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CfHAS public seminar series

The Avatar Project: Blockbuster Cinema,

Environmentalism and Political Mobilisation 

Peter Krämer, De Montford University

Wednesday, 17 October 2018. 3.30pm.  Location: Creative Edge building, room CE204

James Cameron’s Science Fiction epic Avatar (2009) has broken global box office records and become the subject of a vast amount of academic writing. One of the most important insights emerging from these publications is that Avatar did not only reach more people around the world than almost any other film in history, but has touched many of them very deeply. In addition to giving rise to a lively fan culture, the film was appropriated by indigenous rights and environmentalist groups for their political activities. Cameron himself has become a vocal supporter of indigenous rights and action against global warming. All this raises the question whether it might be possible to use the release of the first of four planned sequels in December 2020 to mobilise audiences for political action. The Avatar project is an attempt to do precisely this.

Peter Krämer is a Senior Research Fellow in Cinema & TV in the Leicester Media School at De Montfort University and a regular guest lecturer at universities in Germany and the Czech Republic. He is the author and editor of nine academic books, and he has published over eighty essays in academic journals and edited collections (including two pieces on Avatar in Screening the Past and in Holliday and Sargeant’s collection Fantasy/Animation). On the Avatar project he is working with Rupert Read, a philosopher, activist and leading member of the Green Party in the UK.


CfHAS public seminar series 2017

Location: Edge Hill University Ormskirk

Open attendance (no booking required)

5th April 2017: Professor Jody Berland (York University, Canada/ CfHAS Visiting Professor) ~ ‘The animal is the medium: media history, medium theory, and the ghost of the giraffe’

In 1414, a ruler in Bengal shipped a giraffe to a ruler in China as tribute, that is to say, as a gesture of good will cementing the special power and economic relation of two empires. All that is left of this event are an ancient painting and two brief academic commentaries tracing the story of “the emperor’s giraffe.” There is little scholarly literature on the actual importing of animals to early modern menageries. What kind of 15th century ship would carry a giraffe from Africa to South Asia to China? Did the ship, thus entangled with the giraffe, take on new forms? If the ship changed the life of the giraffe, did the giraffe also change the shape or purpose of the ship?  And how ironic is it that the giraffe, once the jewel of imperial luxury and power, now faces extinction?

I want to take the story of the giraffe as a starting point for re-thinking the animal-medium relation as an important task for both media and animal studies. Animals and their images have been, and continue to be crucial mediators and first contacts in emergent relations between diverse tribes, empires and subjects, technologies and users, animal lives and posthuman affects. McLuhan’s idea of the “medium as the message,” helps me to rethink this historic relationship.     If media have a deep time, the animal is itself a medium in this history.   Taking up the insight that “the medium is the message” means acknowledging, as Jon Durham Peters emphasizes, the degree to which animals expand our understandings of mediation whether they occupy aqueous, digital, or philosophical environments.  This in turn inspires us to ask whether animals can be thought of narratively (and perhaps ecologically) as “vanishing mediators,” a concept Fredric Jameson introduced to talk about the role of religious authority in the development of modern industrialization.

A core problematic of media theory after McLuhan and Kittler is to explore how media technology create and shape as well as mediate our co-presence with nonhuman species.  The history of vision, like that of geography, has tended to remove animals from their habitats; our job is to return them there, at least in our understanding of them. Just as the power to ship a giraffe mediated and enhanced the power of its sender and receiver, so electronic images now mediate, and metaphorically stand in for the vitality of, the digital sphere. What are the implications of understanding this process for talking about the representation of animals or the risks animals face in the contemporary world? These questions call for a a fuller and less anthropocentric theory of mediation, one that can draw inspiration from both media theory and the ghost of the giraffe.

CfHAS public seminar series 2016

Location: Edge Hill University, Ormskirk

Time: 3.30 – 5.00 pm

Open attendance (booking not required)

9th March, 2016: Dr. Robert McKay (University of Sheffield) ~ “Something Else…”: Elephants and the Animal Politics of Postwar Conservation in Romain Gary’s The Roots of Heaven

In room: W13 (Wilson Centre building)

11th May, 2016: Dr. Tom Tyler (University of Leeds) ~ ‘The bitter ends’

In room: CE204 (Creative Edge building).

CfHAS public seminar series: previous

28th October 2015

Dr. Wahida Khandker (Manchester Metropolitan University) ~ ‘Thinking “Ecologically” about Animal Minds: Perspectives from Process Philosophy and Cybernetics’

11th November, 2015

Dr Richard Twine (Edge Hill University/ Centre for Human Animal Studies) ~ Vegan Killjoys at the Table: Contesting Happiness and Negotiating Relationships with Food Practices’

***Note. This seminar will run 2.00pm to 3.30pm***

2nd December, 2015

Sally Pearce (Independent scholar/ animator) ~ ‘Chernobyl Horses’

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