Centre for Internet & Society

Details of a session proposed by Akriti Rastogi, Ishani Dey, and Sagorika Singha for the Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List.


Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List - Call for Sessions

Session Plan

The session will comprise of three segments, where we shall analyse and highlight the form that is “List” in its multifarious inhabitations. From the much talked about spaces of the Hindi Film Industry to unfolding the dynamics of WhatsApp Groups, and finally to the listicles of violence and terror, the session will pose questions and argue for the malleability and limitations of the form. The obsession to finish a to do list and scheduling tasks around lists, makes list making one of the highest priority task in the big data age. The session will engage in unravelling these dynamics as well as texture its implications in varied spaces.

Paper 1: The Grapevine List - Hindi Film Industry Professionals Post #MeToo [Akriti Rastogi, PhD Candidate (Cinema Studies), School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University]

In the age of data big data enlightenment (Byung Chul Han, 2017), the statistical tool of list making makes a comeback with a vengeance. List as a form of data-design enumerates and informs at a glance. When there are unending social media posts of harassment narratives shaking the readers (who might just be acknowledging the mobilization of social media into a movement), a list becomes an escape from the detailed unnerving and ugly truths. A red list of perpetrators scours many small to large scale films, but the voices against the powerful allegedly remain mum. In the ‘filmy’ world of filmmaking professionals, Izzat (Honour) finds poetic justice in a small way in this moment, but does it culminate into a change? An assistant director in a field interview spoke of the horror stories from a shoot, when a powerful actor targeted a crew professional. The said actor however may never find a mention on the list. Despite the social media emancipation – and what have you, the powerful remain in the white-washed limelight spiced with scandalous details that never filter out from the PR barricade.

On an entertainment channel, a veteran actress spills the beans on the working conditions in the maligned and besotted Hindi Film Industry. This sparks off a chain reaction, and in the following days, Twitter becomes a testimonial sharing courtroom. The press quotes it as the arrival of #MeToo and #TimesUp in the ‘Bollywood’ from the ‘Hollywood’. While a formal list is not abbreviated to gasp at the morbid working conditions that men and women face at the glamorous film industry, the survivor stories become a staple for transmedia channels. But where is the list? The absence of the list making aside from the Indian Express Article dated October 11, 2018 points to an important power driven working culture and network of the Hindi Film Industry. In the case of Hindi Film industry, the list has been talked about more in terms of the survivors than the perpetrators. The absence then of a #MeToo list indicates a power dynamic here. While in case of other media industries, the perpetrators have been terminated from their working projects, here the powers that be have tried to salvage the money by transferring the projects to bigger and more powerful media companies in the market. The message is clear, more the power , more the PR, less the risk of being named and shamed. This paper will map out the nuances of the absence of this “list” in the wake of #MeToo moment. While the lists form an intrinsic part of the hearsay and grapevine among professionals working in the Hindi film industry, there is an absence of a formal crowdsourced list like in case of #LoSHA. What then can be said about the industry’s working dynamics, and how does this hearsay list become a marker for the professionals to manoeuvre their daily work becomes the key analysis of this segment.

Paper 2: Most Disturbing [Ishani Dey, PhD Candidate (Cinema Studies), School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University]

During the era of analogue tape, video circuits were replete with rumors of an underground network of snuff/gore video productions, which featured actual murder and torture caught on tape. It was speculated that there was a lucrative market for these videos, which was being cashed in by shadowy figures. However, whenever a snuff film surfaced in the mainstream, it turned out to be a simulation of crime, as opposed to real acts of violence. This changed with the emergence of the internet, which hosted a subculture dedicated to snuff/gore videos. These included websites and forums where video producers would often be in dialogue with their viewers. These communities consisted of snuff/gore aficionados who prided themselves on their ability to be able to distinguishing ‘real crime’ from mere simulations of violence. Speculations over authenticity dominated conversations on these forums, which even witnessed creators of snuff/gore taking extra measures to prove the authenticity of their product. For instance, in 2012 the headquarters of the ruling party in Canada received six packages which contained severed body parts of a victim whose death had been featured in a video which was circulating on the snuff forum, GoreGrish. Such stories were not uncommon in snuff/gore sites, which circulated videos that were often linked to crimes under investigation, at times leading to apprehending perpetrators. Many videos from such snuff/gore sites (even those that are now defunct) are often curated on mainstream video sharing platforms like YouTube, where their ‘shock value’ is highlighted through listicles like the ‘top 5 most disturbing videos on the internet (Snuff edition)’ or ‘5 Real MURDER VIDEOS You Can't Find on the INTERNET’. While the desire to capitalize on clickbait can be one motivator, snuff/gore videos have traditionally (and continued) to thrive only in niche circuits. I am therefore interested in interrogating the function of the listicle in showcasing snuff/gore content. In specific, who hosts these listicles? What kind of videos are chosen? How are the chosen clusters received? And, finally, what function do these listicles serve in the larger network of snuff/gore subcultures?

Paper 3: The Anatomy of a WhatsApp List [Sagorika Singha, PhD Candidate (Cinema Studies), School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University]

The WhatsApp list or group is one rapidly growing communication platforms at present. As the usage of this application rises, so does one’s chances of being in a WhatsApp group. There is a group for everything - for booking portals to share online tickets, for news publications to send their latest news, for workgroups to communicate outside formal communication channels, for students, for teachers, for people selling handmade products among many others with both crafty and well-meaning intentions. In the early days of WhatsApp, being a part of such groups was not only useful but perhaps even had some associated novelty. However, with the continued mushrooming of various groups and their corresponding increase in reach, WhatsApp groups have mutated into something more formidable. I am interested in unfolding the avenues generated by this cross-platform messaging application which owing to its encryption makes conversations hard to trace. The puerile group formations in WhatsApp has grown into a mechanism of self-forming lists wherein, at times, participants are involuntarily included. The participants have different patterns of presence in such WhatsApp groups. This paper compares the growing mundanity of such list-making with the casual readiness observed in sharing information via such platforms. I consider such WhatsApp groups as lists of users. What are the dynamics that lead to the creation of such lists? How can we read into such forms of network formation? What fuels the propagation of such lists and what does it say about our current communication practices? Just the way users have become immune to the content and their presence in such groups, it has also become routine for them to share the content. The habit of sharing becomes as mundane as the habit of being participants in multiple groups, with their own purposes and directions. As participants, we are unsure both about the groups we will be added to in the future as well as the multiple lists that the contents shared in a group will end up in. This organic network formation is what gives power to such groups and explains their existence and ramifications which we have been witnessing in the contemporary time.

Session Team

Akriti Rastogi is a PhD candidate at the Cinema Studies department of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her current work proposes to trace the design of monetization channels of cinema effects in a new media environ. She has previously worked as a radio broadcast producer at All India Radio, New Delhi.

Ishani Dey is working on her PhD in Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her current project seeks to analyse some of the ways in which the body-technology ensemble has changed with the rise of the digital. While every new image making technology since the mid-nineteenth century has reconfigured the human body, this project is dedicated to understanding the implications of twenty-first century digital technologies and the internet on bodies that inhabit the screens of the ‘post-cinematic’.

Sagorika Singha is a doctoral candidate in the department of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her areas of interest include cinema, subculture, queer studies, technoculture, post­-cinema, new mediascape, and digital societies. Her ongoing doctoral work virtually reimagines the contested region of North-east India following the arrival and popularity of mobile media and media-sharing technologies.


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