Journals

  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Sexual Violence, Korean Cinema, and the “Me Too” Movement

    Written by guest blogger, Marc Raymond.

    Our Sunhu

    My essay in the most recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, “Women Stripped Bare: Rape in the Films of Hong Sang-soo,” seems to be particularly timely given the current “Me Too” movement, which has recently spread into South Korea as well, including the film industry. This was, as is often the case, almost completely accidental, as I first came up with the idea for the piece many years ago. However, I qualify this with an “almost” because I do think there is an overlap between my reasons for thinking of the topic and the eventual cultural upheaval we are witnessing, especially here in South Korea.

    One of the most disturbing stories to emerge from the local industry is the case of Kim Ki-duk, the director of the massive art house success Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring back in 2004 and a regular of the international festival circuit ever since. Domestically, Kim has always had a much more problematic reputation, in part because of accusations of misogyny, but he has also been defended as an authentic, working class artist who bravely deals with aspects of Korean society that the genteel middle class would prefer to ignore (see Hye Seung Chung’s 2012 monograph for the most elaborate articulation of this position). However, recent allegations of multiple and widespread sexual assaults on Kim’s sets have made this position much more difficult to defend and caused many to reconsider and re-evaluate their relationship to his work (for example, see this review of Kim’s most recent film by critic Pierce Conran). I have always found Kim’s work overrated and have been frequently critical of his films, but the revelations did cause me to think about my own relationship to film artists and how this will be impacted going forward.

    The original idea for my essay on rape in Hong’s films did not come from one of his works; rather, it was from the 1999 film Lies, directed by Jang Sun-woo, a controversial filmmaker who was in many ways Kim Ki-duk’s predecessor, although one with a much more refined social conscience. There is a scene in which an 18-year-old high school student is asked by her older lover why she decided to start an affair with him. She responds that she would probably have been raped soon anyways, so she decided to choose to have sex first. It is a darkly humorous line, seemingly hyperbolic, but one which resonated. Indeed, sexual violence seemed omnipresent in Korean cinema, both currently and going back over the previous decades. I had just completed a stylistic analysis of Hong’s films and was looking to write about something more thematic. So, I began to wonder if the subject of sexual assault was worth exploring. I had noticed that representations of sexuality had disappeared from his work after featuring prominently earlier, and once I began to think about the role of rape in his narratives, the more striking and even pervasive it seemed. It even seemed slightly perverse that it had not yet been discussed.

    Thus, I do think there is an incidental connection between my interest in writing this article and the current revaluation of the film industry. Looking at the essay now, I am thankful that its claims for the potential progressiveness of Hong’s early depictions of sexual violence are exclusively textual and not part of a broader attempt to defend him as an artist. I am also glad that there is a critique of the later films, especially in the professor-student relationships of Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi, although it is likely that this will seem too weak if this aspect of Hong’s films (and its connection to his personal behaviour) becomes more of an issue. Ultimately, I hope it provides a contribution to the debate around not only Hong’s work or Korean cinema, but also in the analysis of sexual assault in texts more generally, especially in those cases where this violence is hidden in plain sight.

    Marc Raymond is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Kwangwoon University in Seoul, South Korea. He is the author of Hollywood’s New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese (SUNY Press, 2013) and has published essays in the journals Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Film Criticism, Film History, Jump Cut, New Review of Film and Television Studies, and Style. His article “Women Stripped Bare: Rape in the Films of Hong Sang-soo” can be found in the latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Read it here: https://doi.org/10.3138/CJFS.26.1.2017-0003.

  • When Concepts Function Badly: Distorted Thinking and our Understanding of Combat Trauma

    Written by guest blogger, MaryCatherine McDonald.

    “Gentlemen” by Drew Cameron www.combatpaper.org.
    Photograph by Zen Cohen www.zencohenprojects.com.

    In her wonderful essay, “Philosophical Plumbing” – in which Mary Midgley compares philosophy with, well, plumbing – Midgley writes, “when the concepts that we are living by function badly, they do not usually drop audibly through the ceiling or swamp the kitchen floor. They just quietly distort and obstruct our thinking.” It’s a haunting idea – that conceptual mistakes can be so invisibly insidious and corrosive. When we think about things like oppression, we often focus primarily on the victims of that oppression, as we should. But we also need to pay attention to the fact that oppressive structures do not only impact individuals – they infect our ideas, and by extension everything that is touched by those ideas.

    Something that I struggle with when teaching the philosophy of gender is getting my students to understand the ways in which structures designed to oppress women or other minority groups eventually impact all of us. Though women are certainly oppressed by the stereotyping, fragmentation, and objectification of patriarchal society, the damage does not end here. The oppressive structures of power also influence the concepts within that patriarchal society, giving birth to all sorts of other flawed ideas. Because we are still so focused on who is oppressed and who is to blame for that oppression, we miss the way in which gendered norms infect all areas of our lives.

    How are the concepts that we are living by functioning badly? And how might we fix them? To continue the plumbing analogy, we first must find the source of the leak. It is in this spirit that I began thinking about the history of combat trauma, and the ways in which our ideas of trauma in general have their roots in pernicious concepts about gender and weakness. If our current classification of PTSD begins with hysteria – a diagnosis deeply rooted in misogyny – how might this impact the way that we understand the phenomenon?

    In the paper, I explore the ways in which we have used the oppressive structures at work within our understanding of PTSD to systematically undermine those who suffer from it. To silence them, negate their experience, and prolong their suffering. It’s not the gender of the soldiers at issue here – it is the way that gender informs our understanding of combat trauma. How do conceptions of femininity (in a pejorative sense) and weakness get imported from history into clinical and societal understandings of trauma today? Finally, what might happen when we free our understanding of combat trauma from these insidious concepts? We come to see it as it really is: an adaptive response to an overwhelming experience that is rooted in an impulse to survive, a response borne of strength, not weakness.

    MaryCatherine McDonald is an assistant professor of philosophy at Old Dominion University. Her research lies at the junction of phenomenology and psychology. She has recently published essays on the phenomenology of combat trauma, the history of post-traumatic stress disorder, and moral injury. Her latest article, “Hysterical Girls: Combat Trauma as a Feminist Issue,” appears in the Spring 2018 issue of IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics and is available here: http://bit.ly/ijfab111a.

  • Rogue Lawyers or Rights Lawyers? Strategies of Legal Activism during Africa’s Decolonization

    Written by guest blogger Meredith Terretta.

    In November 1959, Ernest Ouandié, the Vice-President of the Union of the Populations of Cameroon (UPC), wrote from exile in Cairo to Ralph Millner, British Queen’s Counsel and activist lawyer who had defended Kwame Nkrumah (later Ghana’s first president) against allegations of inciting labour riots in late 1940s Accra. Ouandié asked for Millner’s assistance in an upcoming trial in British Cameroons of two UPC organizers and labour activists from French Cameroon who had been detained in the British territory for overstaying their transit visas by a mere 24 hours. Based on the outcome of previous trials of UPC activists in British territory, Ouandié believed that if Mayoa Beck and Louis-Fernand Yopa were found guilty of the charges against them, they would be declared “prohibited immigrants” and escorted into the custody of Franco-Cameroonian security forces across the Anglo-French boundary. Here they would certainly be arrested again for posing a threat to state security. Convictions for crimes such as these in the politically charged atmosphere of French Cameroon’s decolonization resulted in the severest of punishments including life imprisonment with hard labour, and execution. Ouandié asked Millner to defend Beck and Yopa on the charges against them, but also to prepare a request for their political asylum in British territory, or their deportation to independent Ghana — rather than to French Cameroon — in case they were convicted.

    I discovered Ouandié’s letter in 2016 at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies Library among Millner’s personal papers and was excited that it backed up what I already knew: lawyers who defended Africans in colonial courtrooms throughout Africa during the age of decolonization worked together across national and imperial borders. Looking at these activities from a cross-border perspective entirely reshaped my historical understanding of Africa’s decolonization.

    Since 2010 I had been interested in how anticolonial activism across the African continent linked to networks elsewhere, as well as how it brought together internationalists who had adopted the then-novel concept of universal human rights. As I started this project, I knew I wanted to prioritize sources other than the usual official colonial records in order to gain access to the views of those who stood apart from imperial authorities. I began with the case files and correspondence of activists such as African political agitators, anticolonialist lawyers, and leaders of the first transnational NGOs such as International League of the Rights of Man, the Movement for Colonial Freedom, or the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. I learned which lawyers had devoted the height of their careers to the anticolonial cause, and read their trial records and memoirs.

    The most exciting letters I found were the ones that revealed that French and British activist lawyers corresponded with each other, and that African inhabitants of French-controlled territories engaged British citizens as defense lawyers; that Indian lawyers represented Africans in colonial Kenya and Tanganyika; and that Caribbean-born lawyers with British or French citizenship were among those who took up the anticolonial cause through law. I also found plenty of evidence that showed how British and French officials saw coordinated, international legal activism as a threat. This is starkly clear in the recently discovered and released Migrated Archive of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Great Britain — the colonial records that the British took with them as the empire decolonized.

    My array of sources presented Africa’s decolonization as reaching beyond the imperially-bordered stories historians have gathered from research in state and colonial records. I realized that if I reconceived of Africa’s decolonization as an international legal strategy, I could demonstrate that activist lawyers and their African clients implemented this strategy to transform the law — upon which colonial administrators had, until now, relied to govern — into an instrument of contestation and ultimately liberation.

    African political leaders and their anticolonialist defense lawyers contributed to three internationally transformative projects gathering momentum after the Second World War: decolonization, the Cold War, and human rights. Because of my new perspective on the transregional legal activism in Africa at this time, I reached three ground-breaking conclusions about the way that anticolonial legal activism worked with these factors.

    First, revolutionary African anticolonialism was expressed in a practice of legal activism that sought to make the law accessible not only to elites, but to the colonial subjects who, until this moment, the law had subjugated, controlled, and guaranteed fewer rights. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers articulated this strategy most clearly in using the phrase “human rights,” in 1947, to orient its vision of the law’s potential to dismantle imperial power.

    Second, the Cold War front in 1940s and 1950s Africa was much smaller — although no less potent — than the armed struggles and proxy wars that characterized it in the 1960s and 1970s. In the earlier period, the Cold War took root in the lawyers who represented the interests of Africans seeking to shape how the law would look once territories decolonized. Here, the figure of Dudley Thompson, the British-Jamaican lawyer who seems to have served as unwilling informant for the British colonial government, depicts poignantly how the Cold War front fissured personal relationships and subverted loyalties.

    Finally, though in 1940s and 1950s Africa the international legal strategy that most successfully invoked human rights operated in the service of a revolutionary, socialist and Pan-Africanist agenda, in the late 1950s the formation (with CIA funds) of the International Commission of Jurists gave rise to a new international legal strategy to neutralize that of activists. In the ICJ’s international legal strategy, human rights and the rule of law — rather than its democratization — were the primary objectives. It was a strategy that preserved the law’s power to uphold the status quo rather than undo it. Its emphasis on individual rights weakened the ability of collective projects — like those explored in my article — to transform the structural inequalities that colonialism had established.

    The exciting possibility that arises from these findings is that decolonizing Africa may be where human rights were first transformed from a project for economic, social, and racial equality into the liberal project of individual rights protections that emerged in the late 1970s. My article only gestures toward this possibility, but the empirical evidence I’ve mustered here is sufficient, I hope, to encourage further investigation.

    Meredith Terretta
    Meredith Terretta holds the Gordon F. Henderson Research Chair in Human Rights and is an associate professor of history at the University of Ottawa. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Activism at the Fringes of Empire: Rogue Lawyers and Rights Activists In and Out of Twentieth Century Africa. She is Vice-President of the Canadian Association of African Studies. Her latest article, “Anti-Colonial Lawyering, Postwar Human Rights, and Decolonization across Imperial Boundaries in Africa,” appears in issue 52.3 of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire and is available here for FREE for a limited time: https://doi.org/10.3138/cjh.ach.52.3.03.

  • Grounding Ourselves: On Bill C-16 and Symbolic Legislation

    Written by guest blogger Florence Ashley.

    Stylized sculpture of woman's head, top seperated from mouth up to reveal text insideImage by Nelly Wat

    I was presenting at the Pride Canada National Conference held in Montreal less than a year ago. My presentation centered on my paper “Don’t be so hateful: The insufficiency of anti-discrimination and hate crime laws in improving trans well-being” which was recently published by the University of Toronto Law Journal in what I believe to be the first-ever special issue on trans law in Canadian history. Without going at lengths about the content of the article—I hope you will choose to read it in its entirety—it may be characterised as highly critical of Bill C-16. More particularly, I paint the bill as largely symbolic and as promising but meagre payoff for pan-Canadian trans well-being.

    In the questions period, Susan walked up to the microphone and asked me a question. I must admit that my recollection is rather fuzzy, but two bits of information stand out. Firstly, she called me the next Viviane Namaste which, in my book, is one of the highest praise to be received. And secondly, she questioned the binary labelling of laws as symbolic and substantial, highlighting how laws which are purely symbolic on the surface can be effective educational tools.

    Although I continue to believe that purely symbolic laws should be criticised, the underlying critique stays with me to this day. The symbolic is one of the most characteristic traits of human societies. We lead symbolic lives, and deal in symbols every day of our lives. What does it mean, as activists who aspire to a grounded approach, to demean symbolic change?

    Indeed, the very same activists who seek to radically alter the arrangement of society oftentimes spend significant amounts of time analysing the minutia of language on the grounds that linguistic changes are an integral part of social change. Nowhere is this truer than in trans activism, where critiques of language are omnipresent—I myself contributed a chapter on transantagonism in the French language to the acclaimed book Dictionnaire critique du sexisme linguistique.

    Can I with one hand critique legislative focus on symbols while writing chapters on symbols and linguistic sexism with the other hand?

    To quote from the great G.A. Cohen, “The present paper has no conclusion.” I do not have a satisfactory answer to this question. But as I think of how I stand vis-à-vis the issue, I also wonder if consistency and coherence is something we should ask of ourselves.

    Perhaps the best we can do is be incoherent. Perhaps the value of the critique of symbolic legislation is not so much to highlight the limitations of symbols, but to recall us to the very real lives of trans people who aren’t helped by our laws. People who, like Sisi Thibert, didn’t find survival in anti-discrimination and hate crime laws. People who need us to do something else, to do more.

    Florence Ashley is an LLM Candidate at McGill University in Montreal. Metaphorically, a cyborg witch with flowers in her hair. Read her article in the latest issue of the University of Toronto Law Journal here: https://doi.org/10.3138/utlj.2017-0057

  • The Order of the British Empire after the British Empire

    Written by guest blogger Toby Harper.

    2017 was the centenary of the Order of the British Empire. Lloyd George’s war government created it in 1917 to recognize the voluntary civilian war effort in Britain and throughout the British Empire. At the time it was without precedent in the British honours system. It was distributed on a far greater scale and to a wider social range than any previous honour, most of which had been reserved for a narrow band of social and political elites. Today the Order is still the most numerically-important of all the state honours given out twice a year by the British Crown to citizens who have been judged worthy of recognition.

    Since the 1950s politicians, journalists and potential recipients in both the former empire and Britain have argued that the name is offensive, inaccurate, and anachronistic. This debate flared up again last year at the Order’s centenary. One of the main objections to changing the name at the centenary was that it was difficult or impossible to formally change the name of an order. This was not true: the Order was an invented tradition which had changed multiple times, evolving with changing requirements of British and sometimes even colonial governments. Yet this has been a common defense of the name, along with numerous other objections: that the name was popular; that Australians liked it (a decade before they dropped it); that only the wrong sort of colonial subjects disliked it; that those who disliked it were in a minority; that those who disliked it did not understand it; that Prince Philip (who proposed a name change) was a meddler; and that the name had historic, traditional weight.

    My article in the Canadian Journal of History charts the sporadic debates about the name in parliament, the press, Whitehall, and the Palace. It shows how a small group of civil servants defended the name against objections from a range of people who worried that it compromised the Crown or the Government in their relationships with colonial, former colonial, and British citizens. At the core of this defense of the name, I argue, was a nostalgia for empire that sought to defuse its legacy. The name was not problematic or offensive, its defender’s argued, but quaint. The Order was transmuted almost overnight from an imperial to a national one, in the process forgetting its roots in imperial politics and ideology. By the beginning of the twenty-first century this meant that British citizens of imperial descent were effectively offered a deal: accept this nostalgic version of empire in order to be included, or reject it and be alienated from a widely publicized and generally popular national institution. In other words, the Order of the British Empire now offers official inclusion at the price of forgetting empire.

    Toby Harper
    Toby Harper is an assistant professor of history at Providence College, Rhode Island. His latest article, “The Order of the British Empire After the British Empire,” appears in issue 52.3 of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes d’Histoire and is available here for FREE for a limited time: https://doi.org/10.3138/cjh.ach.52.3.05

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