Keynote Spotlight: Jason Middleton

Indexical Violence, Transmodal Horror: Screening the Slaughterhouse

Visiting Keynote: Jason Middletonjason_middleton

This talk examines the affective and political implications of animal slaughter imagery through a relational analysis of its framing in fictional horror film, mainstream expository documentary, activist video, and internet “reaction videos.” Depictions of the slaughterhouse challenge distinctions among fiction and documentary modes and between figurative and literal registers, producing distinctive forms of horror and spectatorial discipline. For example, animal imagery literalizes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s (Tobe Hooper, 1974) central metaphor of worker dispossession and its aftermath, redoubling the film’s horrifying effects. Conventional viewer identification with the characters’ vulnerability slides into a felt sense of shared vulnerability and mortality with the animals that serve as metaphor for these characters. In a corresponding but inverted relation between the figurative and the literal, Shaun Monson’s documentary film Earthlings (2005) and its viewer reaction videos reinvent the collective performance of terror and disgust among theatrical horror film audiences for a documentary context and for online platforms like YouTube. My analysis of horror as transmodal affect suggests new perspectives on discourses of animal rights and ethics, examining the potentials and limitations of a politics that proceeds from the collective experience and performance of horror and disgust.


Jason Middleton is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Director of Film and Media Studies at the University of Rochester. His work is inspired by his interest in the materiality of the medium and intersections of theory and practice. Middleton is the author of the monograph Documentary’s Awkward Turn: Cringe Comedy and Media Spectatorship (Routledge, 2014), coeditor with Roger Beebe on Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones (Duke University Press, 2007) and has published in the Cinema Journal, The Journal of Visual Culture, Popular Music, The Velvet Light Trap, and Afterimage. His current book project is Documentary’s Body: Instructional Aesthetics and Transmodal Affects, which examines film and media objects whose intimate pedagogies of bodily transformation operate through their transmodal properties.


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