Mobilizing Images of Black Pain and Death through Digital Media: Visual Claims to Collective Identity After “I Can’t Breathe”
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Degree Granting Department
Humanities and Cultural Studies
Maria Cizmic, Ph.D.
Todd Jurgess, Ph.D.
Amy Rust, Ph.D.
Aisha Durham, Ph.D.
cultural trauma, Eric Garner, identification, remediation
In the wake of Eric Garner’s 2014 public execution at the hands of NYPD officers, online spaces such as Twitter saw an influx of remediated imagery referencing Ramsey Orta’s bystander cell phone video of Garner’s death. These images often explicitly reference the chokehold that killed Garner and/or they reappropriate Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe.” To what formal dimensions in Orta’s video are these remediated images responding? What broader cultural work is the creation of these images doing?
In this project, I regard Orta’s video as the point of entry for considering the cultural work of remediating images from it, as understanding its formal dimensions are necessary to recognizing the ways in which the remediated images attend to Garner’s body. I read this video using Scott Richmond’s revision of Christian Metz’s theory of cinematic identification to identify the concerning and compelling tension between over and under-identifying with onscreen subjects in Orta’s video, ultimately asserting that aligning with any body onscreen is ultimately a choice. Further, the remediated images attending to Garner’s body signal viewer’s chosen alignment with him or Orta, and claim Garner’s death as a socially constructed cultural trauma. These claims not only signal collective identification around the trauma on behalf of those who did not initially witness it, but also express belief in Garner’s experience despite a public discourse that continually emphasized his (and other black men’s) perceived violent potential.
Scholar Commons Citation
Kelly, Aryn, "Mobilizing Images of Black Pain and Death through Digital Media: Visual Claims to Collective Identity After “I Can’t Breathe”" (2019). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.