such violent visual assault
the consequences of which cannot be undone?
now I am become Death
creator of worlds
This repurposed clip -- despite its regurgitation of an extensive and ultra-real depiction of rape -- attempts to engage with the material honestly and genuinely, questioning why we are even interested in extensive, ultra-real depictions of rape, violence, torture, and the like, and does so more directly and more productively than the underlying scene by Noé. I have yet to condemn or revere the creator of the Vimeo clip for his decision to further disseminate this content, but I do believe, for now, that its use was not without prolonged consideration, and in no way attempted to condone or excuse the actions of the character conducting the violence or the director filming the depiction, but instead aimed to engage with the act's inherent horror.
The clips included in this post are further examples of visual media that attempt to directly and productively grapple with a violent, horrific act through ultra-real depiction, and that is why I am posting them.
We are, inarguably, constantly profoundly moved by what we see; so very much of our identities and perspectives are derived from the specific subset of earthly occurrences our eyes happen to ingest for our brains to process.
This is why art, and particularly that expressed through visual media, is so valuable: it demands that we see (that we be shaped by) something that would be otherwise outside of our personal purview, something that we cannot unsee, something from which we can only benefit. It unites our grossly under-informed retinas with other grossly under-informed retinas, chips away ever so slightly at said collective gross under-information; it brings our unique sets of visual data closer to a semblance of true overlap -- a Venn diagram of infinite circles infinitely far apart, yet infinitely expanding, encompassing more and more of each other by the minute.
And yet it is also why art, and particularly that expressed through visual media, is so dangerous: it demands that we see (that we be shaped by) something that would be otherwise outside of our unique purview, something we cannot unsee, something from which we can in no way benefit. I refer here particularly to the prevalent abuse of the graphic depiction of rape by artists working with visual media; these ultra-violent, ultra-real depictions are so often thrust upon us by filmmakers and directors -- like, or unlike, Gaspar Noé or Sergio Leone or Quentin Tarantino, depending on your point of view -- without warning, with nowhere near enough regard for the effects wrought upon their audiences, and with questionable artistic and moral justifications.
The pervasive persistence of visual media -- so often too trite to take seriously, or too shocking to successfully assume into our schema -- fuels both its potent danger and its puissant value; perhaps equally, perhaps lopsidedly. But ask how we can be so adept at rejecting images which threaten to destroy our conceptions of the world, of ourselves; ask why we are so willing to deny that which poses questions we fear -- or else are incapable of -- answering levelheadedly, that which presents premises we fear processing rationally.
We have an increasingly suboptimal level of control over what our retinas ingest; but those images over which we do have control...
Perhaps it is time to consider that not all images are productive; perhaps it is time to consider that those images which might better serve ourselves -- and each other in turn -- deserve far more attention than we are currently willing to give.