CALL FOR PAPERS – 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (Long Beach)

APCAM 2014 Call for Papers

The 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (APCAM 2014) will be held on Thursday, November 20 (at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach Hotel) in Long Beach, California. APCAM is a one-day satellite meeting affiliated with the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. The goal of APCAM is to bring together researchers from various theoretical perspectives to present focused research on auditory cognition, perception, and aurally guided action. APCAM is a unique meeting in its exclusive focus on the perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of audition. Another unique aspect of APCAM is that it recently has become a FREE EVENT FOR ALL ATTENDEES.

The Organizing Committee welcomes not only empirical, but also general theoretical and methodological submissions on a variety of auditory topics, including (but not limited to) the following areas:

Localization, motion perception, and spatial cognition
Object, event, and pattern perception
Aurally guided action and navigation
Auditory scene analysis
Timing and attention
Pitch, loudness, and timbre perception
Music perception, cognition, and performance
Comparative auditory processing
Behavioral neuroscience
Speech
Memory and source identification

Submissions should include an abstract of 300 words or less, the title of the proposed presentation, names and institutional affiliation information for all contributing authors as they should appear in the conference program, as well as e-mail contact information for the primary/submitting author. Abstracts should be submitted online by following the Submit link on the APCAM website (www.apcam.us); this submission portal is expected to become active prior to the end of June. Authors also can communicate directly about submissions with the Chair of the Organizing Committee at hallmd@jmu.edu.

Each submission also should indicate whether there is a preference for an oral or poster presentation. The committee will make every effort to accommodate presentation preferences, though it may not be possible to honor all requests. Given the limited number of oral presentations, authors traditionally have only been permitted a single oral presentation. If there are more accepted abstracts with an oral presentation preference than there are available presentation slots, preference will be given to papers judged to represent the strongest contributions, as well as to participants who did not deliver an oral presentation at the immediately preceding APCAM.

Additionally, the Organizing Committee welcomes proposals representing either a cluster of 3-4 related abstracts or a possible (45- to 60-minute) panel discussion on a unified topic. Related abstracts can be submitted separately, along with a separate abstract (still 300 words or less) from the coordinating author. Proposals for panel discussions will only require this latter type of abstract. The abstract from the coordinating author should indicate the motivation for, and the nature of, the proposed session, including a brief overview of the fundamental issue(s) that it hopes to address. A listing of contributing authors for the session also should be provided, along with a brief statement about what each author will discuss. Such abstracts are expected to be included in the printed program if a proposal is accepted. Preference will be given to proposed sessions that cut across research domains and that have important theoretical implications and/or practical applications. Additionally, panelists for proposed sessions should be selected based upon their areas of expertise, and thus their ability to actively contribute to the discussion. Panel discussions should be designed to allow for at least 10-15 minutes of questions/participation from the audience either at the end of the session or interspersed throughout the panel discussion.

The deadline for submission of abstracts and all program proposals is October 1. While this traditional deadline is very close to the conference date, all authors are expected to be notified about the status of their submission very rapidly after the submission deadline. Travel and reservation information can be located through the APCAM website (www.apcam.us), which includes a link to details found on the Psychonomic Society site (http://www.psychonomic.org/general-information).

If you are interested in attending APCAM, but do not anticipate being a contributing author, then you can register simply by sending a brief e-mail that includes your name and affiliation to hallmd@jmu.edu. Contributing authors will be registered automatically, but are asked to indicate at the time of submission which authors are expected to attend the meeting.

Phenomenological Experience in Music: Between a Referential and Absolute Approach

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Last weekend, experts across the board in the field of music and science convened to present Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music. Presented by the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at University of California San Diego, the symposium brought together the fields of music, psychology, computational and affective neuroscience, ethnomusicology, composition and education.

Organized by a series of four talks entitled Systems, Communication, Transmission and Translation, and Convergence, the symposium played host to a multitude of research and education in a musically unifying setting. The panels of the day covered topics including the temporal dynamics of neural processing (Mark Tramo, UCLA), phenomenological experience in music (David Borgo, UCSD), music and language in early development (Gwendolyn McGraw, artist/educator), and the speech-to-song illusion (Diana Deutsch, UCSD).

One dialogue I found to be of particular interest was the closing discourse of the first panel. Originating in conversation with the differing approaches to creating music, the dialogue surrounded American musicologist Leonard B. Meyer’s two theories of music and emotion. Referential composition tends to use association and experience as main creative tools, whereas absolute composition relies on solely intramusical structures and relationships. As these two theories (which might also be translated into nature vs. nurture) are not mutually exclusive, they were broadly debated. While songwriter Mark Tramo provided a case for the referential composition process, expressing an opinion that popular music is mainly associative/emotion-driven and serious music absolute, composer Lei Liang offered a more integrative, alternative estimation.

In describing his experience upon coming to UCSD, Liang spoke in regard to a newer, particular generation of composers:

“It’s a very interesting tension. The music can make you not only have fun, but also… you can cry with it, because you can tell that they’re not just creating an absolute piece that engages their brain, but in fact I was amazed by how much trauma, how much pain and joy they’re open to bringing into the public arena. As a way of responding, I feel like the composers and what they are willing to engage with in their material has been changing a great deal, and there is this kind of merge from the performer’s point of view as well. There is a lot of interaction taking place.”

While the referential style relies more heavily on calling upon experience from the past (frequently resulting in the release of oxytocin or dopamine in the composer’s brain), the absolutist method has strictly to do with music and expectancies generated by tonal relationships, and thus focuses more prominently on theory, structure and analysis.

Building on his prior explanation of the role music plays in phenomenological experience, Professor David Borgo offered concise thoughts in regard to the referential/absolute dichotomy:

“For me, it does often come back to the relationship between what I do as a performer, creator, and improviser, and the kinds of questions I’m interested in. When one is thrust into that moment of musicking, in some ways, there is no dividing line between the things that you bring to bear on the moment, be it a lifetime of experience, or dealing with/expecting certain things. Ultimately to open oneself to the moment means to be aware of all of the referents, all of the context that’s happening at that moment, the rich complexity of the room, and the people you’re playing with and for. For me, it can all come down to the fact that these sets of resources that might seem distinct are also thrust together in the musicking moment.”

The symposium also included noteworthy talks by ethnomusicologist Alex Khalil on The Gamelan Project, Dane Harwood on music as a communication system, Gwendolyn McGraw on music and language in early development, composer Katarina Rosenberger on the complex relationship we have with our voice, and principle of the Museum School Carl Hermanns on the importance of music in education. Building on this year’s momentum, the conference is set to reoccur next year to again provide a platform to confront and address divergent attitudes and philosophies in the understanding of music and science.

Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment

 “Here, at a point when the will is the highest danger, art approaches, as a saving, healing magician. Art alone can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs which permit living to continue.”

- Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Though I’ve held an interest in music’s healing capacities for many years, it’s only recently come to my attention just how quickly the field is growing. Music therapy is a practice in which an MT (Music Therapist) uses music-based interventions to address non-music goals with a client. As music is multi-modal, engages the brain and body across multiple domains, and is adaptable for people of all abilities, it continues to show promise in the medical field. With the growing prevalence of conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s as well as the steady improvement in diagnostic means, the demand for music therapy professionals in higher than ever.

With the many recent developments in the field of dementia research, I have often found myself in dialogue with friend and colleague James Gutierrez (Ph.D. in progress, UCSD), especially in regard to current criticism of music therapy. As we both appreciate the consequence of the more basic, affective measures of music in creative practice as it applies to the therapeutic setting while retaining a firm belief in the necessity of empirical, effect-based evidence, I’ve had the pleasure of benefitting from many edifying conversations of this nature.

In music therapy, a common issue arises from the type manner research is conducted within the field, which is often achieved in the form of anecdotes, observations, and more qualitative data. As this is the case, many professionals and scholars in the field of medicine tend to “write off” such evidence as circumstantial and struggle to find the distinction between music therapy and “music as therapy.”

In the recent paper, Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment (2014) Gutierrez does an excellent job of addressing many of these current issues, choosing to focus most intently on the application of music therapy in patients suffering from dementia. Coming from a place of unique understanding, he combines solid, objective exploration in conjunction with more personal, poignant observations into concepts of identity, agency, and consciousness seldom found in an often dispassionate world of research. The following edit consists of excerpts I have found to be of particular interest to the layman and scientist alike. The paper may be read in its entirety here.

 Medical science in the modern age has, in the spirit of modernism, delighted in expunging any and all traces of the magical and mystical from the proper, scientific treatment of the human body. Even while archeological evidence suggests music’s wide centrality to medicinal healing practices for untold eras of human history[1], the Cartesian dualism that yet pillars modern medicine provides reason to station music as a matterless matter of the mind, with medical practice operates as the material treatment of the body. For inasmuch as medical science is a category whose domain includes anatomical structures and physiological processes, only health practices subject to empirical testing, measurement, observation, and quantification are considered proper ‘medication’. However, as the research of recent years has begun to unearth the complex physiological effects (not just affects) of music listening and musical practice, the critical gaze of medical science is beginning to shift, poised to reasonably reevaluate the efficacy of this timeless healing magician not just of the mind, but also of the brain and body.

The American Music Therapy Association defines Music Therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Outside the field of music therapy, particularly within burgeoning cognitive and neurological research, viable theories that attempt to explain the physical mechanics are gaining traction within the medical community. This research could be furthered by continuing to build upon an embodied and enactive approach to cognition, as such an ecological perspective not only shifts the aesthetic conversations away from stale romantic dualisms within artistic communities, but invites all who make the human body their subject to reconsider their most basic assumptions.

Among the most common areas of music therapy is in its implementation in the treatment (used loosely) of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy is not only gaining popularity among clinicians in end-of-life care for its astounding cost/benefit ratio, but is also spreading as the rising occurrences of these diseases increase demand. In anticipation of this rise several organizations have begun to push for renewed focus on prevention and treatment. On February 26th, 2014, actor/comedian Seth Rogen testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and promote his research-funding charities.[2]  This comes on the heels of the historic “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2012, calling for preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

This central focus has been brought to my attention through my own grandmother’s rapidly declining cognitive state and subsequent placement in the care of a hospice facility. To witness a loved one’s gradual decline into self-obscurity through loss of memory and awareness is not only tragic, as anyone who has done so will agree, but also perplexing, precisely because it challenges our conception of identity, not only theirs but ours as well. Once, after a particularly discouraging visit with my grandmother, when for the first time it took a matter of minutes for her to recognize her own daughter, my mother confessed “she is no longer my mother; not the mother that I know.” Any theory of consciousness desiring to describe the nature of the human state of mind when at its most ‘stable’ must also be tested to account for consciousness when at its most volatile- when autonoesis fails and all is a static cloud, when active agency slowly melts into a passive patiency, when all psychosocial capacities disintegrate involuntarily and nothing remains but inert solipsism. It is through studying this transitory final act when inner lights begin to dim and everything becomes strange and unfamiliar, that we can truly test what is meant by consciousness, and where all notions of mind and body essentially converge. Since music research from virtually all angles repeatedly reveal how immensely deep it delves into our individual identity and how expansively broad it affords a robust social identity, it is only too obvious for music to be deployed in the intervention of a fading consciousness.

Much has been written about music therapy as a tool to improve quality of life, if not also to slow the symptoms of dementia in the best scenarios, with most reports centering on qualitative research and anecdotal accounts. This softer focus on success stories may be par for the course, after all, end-of-life research is a tender field, and family members and medical staff typically have much more on their mind than entertaining the abstract probing of a curious consciousness theorist. Thus, for better or for worse, many of the most salient questions are left unasked.

Music as Therapy

At this point it is important to review the recent literature concerning the implementation of music in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The slow march towards a pharmaceutical cure feels optimistic, but does not seem promising. Moreover the monetary cost and side effects from the drugs currently available upset the cost/benefit ratio when considering the overall quality of life for an individual in palliative and hospice care. These factors have contributed to the growth of stimulatory therapies, including music therapy, in its appeal to virtually all involved (except, presumably, the pharmaceutical corporations). Music therapy, specifically, has grown more than any other due to its incredible cost/benefit ratio. The more we learn about neuroplasticity, and the deeply embodied/embedded/enactive nature of music cognition, the stronger the case become for music as a viable therapeutic treatment.[3]

Perhaps the most promising neurological support to the claims and efforts of music therapy hinge on the emerging studies within the mirror neuron system [MNS]. Though not much can be said for certain about these structures, particularly as they relate to humans, their ‘discovery’ has nonetheless provided an exciting new platform for discussing virtually any field of human interaction and learning, encouraging interdisciplinary discussions, and fostering theoretical models that render a classical cognitive model increasingly problematic through emphasizing inter/intra connectivity, and shared cognition.[4]

Building on MNS theories, one recent model offers a strong base toward a more substantive base for music therapy is the Shared Affective Motion Experience (SAME) model, which suggests that musical sound is perceived not only in terms of the auditory signal, but also in terms of the intentional, hierarchically organized sequences of expressive motor acts behind the signal. Thus, the expressive dynamics of heard sound gestures may be interpreted in terms of the expressive dynamics of personal vocal and physical gestures.

According to SAME, in observing the actions of others our MNS continuously compares predicted motions (kinematics) with observed motions in attempt to minimize the prediction error, enabling the observer to determine the most likely cause of the action at all levels: intention, goal, motor, and kinematic. This pull toward minimized prediction error would explain the effectiveness of personalized iPods over live musical interaction on reducing anxiety for dementia/AD patients. In addition to providing a harder base for the previously cited Psychosocial Model of music therapy, the SAME model also correlates to theories of embodied mind and intersubjective consciousness.

To regard the practice of music therapy as a psychotherapeutic stimulation therapy, and a marginal one at that, is understandable from a classical cognitivist perspective in which music exists representationally as auditory percepts to be processed with limited physiological impact. This is perhaps why present discussions regard music therapy as limited to its affective capacities in emotional support, palliative quality of life, and feelings of happiness; categorically separate from pharmaceutical medications which are understood to truly effect ones physiology. However, in positing a more deeply embodied perspective of music as a perturbation/compensation in a richly physical dynamic interaction between bodily experience and neural processes, there emerges a view of cognition that troubles the affect/effect dichotomy, and with it, assumptions of what criterion constitute legitimate vs. illegitimate medical treatments.

Music as therapy has its limitations, to be sure, and music therapy stands to discredit its case by overstating what relatively little research has yet been able to substantiate its claimed miracles. Becoming ever clearer, however, is that its limitations are not well described by the standard cognitivist model that dominates medical and psychological sciences. As embodied cognition grows in establishment, the doors widen for music therapy, and other traditionally holistic care practices, to further state, test, and prove their case as a valid treatment in the care of the human mind, particularly an embodied mind.

pic7

 

[1] Conrad, Claudius, Music for healing: from magic to medicine, The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9757, pg. 1980, Dec. 2010

[2] Seth Rogen Opening Statement (C-SPAN), Feb. 26th, 2014 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHqx3-mfHAY

[3] N. Simmons-Stern, R. Deason, B. Brandler, B. Frustace, M. O’Conner, B. Ally, and A. Budson, Music-Based Memory Enhancement in Alzheimer’s Disease: Promise and Limitations, Neuropsychologia. 2012 December ; 50(14): 3295–3303

[4] There is some debate whether or not mirror neurons support classical representationalism

 

UCSD, Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center Launch Convergence 2014: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

The Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at UC San Diego, in collaboration with Mozart and the Mind present:

Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

A unique symposium that brings together multiple streams of music research and knowledge, Convergence is not only a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue but also an opportunity for collaboration. Neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers, and music therapists will participate in a series of panel discussions moderated by music researchers from the Temporal Damics of Learning Center. This multidisciplinary dialogue will extend into an evening poster session.

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 8am to 7pm
Conrad Prebys Music Center, Room127, UC San Diego
Map and directions to Conrad Prebys Music Center (CPMC)

For further information, registration, or webcast registration, please visit:
http://convergencetdlc2014.eventbrite.com

Registration: $45 general, $15 student

Featured Panelists

David Borgo, Diana Deutsch, Dane Harwood, Carl Hermanns, Mari Jones, Layne Kalbfleisch, Lei Liang, Andy McGraw, Gabriella Mussachia, Roger Reynolds, Katharina Rosenberger, Michael Thaut, Concetta Tomaino

Information provided by the UCSD Press Room

Convergence

 

 

 

 

Songwriters, Composers and Publishers Come Together for 31st Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards

“It all starts with a blank piece of paper…all of the sudden, a song comes into the room. How do you describe what that feels like? All of the sudden you’re not alone.”

-ASCAP President Paul Williams*

31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards - Show

Tom Petty, fun. and Other Top Names in Music Honored at 31st Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards

Los Angeles, CA, April 23, 2014: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) hosted its 31st annual Pop Music Awards tonight at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. The star-studded event, which was attended by hundreds of songwriters, recording artists and music industry leaders, paid special tribute to rock legend Tom Petty and Grammy-winning band fun., and honored the songwriters and publishers of the most performed ASCAP songs on the 2013 pop charts.

 Top awards were presented to:

Legendary rock star Tom Petty was honored with the ASCAP Founders Award, which is the most prestigious honor that ASCAP gives to songwriters who have made pioneering contributions to music by inspiring and influencing their fellow music creators. Each recipient is a musical innovator who possesses a unique style of creative genius that will enrich generations to come. Past recipients include Ashford & Simpson, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Annie Lennox, Sir Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson, Carly Simon, Patti Smith, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry(Aerosmith), Tom Waits, Ann & Nancy Wilson (Heart), Stevie Wonder and Neil Young.

31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards - Awards

The 31st annual Pop Music Awards falls on the eve of the 9th annual ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO, a three-day conference dedicated to songwriting and composing. This year’s EXPO features Keynote Sessions with Dr. Luke, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Gustavo Santaolalla in conversation with Paul Williams; Master Sessions with Jermaine Dupri, John Powell, Amy Grant, Mike WiLL Made It, John Beasley, Bear McCreary and Morten Lauridsen; plus numerous performances, panels, workshops, one-on-one sessions, song critiquing, networking events, product displays, state-of-the-art technology demonstrations and more. The EXPO takes place April 24th-26th at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. For more details, please visit www.ascap.com/expo.

*Paul Williams is a Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar-winning member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, known the world over for classic songs like “The Rainbow Connection,” “We’ve Only Just Begun” and many more. He has earned two previous Grammys, for “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)” and his songs from The Muppet Movie. As President and Chairman of the Board of ASCAP since 2009, Williams is also a leading spokesman for music creators in the digital age.

Image 1: HOLLYWOOD, CA- APRIL 23: ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams, ASCAP Founders Award recipient Tom Petty and Jackson Browne onstage at the 31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards at the Loews Hollywood Hotel on April 23, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tonya Wise/PictureGroup)

Image 2: HOLLYWOOD, CA- APRIL 23: Mary Lambert performs “She Keeps Me Warm,” based on the Grammy-nominated song “Same Love” that she co-wrote with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, during the 31st annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards at the Loews Hollywood Hotel on April 23, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)

Dr. Luke, Amy Grant and Gustavo Santaolalla at 9th Annual ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO

ascap expo 2014 image The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO will take place April 24th-26th 2014, at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. The ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO is the premier conference for songwriters, composers and producers. The three-day event covers all genres of music and includes one-on-one sessions, networking events, creative and interactive panels, business, legal and legislative discussions, round-table workshops, product displays, state-of-the-art technology demonstrations, performances and more. This year’s EXPO programming features keynote by Dr. Luke, “We Create Music”: Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams in Conversation, Heart In Motion: Master Session with Amy Grant, and live performances by Desmond Child, Shane McAnally, Beth Orton, Ray Parker, Jr., and Richie Sambora.

In addition to signature keynote presentations, master classes, hitmaker panels and artist performances, ASCAP will once again bring together a diverse and gifted group of music creators and industry professionals to participate in a extensive range of panels designed to support music creators at every stage of their career. The EXPO will also provide attendees with several opportunities to get their music heard – and receive honest feedback and advice – through a variety of panels and songwriter showcases.

To kick off the EXPO, on Wednesday, April 23rd, Loews Hollywood Hotel will host the 31th annual ASCAP Pop Awards, honoring Tom Petty with the prestigious ASCAP Founders Award for his exceptional contribution to music as a pioneering songwriter.

 

 

 

 

“Jesus Christ, What Happened?”: Rape Culture in the World of Kids

 “Casper: Jesus Christ, what happened?”

-Final dialogue, “Kids” (1995)

Polaroid by Larry Clark, 1993

 

Created by Ernest G. Bormann, fantasy-theme criticism was created to provide insights into the shared worldview of groups of rhetors.[1] Through studying the processes of communication in small groups, Robert Bales found that group fantasizing or dramatizing often included an increase of excitement, a quickening of the tempo, and a tendency for participants to forego their self-consciousness. By extending Bales’ fantasizing phenomenon into Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory (based on the assumption that communication creates reality, and that symbols found in this communication can create a shared reality) and fantasy-theme method, one may also apply this criticism to social movements, political propaganda, organizational communication, and other various types of rhetoric.

To elaborate on symbolic convergence theory, it is important to note that as a part of communication creating reality, “the chaotic and disorderly sensory world is organized and made manageable by the symbols that are devised to dominate it.”[2] When in the midst of social, religious, cultural or societal disorder symbols are introduced and agreed upon, a kind of tangible, impermeable clarity becomes possible through linguistic expression. In 1967, Robert L. Scott argued that rhetoric was not intact for the purpose of lending usefulness to truth, but of creating truth. Just as the metaphors of the brain are manipulated and molded with the advancement of research, these metaphors and symbols are connected to the reality we define and experience. When two or more symbols converge to create a shared reality, the second assumption of symbolic convergence theory is fulfilled in convergence. It is through this very means that humans commence in building a shared consciousness, and achieve mutual understanding. Although the rhetoric’s actual literature is essential, because fantasy is the “creative and imaginative interpretation of events”[3], it is the sharing of the word, phrase or statement – the message itself – that is seen as most significant.

Within feminism, rape culture is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of society where the prevailing attitudes may allow for, turn a blind eye toward, or even excuse rape.[4] In the 1995 film “Kids,” often criticized director Larry Clark paints an extremely controversial picture of a group of teenagers’ daily life in urban Manhattan. Through a lens of glorifying addiction, manipulation, high-risk sexual behavior and violence, rape culture is introduced, and permeated. With Clark’s provided insight into some of the darkest depravities faced universally by youth today, one may use fantasy criticism to identify the three themes necessary in creating the drama to describe the world from a group perspective: settings, characters, and actions.

The setting of the scene is inner-city New York in the mid 1990s, away from most adult supervision, resulting in what the New York Times then labeled “a wake-up call to the modern world.” The setting is one of substance abuse, the rise of the AIDS epidemic, and rape culture. Although the lone teenager may serve as minor protagonists (notably the female leads Jenny and Ruby) offering the brief glimpse of hope for humanity in their efforts at solidarity and moral responsibility, “Kids” has no heroes. As main characters (male) Telly and Casper make no attempt to hide their motives, their “fallen” nature is easily identifiable. As Ruby and Jenny’s principle objective is to warn others of the rapidly spreading AIDS virus (perpetuated by the leading men’s sexual behaviors), Telly and Casper’s main intent remains to engage irresponsibility, recklessness and manipulation in seemingly any mode possible. When Jenny learns she has contracted AIDS via Telly, the sole individual she has ever had relations with, she sets out on a mission to locate, inform, and stop him. Unfortunately, as reality often echoes, this undertaking ends in atrocious tragedy, with Jenny unknowingly and unconsciously left in the hands of Casper to confirm the ultimate expression of rape culture.

Due to the highly sensitive nature of the offense, it is estimated that anywhere between seventy-five to ninety-five percent of sexual assault crimes go unreported.[5] Unfortunately, this makes the publicizing of unambiguous statistics in regard to sexual violence a challenge. Regardless, it is no secret that many have dealt with such tragedy personally, or by means of someone they know. It is because of this singularity that the dramatizing and sharing of a group fantasy become possible. While the release of this film caused much concern for multiple people groups, it is safe to say much discourse has been had surrounding the depicted rape in the final scene of the film. In 2000, Roger Ebert plainly stated “Kids is the kind of movie that needs to be talked about afterward.” When a piece of rhetoric enfolding a reality that gives way to this type of reactive conversation occurs, it forms a rhetorical vision called fantasy type. By establishing this fantasy type, a larger rhetorical vision becomes possible, capable of providing a “credible interpretation of reality.”[6] When a group is able place new events and experiences into familiar patterns, a shared consciousness is either born or reinforced, and the rhetorical vision may forge a larger rhetorical community lending to a new, shared reality. It is through this shared reality that motives for change are borne, and carried out. This is one of the predominant reasons a fantasy-theme critique is appropriate in the analysis of social and political movements.

In the same way that diegetic and non-diegetic music take turns in film, so do the characters and audience take turns in dramatizing the shared fantasies. As assuredly countless viewers of the rhetoric have engaged in the shared rhetorical vision surrounding the portrayal of rape culture in the film, so too have the protagonists and antagonists performing. The female roles (specifically Jenny and Ruby) are often seen complaining or protesting in regard to the many ways they are objectified by men. During these conversations, namely one discussion at a sleepover, the classic idea of the sharing of fantasy-themes and a rhetorical vision is frequently evident. Each time one of the females describes something (be it an act or attitude) that the male desires/requires, she is met with the exchange of shared laughter, bodily posture shifts, moans in annoyance and other general expressions of commonality. The male roles (not only Telly and Casper, but frequently the supporting actors throughout) are also seen sharing fantasy-themes and a rhetorical vision, only from the opposite perspective. Whereas the women desire to be independent and empowered, the men are portrayed holding the desire to conquer, occupy and manipulate. This is apparent in arguably every scene of “Kids” in which a male character is present.

Although many fantasy themes are exhibited either by image, dialogue or concept, the two chief opposing forces revolve around a patriarchal archetype of domination, the expressed desire for control either by subversion, persuasion or force, and the constant underlying (yet apparent) representation of rape culture. With the females expressing either the desire to transcend this theme (or the disputably feigned façade of “female empowerment” by giving in to the male’s primal desires) and the males expressing little more than a dogged determination to obey their animalistic urges at all costs, the audience is provided a robust platform on which to fashion their own version of collective consciousness, rhetorical vision, and shared reality. In a culture where the atrocities depicted in the film occur far too often in reality, through questionable to be sure, “Kids” remains a film hailed by many to be a documentary style work of art, succeeding at very least in bringing to light some very important issues.

Fantasy-theme criticism uniquely illuminates the artifact because it allows for the deconstruction of a complex and sensitive rhetoric into smaller, more tangible symbols. As a final example, one of the most telling fantasy themes portrayed may be found within the film’s 90 second trailer. Regarding the symbol of travel, the male is often seen running, jumping, or most importantly, skateboarding. In contrast, the female is seen walking slowly from the clinic, stumbling in a club under the influence of an accidental hallucinogenic ingestion, and despairingly transported in a male-driven taxicab. Where the male is free to participate with his surroundings with freedom as he chooses, the female is constantly depicted as slower, more ‘weighed down,’ and restrained. The film begins, and ends, with the complete theft of female innocence. By giving this type of heartbreak a voice to speak, we may not only open previously nonexistent dialogue circuits and enable the unifying of diverse audiences, but pave the way for “affecting the nature and outcome of public controversies.”[7] It is not only women who suffer from this culture – males are also victims. Overall, few are immune to the tragedy the loss of innocence through the loss of personal will. When the devastating, horrifying utilization of the word “rape” becomes heard in the same breath as “culture,” we’ve no choice but to ask ourselves, “Jesus Christ, what happened?”

Polaroid by Larry Clark, 1993

 

 

 

[1] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 121

[2] Ibid, p. 122

[3] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 123

[4] Williams, Joyce E, George Ritzer, J. Michael Ryan, ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 493

[5] “Without consent: A report on the joint review of the investigation and prosecution of rape offences.” Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. January 2007, p. 8. Retrieved 24 March 24, 2014.

[6] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 125

[7] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 130