How virtual are ghosts?
by Britta Rensing
As Jan couldn’get much out of the lecture on Sunday morning which was given to the group by Peter Bräunlein I will give a short report.
Asian ghost movies
In the perspective of the enlightenment the belief in spirits and ghosts is seen as being pure superstition. Adorno, who thought of superstition as an obstacle to enlightenment, claimed to get rid of it as to him “the disenchantment of the world means the extirpatation of animism” (Adorno/Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. 2002, 2). So how is it possible that so many postmodern ‘enlightened’ people are increasingly taking stock in ghost movies, especially Asian ghost movies?
When in 1987 the film “A Chinese Ghost Story” was released, it had an enormous impact on the horror film genre. The story included demons and fights, was a mixture of eastern and fantasy, of martial arts and horror, set in ancient China. The historical model for this kind of movie, which from then on has made a lively public appearance can be seen in the 14th century Wuxia novel tradition dealing with adventure stories of knights and the supernatural. One example is the story of “The Marshes of Mount Liang”, which in East Asia was also trasmitted via cartoons and films. Wuxia films date back to the Hong Kong cinema of the 1920s (Shaw Brothers Studio) and got even more popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The Wuxia films in the Hongkong cinema combined thriller, horror and mystery elements, and were also successful in Europe and the United States.
The new genre of ghost movies which emerged in southeast and east Asia in the 1990s the narratives of horror were located in an urban middle class surrounding. Examples are:
– Ringu (1998, “The Ring”), Hideo Nakata: most successful japanese film of all times, tells the storie of a cursed video tape and combines horror and technology. The plot is based on the novel “The Ring” by Koji Suzuki. As the film became popular, a korean as well as a US movie remake version were released soon and the story now has also sequels.
– Ju-on (2002, “The Grudge”), Shimizu Takashi, Japan: ghosts of deceased inhabitants of a house haunt new tenants and visitors. As it is unsually the case in asian ghost movies, this film has no happy end. Until now several sequels and remakes have been produced as well.
Double Vision (2002, “Shuan Tong”), Chen Kuo-Fu, Taiwan: telling about some apocalyptic Daoist sect, the movie contrasts a western scientific view and an eastern mysterious view. The film always points at the question of what is reality and what is imagination.
– The Eye (2002, “Jian Gui”), Oxide und Danny Pang, Hongkong: a young woman receives an organ transplant from a female spiritual medium.
– Dorm (2006, “Dek hor”) Songyos Sugmakanan, Thailand: a boy suffers from panick attacks at night in a haunted school and has to fight against his fear and mobbing.
– Inner Senses (2002, “yee do hung gaan”), Chi-Leung, Law Hongkong: starring famous actor Leslie Cheung who due to depessions jumped from a roof, just like the character in the movie.
Ghosts and popular worldviews
A well-known philosopher in the field of media theory is Jean Baudrillard who understands the “excess of reality” produced by the media as Hyperreality/Hyperrealism. Hyperreality to Baudrillard is what the media create when they use simulacra to simulate the invisible, and by this exceed reality. He points at the “vertiginous phantasm of exactitude” that constitutes a form of “dis-illusion and objectivity” whereby “the true […] shines with all the power of the false”. He emphasizes “the order of too much reference, too much truth, too much exactitude” (citations taken from Revenge on the Crystal: selected Writings on the Modern Object and its destiny. 1968-1983, 146-148). In The Ecstasy of Communication Baudrillard explains the role of the instant information broadcasted by images and the subject becoming absorbed in the screen for that visual information. For Baudrillard there is one counterstrategy, which is to stand up against the tyranny of this hyperreality, to work
“against the truth of the true, against the truer than the true […] against the obscenity of manifest”, calls on us to “reforge illusion, retrieve illusion – that ability […] to tear the same from the same” (Baudrillard. Seduction. 1990 , 183).
The dictatorship of the hyperreal can be broken by the illusionary.
In class we then watched some scenes from the US remake “The Ring”, which were quite impressive as they give a good example for the type of ghosts entering the screen in asian ghost movies and for the importance of technical devices for transition into the “real” world in the film.
Bräunlein prefers focussing on the audience, as he sees entertainment as a productive resource of cultural identity and as providing models for reality. The question is, by which methods is audience research to be carried out. The usual methods are, for example, questionaires, interviews, group discussions or discourse analysis. Which target group can be associated with this genre? Which research dimensions are to be covered, e.g. the presence of the dead, communication with ancestors? What is the impact of the combination and merging of media and technology ande ghosts? How can the bodily dimension be captured, e.g. the senses while watching a movie? Basicly it has to be decided on a rough sceme of goals of a research project: What will be the central focus, the target group, the research methods? In Literature sciences the scholar approaches ghost movies as texts which form the basis of their analysis. But to investigate these films from the perspective of a scholar of Religious science, one has to focus on the audience.