Symposium I
Symposium II
Exhibition / 52-Hour-Lab
Jean-Baptiste Joly
Vorbemerkungen zu
»Dealing with Fear«

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Since When and Why Are We Afraid
of the Future?

Bertrand Bacqué, Ingrid Wildi Merino
Beetween Fear as a Spectacle
and Interiorized Fear

Vadim Bolshakov
Genetic Roots of Instinctive
and Learned Fear

David N. Bresch
Von irrationalen Ängsten
zu versicherbaren Risiken

Paula Diehl
Dealing with Fear
The Mise en Scène of the SS
in National Socialist Propaganda

Björn Franke
Violent Machines for Troubled Times

Teresa Hubbard, Beate Söntgen
Home and Fear
An Email-Conversation
after the Symposium’s Talk

Iassen Markov, Stephan Trüby
Temple of Janus 2.0
The 5 Codes_Space of Conflict

Jürgen Mayer H., Henry Urbach
Mind the Gap
A Transcript of the Symposium’s Talk

Matthias Aron Megyeri
Sweet Dreams Security® Est. 2003
Notes from an Orwellian City

Jasmeen Patheja, Hemangini Gupta
Fear as Experienced
by Women in Their Cities

Ortwin Renn, Andreas Klinke
Von Prometheus zur Nanotechnologie
Der gesellschaftliche Umgang
mit Risiken und Bedrohungen

Gabi Schillig
The Politics of Lines.
On Architecture/War/Boundaries
and the Production of Space

Gerald Siegmund, Maren Rieger
Die Another Day: Dealing with Fear

Jens Martin Skibsted, Adam Thorpe
Liberty versus Security:
Bikes versus Bombs

Helene Sommer
High over the Borders
Stories of Hummingbirds, Crying Wolves,
and the Bird’s Eye View

Yi Shin Tang
Dealing with the Fear of Abuse
of Intellectual Property Rights
in a Globalized Economy

Margarete Vöhringer
Keine Angst im Labor
Nikolaj Ladovskijs psychotechnische
Architektur im postrevolutionären Moskau

Susanne M. Winterling
Dealing with Fear: an Inside
and an Outside Perspective

Photo Gallery

Helene Sommer
High over the Borders
Stories of Hummingbirds, Crying Wolves, and the Bird’s Eye View

This presentation dealt with fear as a rhetorical device in nature films, both as a political, economical, and ideological tool—the role of appropriation and science versus showmanship. It was accompanied by excerpts from approximately 20 films.

In 1902, one of the most popular newsreels shown in the movie theaters of the United States was a film by Thomas Edison, called Electrocuting an Elephant. The elephant Rosy had received the death sentence due to the grave seriousness of the crimes she had committed. Her abusive drunk trainer, trying to feed her a lit cigarette, was picked up by her trunk and dashed to the ground, killing him instantly.

Fig. 1: Electrocuting an Elephant (1902)

Electrocuting an Elephant (1902)

They first discussed a public hanging, as happened to the elephant Mary in Tennessee. But Edison—in the process of popularizing the use of electricity—proposed the possibility of using alternating current to electrocute her. This he anticipated—the danger of it—would discredit his rival Westinghouse’s proposal of alternate current becoming the new standard system. On a cold winters day in 1902 Rosy was fed carrots, laced with cyanide, and electrocuted in front of 1,500 cheering spectators, and a camera, at Coney Island’s Luna Park.

The spectacle of danger and death.

With early nature documentaries about Africa, appropriation of a cinematic language started to appear more frequently as well as the repeated use of aerial shots that were originally introduced by the military during World War I for surveying enemy territory. The rhetoric of propaganda was employed in order to promote a cause and purpose.

Several films were produced promoting the view that natives should be removed from their land in the name of conservation: wildlife and national parks; an image called wilderness.

Fear of the other, fear of the unknown.

The director of the Frankfurt Zoo, Bernhard Grzimek, was a master in the use of nature films as propaganda to enlist public support for his conservation efforts.

No Room for Wild Animals was an award winning film from 1956. The film doomed Africa, promoting the removal of the native Maasai living in the Serengeti national park in order to conserve the pristine wilderness.

In Masters of the Congo Jungle, produced in 1960 by German scientists and sponsored by King Leopold III, the Congo and its inhabitants are represented through Orson Welles’ dramatic narration of this apparent “dark continent.” The movie poster quotes: “… a way of life never before seen by modern man! Here is a terrifying, authentic record by the world’s leading cameramen into the savage, hidden domains of nature’s last outpost!”

There is nothing as thrilling and economically fruitful as a piece of action about the struggle of life and possibly death, especially in the disguise of reality. The cultural taboo of suicide can, even in the kingdom of animals, entertain, creating an intriguing picture just waiting to be consumed.

A lemming, a rodent the size of a rat, living in the northern hemisphere, up in the mountains.

When Disney made the Oscar winning 1950 nature documentary White Wilderness, one part was dedicated to the “lemming mass suicide.” A film crew went to Canada to film the suicide despite there being no lemmings in that part of the country, there never had been. Lemmings were accordingly imported from Greenland, purchased by the filmmakers from Inuit children. They then constructed a rather clever snow-covered turntable, which made the lemmings seem much more numerous than they in fact were. Afterwards, the creatures were transported to a cliff overlooking a river, and herded into the water. Wild animals, as the filmmakers knew, were notoriously uncooperative. A migration-of-doom followed by a cliff-of-death, was far more dramatic to show than the lemmings’ self-implemented population management plan. Which not even scientists understood at the time.

Fig. 2: White Wilderness (1958), the lemming suicide

White Wilderness (1958), the lemming suicide

In 1983, a corporate producer for Canadian broadcasting, Rudy Valle, revealed after some investigation, that the lemming suicide was in fact a fabrication by Disney—to the surprise of many a scientist. It has remained an accepted myth.

The aura of science gives the nature film some kind of inherent credibility. But you break it into pieces, and what it reflects is not what is in front of the camera, but what is behind.

Friday, February 2,1940: During a meeting at the Institute for Women’s Professional Relations, Mr. Osborn, from the New York Zoological Society, gave a speech on the topic of photography; both as a tool in scientific research and as a form of record for science. He recalled an incident when the society borrowed from Germany a truly remarkable slow-motion-film; 1,200 exposures a second showing the flight of a hummingbird. He reveals apologetically that it was later discovered that the origin of the film was the German Government, more specifically, the Nazi division of Ballistics and Aeronautics. Consequently in 1942, Osborn appropriated the Nazi hummingbird footage in a Canadian/American production: a documentary called High over the Borders, about bird migration in the western hemisphere. The thought of the hummingbird being turned against democracy frightened Osborn to such an extent that he appropriated it into another context in an attempt to rescue it.

Fig. 3: High over the Border (1942)

High over the Borders (1942)

The use of aerial views in early nature films foreshadowed a growing importance of surveillance of natural resources. The particular human subjectivity produced by the birds eye view was evidenced both in the writings of the futurists as well as Soviet and Fascist propaganda.

A species not conforming to the “traditional” family model of breadwinning males and homemaking females, became symbols of one of the Western World’s greatest fear: Communism.

In January 1954, in a dramatic episode of Adventure, Charles Collingwood, paranoically, alerted viewers to a film CBS has secured from Russian Scientists. As CBS had no intention of showing Soviet Propaganda on national television, Collignwood re-narrated the film, which was about bees—of life inside a beehive. According to CBS, the defiance of traditional gender roles by the bee contributed to the alleged appropriation by the Soviet state. The innocence of nature was gradually shattered as the audience was led into the dark interior of the so-called communist hive. Why had the Russians spent five years studying and filming the bee? The reason, according to Collingwood, was that when Russian scientist thought of bees, they thought of themselves. The show ends with a look at American individualism in a patriotic, ethnocentric fashion and an image of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker.

Science can seemingly comfort when the wish is black and white. But in the overwhelming border zone between science and science fiction, there are many shades of grey.

The spectacle of fear, its sensationalism: Is that why it makes such a good protagonist? There is a lot of overlap between big-game hunting and using the camera.

The late Steve Erwin was killed during one of his many adrenaline drenched nature documentary stunts.

The Day after Tomorrow, a 2004 apocalyptic science-fiction film, depicting catastrophic effects of global warming was a huge box office success. Shortly before and during the release of the movie, members of environmental and political advocacy groups, distributed pamphlets to moviegoers describing the possible effects of global warming. It was released on Memorial Day, the same day An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s highly acclaimed environmental documentary, was released two years later and which then became the best selling documentary ever.

The two trailers next to each other, are visually hard to differentiate, An Inconvenient Truth had accurately appropriated The Day after Tomorrow’s apocalyptic atmosphere in the editing. The rapid cuts, the news footage, the loudness, the dramatic messages that punch you in the face.

In The Day after Tomorrow, the introduction scene is an aerial shot of glaciers. The camera moves above a digitally animated image of ice, towards sunrise—towards a possible future. Al Gore appropriated this exact shot into his documentary, a scene where the apparent objective is to evoke emotions about the beauty of our earth, of, perhaps, the lost nature; in this case, a digitally animated one.

Fig. 4: The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

An image. There are few nature films without the iconic image of the earth seen from space; represented in one way or another, even during times when man had not yet set foot in space. The image is called The Blue Marble. The image As17-2272 (from NASA) is one of the most widely reproduced and distributed images of our time. It is one of very few photographs of the entire un-shadowed earth, taken in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission by a human eyewitness. The use of the image has been dominated by two related, but apparently opposite discourses. One perspective represents utopian ideas of global communication, mobility and interconnectivity; the other discourse represents the enormous vulnerability of Planet Earth, and the fear of loss.

The production of meaning. An image economy. Generated by the proprietor—whether a phone company promoting the democracy of location or the nature film promoting the vulnerability of planet earth.


back to top of page