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Kent Aesthetics Research Centre | Spring-Summer Events

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The Aesthetics Research Centre at the University of Kent is hosting several research events in the spring term:

Weds 6 March, 5pm, Jarman Studio 5 (Teams link here)

‘YouTube Video Essays and Aesthetics: Communication, Narrative, and Arthood’James MacDowell, University of Warwick

Abstract: This paper will examine some reasons why we might wish to call (some) YouTube videos audiovisual artworks and analyse a selection of YouTube video essays through this lens. Following a path familiar from early defences of the moving image as art, it concentrates first on demonstrating the potential of user-generated YouTube videos to create audiovisual narrative. However, whereas foundational definitions of narrative film as a distinctive artform needed to answer accusations that movies offered mere recordings of dramatic performances, defining the narrative potential of YouTube videos apparently requires answering a different accusation: that they offer mere recordings of communication. Using concepts drawn from the philosophy of art, narratology, and film studies, this paper proposes a distinction between audiovisual mediated communication and audiovisual narration, suggesting that many YouTube videos represent the latter. It goes on to demonstrate some of the platform’s narrative potentials, primarily via examples drawn from the genre of the YouTube video essay. This genre frequently offers interesting experiments with YouTube’s narrational conventions, especially the platform’s seemingly most characteristic (and straightforwardly communicative) aesthetic device: direct address. Examples of direct address being employed to create conventional and unconventional aesthetic effects will be compared and contrasted, and used to explore where the boundaries might lie between using YouTube for communication, narrative, and art.

Weds 13 March, 5pm, Jarman Studio 5 (Teams link to follow)

 ‘Cringe Overhang: the Perlocutionary Effects of Cringe Comedy’,Alexander Sparrow, Victoria University of Wellington.

Abstract: Cringe comedy can make people so uncomfortable, the cringe continues even after the comedy has stopped. This paper explains this effect, which I call “cringe overhang.” If audiences weakly connect to the characters, they laugh. If audiences strongly connect, they have a negative emotional response – say, struggling to watch, or wanting to leave the room. Peep Show (Clarke 2003-2015) is a perfect cringe comedy case study: shot from the point of view of its two main characters, it also presents their inner monologues, allowing for their embarrassment to be felt and “thought” by the viewer. Firstly, I argue cringe comedy jokes are illocutionary acts designed to provoke laughter through second-hand embarrassment. Secondly, I acknowledge that these jokes don’t always produce the desired perlocutionary effect of laughter – sometimes the joke is unable to cut through the embarrassment, merely leaving the viewer in a state of discomfort. Thirdly, drawing on the benign violation theory of McGraw and Warren (2010), I explain that the surplus of embarrassment is due to maximising the violation in the comedy while adding comparatively little benign sentiment. Finally, I argue that cringe comedy’s funniness is reliant on its lack of social psychological distancing. By leaving no room between the viewer and the character, embarrassment is maximised, the comedy is less benign (i.e. a stronger violation) and more polarising as a result. This explains i) why cringe comedy produces a comedic “overhang” in some viewers, where they continue to cringe even after the comedy has stopped, and ii) why cringe comedy produces a laughter response in some audiences, and stress responses in others. 

Alexander has toured widely as a stand-up comedian for over a decade and has featured on TVNZ’s Breakfast, TV3’s The Project, and PRIME TV’s Back Benches; and in The Wall Street Journal (US). He has spoken about philosophy of comedy at conferences in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Belgium, and Croatia. His paper on cringe comedy received the DANYS Award at the 2023 International Society of Humor Studies conference, the ISHS’s premiere graduate student award recognising excellence and promise in the field of humour studies. 

Monday 18 March, 6pm, Lupino Cinema (in-person event)

Screening and discussion of The Imposter, with David Brown, University of Exeter. A collaboration with the Lupino Film Club.

Summer term – dates TBC

Diarmuid Costello, University of Kent, on Rineke Dijkstra, Vulnerability, and Trust
Josh Landy, Stanford University, on Boiled Frog Fictions