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    Documentary Prison Films and the Production of Disciplinary Institutional "Truth"

    Janet Holtman
    Penn State University

    © 2002 Janet Holtman.
    All rights reserved.

    Power "produces reality" before it represses. Equally it produces truth before it ideologizes, abstracts or masks.

    --Gilles Deleuze, Foucault

  1. In The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Fredric Jameson distinguishes between a "properly Marxian notion of an all-embracing and all-structuring mode of production...and non-Marxist visions of a 'total system' in which the various elements or levels of social life are programmed in some increasingly constricting way" (90), thus setting his own totalizing theory apart from the "monolithic models" of the social body which, he claims, do not allow for an effective "oppositional or even merely 'critical practice' and resistance" but rather "reintegrate" such resistances "back into the system as the latter's mere inversion" (91). One of the primary targets of this apparent criticism is, of course, the theory of Michel Foucault, whose "image" of the social "gridwork," according to Jameson, provides for an "ever more pervasive 'political technology of the body'" (90). [1] Of course, one of Jameson's goals is to show how such theories may be subsumed under the umbrella of his own Marxist discourse in order to reopen pathways for such "resistance;" thus Jameson points out Foucault's totalization but then is able to include his theory in an overall plan that manages to account for such "disturbing synchronic frameworks" (91). That Jameson's theories and perspective have been enormously influential hardly needs to be (re)stated, but I would like to point out the fact that Jameson's reading of Foucault has perhaps colored the reception, perception and manipulation of Foucault's theories, particularly in terms of how the technologies of Discipline, often figured by the panopticon, have become a sort of metaphor of the "total system" that seems to shut down a useful deployment of Foucault's theories of social force while enabling their subsumption within discussions that deploy very different theories.

  2. My interest in bringing up this influence, and in touching upon some current appropriations of Foucauldian theory tinged by it, is to provide a foundation from which to offer an alternative conceptualization through an extended example of the application of Foucauldian theory to a type of discourse, one that might be expected to be particularly rife with possibilities for such an analysis: the documentary prison film. While it is, of course, not possible or useful to trace out completely the Jamesonian influence on contemporary cultural studies, one may at least note certain uses of Foucauldian theory that bear a strong resemblance to Jameson's incorporation of Foucault, or at least seem to owe a debt to Jameson's conceptualization of disciplinary power as a progression of ever more oppressive technologies of the body that call for a Marxist dialectical framework to free it from a sort of political "grid"lock. Mark Poster's Foucault, Marxism and History immediately comes to mind as employing a similar strategy if a somewhat different reading of Foucault. [2] And in film criticism, one sees occasional conscriptions of Foucault into the theoretical service of cultural studies analyses that are to a greater or lesser degree inharmonious with his poststructuralism due to their primary grounding in Marxist discourses. This is perhaps done best by such able critics as Toby Miller, whose discussion of Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies in Technologies of Truth, while informed by a notion of Foucauldian discipline, nonetheless seems to rely upon fairly traditional cultural studies strategies of interpretation and ideology critique. It is done worst by those critics whose references to, for instance, the panopticon as a central figure for all of Foucault's theories are fatuous at best.

  3. But regardless of their level of rigor, the few film studies that do take up Foucauldian theory seem to make use of it primarily in terms of thematic operations, a use that subsumes the Foucauldian question "what does it do?" into the ideology critique question "what does it mean?" In his essay "Disciplinary Identities; or, Why Is Walter Neff Telling This Story," David Shumway, for instance, employs a Foucauldian notion of disciplinarity in order to read Double Indemnity as a text exemplifying the manner in which discipline shapes subjectivities, particularly the subjectivities of those positioned within an institutional apparatus, such as academics. Shumway's discussion, relying as it does upon the idea of hegemony and the "internalization" of discipline by the subject, is firmly rooted in the assumptions as well as the methods of ideology critique. But I do not set out here to advocate a sort of postmodernist purism nor to offer a corrective to the strategies of past and recent contemporary film criticism; rather, I merely offer another way to think Foucault with filmic discourse, one that may answer the familiar (and still pervasive) Jamesonian criticism of the "total system" while offering an alternative use for Foucauldian theory in discussions of filmic discourses that still, in spite of some worthwhile postmodern counterdiscourses, tend to be dominated by treatments based on notions of ideology and representation.

  4. Before proceeding, however, it seems necessary to clarify the theoretical platform from which this discussion will proceed and which parts of Foucault's discussion of discipline as a complex and fluid set of forces provide the most relevant grounding. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault provides a detailed definition of "discipline" as it arose in the nineteenth (and early twentieth) century: It is "a modality for [power's] exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a 'physics' or an 'anatomy' of power, a technology" (215). It is important to note that discipline cannot be reduced to any one of its techniques or instruments, but rather describes any number of social forces, including various techniques for gathering and producing knowledge. Foucault's later description of the disciplinary society helps to make this clear, in addition to stating his revolutionary theory about the productive nature of power:

    "the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies." (217)

  5. Discourse and forms of knowledge, then, according to Foucault, do not form anything like a repressive ideological structure, as some Marxist cultural studies critics have understood and suggested--in spite of the forbidding words "discipline" and "power" that Foucault uses to describe the ways in which social force shapes institutions and individuals. Rather, knowledge and the play of signs are involved in productive processes within society; they are involved in the formation of subjects. In a later chapter, Foucault makes clear that the production of subject positions, such as "the delinquent" (the criminal defined not by his actions but by his life history and position within the socius), came about through the flow of various forces of power within the social body. Popular discourses comprised a portion of these forces, of course, from the newspapers that reinforced the partitioning of society by juridical power to the crime novels and other media that served to place, define, and popularize "the delinquent" as a special form of identity (286). Foucault does not spend much time discussing the role of such popular discourses, choosing, rather, to make them secondary to his discussion of prominent humanist social scientific discourses such as psychoanalysis and criminology. But he does make clear that popular discourses also enact social force and that they derive much of their content and direction from dominant modes of humanist thought.

  6. Of course, if the late twentieth and early twenty-first century social organization is a refinement or intensification[3] of Foucault's disciplinary society, a social body that produces and controls subjects according to the dispersion and interaction of a myriad of forces, then popular discourses such as film and television documentaries necessarily continue to take part in the production of subject positions within the social body. This is the case in spite of the fact that the forms of the popular media today differ from those of the nineteenth century, not only in that they are more numerous and specialized but also in that they are dispersed throughout a higher percentage of society and occupy a place of greater importance socially. Even so, Foucault's brief, localized discussion of the newspapers and crime novels of the nineteenth-century can still offer us some possible directions for speculation about how power works through certain modern media productions today. For if the nineteenth century newspapers engaged with and distributed questions and responses to criminality that derived from, and, in turn, took part in humanist discourse, how much more effective might modern media productions be at the dissemination of similar kinds of force?

  7. As mentioned above, and for perhaps obvious reasons, the documentary prison film is a type of discourse that seems to offer particularly interesting possibilities for analysis in terms of Foucault's theories. It is perhaps here that one might look to find a discursive formation whose effects are clearly recognizable on Foucauldian terms; an analysis of this particular cultural production as a type of truth-production may evidence the ways in which filmic discourses perpetuate humanist values such as the movement toward prison reform, the continuation of the social construction of subjectivities such as "the delinquent," and the normalization and implementation of some of the social scientific technologies of discipline that Foucault describes, such as the examination and the case study. A key question here, in other words, is "what do documentary prison films do?"

  8. We can begin to answer this question by recognizing, first of all, that cinematic presentations of prison life coincide with, perpetuate and intensify the types of discourses that, according to Foucault, have proliferated since imprisonment became the primary form of punishment for crime: "Prison 'reform' is virtually contemporary with the prison itself.... In becoming a legal punishment, [imprisonment] weighted the old juridico-political question of the right to punish with all the problems, all the agitations that have surrounded the corrective technologies of the individual" (Discipline 234-235). Discourses and political movements that sought to reform prisons and the subjects they housed did not arise, then, from a recognition of the failure of the prison, or from an impetus to move, eventually, beyond imprisonment to a better means of punishing crime; rather, they arose as an integral part of the institution itself (234). According to Foucault, such humanist discourses go hand-in-hand with the disciplinary institutional apparatus; disciplinary power seeks to improve itself by becoming both more efficient and more humane. Therefore, it is not surprising that prison environments are usually presented in filmic discourses as throwbacks to earlier forms of power, to the inefficient forms that acted directly on bodies and did not know how to create subjects who discipline and monitor themselves: such presentations serve the humanist reformatory project which is integral to disciplinary power.

  9. But in what ways do such narratives support disciplinary power, and how do they contribute to the social perception of institutions and the construction of subjects? One way that they accomplish these effects is by reproducing and distributing, in a mass register, the "official" discourses that have become imbedded within the social grid. Social scientific discourses like psychoanalysis, sociology, and criminology, as well as various systems of humanist ethics, are all interwoven and reproduced in the prison narrative. Consequently, these films may be read on several different "levels," and with varying interpretations, by cultural critics who may see them as either perpetuating ideology or as calling for subversion, while still enacting much the same social force throughout society through their connection with these "higher" discourses. Just as the newspapers and crime novels of nineteenth-century France circulated various definitions of the delinquent but nevertheless assumed (and furthered the notion) that there was such a subject who needed to be defined, so do documentary prison films, which are shaped by and redistribute various definitions and conceptions of "the criminal," "the prisoner," and "the disciplinary institution."

  10. At this point, though, it becomes necessary to provide a basis for clarifying the ways in which documentary prison films produce sets of intensities at a different pitch from those of more mainstream Hollywood productions. The production of truth by documentary films should not be set up in opposition, then, to the truth-production of mainstream Hollywood films. They both, in fact, rely upon similar strategies. A Deleuzian notion of intensities, then, as in "there are no negative or opposite intensities" (A Thousand Plateaus 153), is a more productive concept here because it will allow for a more thorough understanding of the fashioning of truth by each without relying upon a false binary. It also allows for a good deal more precision in accounting for the various processes involved, especially as it allows us to build upon the understanding of the operations of cinematic discourse established by postmodernist thinkers like Steven Shaviro, whose use of certain Deleuzian concepts in discussing the simultaneously bodily and textual stresses of cinema can offer an important bridge from film to Foucault.

  11. But in order to understand better the distinction between mainstream films and documentaries, one must first understand the documentary form, its discursive mode, its reliance upon social scientific discourse, and its reception by audiences. Documentaries are historical records, and as such, they attempt to produce certain types of knowledge. In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault distinguishes between "history, in its traditional form" which "undertook to 'memorize' the monuments of the past, transform them into documents, and lend speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not verbal" and archaeology, which is "a discipline devoted to silent monuments, inert traces, objects without context, and things left by the past" (7). "In our time," Foucault says, "history aspires to the condition of archaeology, to the intrinsic description of the monument" (7). This distinction is important in terms of the effects produced by each version of historical inquiry. Traditional history produces meanings, is interested in interminable commentary, transforming the monumental into that which can be interpreted, especially in terms of some larger worldview. Mainstream prison films utilize much the same type of significatory narrative force, situating the subject within a larger framework of humanist meaning. But archaeological history produces discontinuous, dispersed studies, serial and specific, incompatible with a transcendent signification. And documentary films aspire to this second type of history; they attempt to be asignificatory recording projects: "Whatever else viewers expect from a documentary, they consider that one of its most important tasks is to tell us something about the workings of the socio-historical world--the sights, sounds and events in the external world before they are transposed into a representational form" (Kilborn and Izod 4).

  12. In drawing this crucial distinction, however, it is important to note that mainstream films do not operate in a merely textual manner. In The Cinematic Body, Steven Shaviro discusses the popular cinematic apparatus as a "technolog[y] of power" (21), in the Foucauldian sense, which acts directly on the body: "The flesh is intrinsic to the cinematic apparatus" (255). Audiences' reactions to film, according to his theory, are largely visceral and involve a complex interaction of sensation and meaning. Shaviro does not deny that films are, to some degree, textual, but he insists that film viewing is not a strictly intellectual and symbolic process. [4] Cinematic images are, rather, "events" that involve a simultaneous effacement of the viewer's own subjectivity as s/he is acted upon immediately and physically by the film and a possibility for "self-assertion and self-validation" that can be a form of resistance to the insubstantial flickerings of "meaning" presented on the screen (Shaviro 23-27). The bodily nature of film viewing is that which, for Shaviro, enables the hybrid process by which the truth of a film is produced through the interaction of film and viewer(s). These theories fly in the face of both film theory's distinctly psychoanalytic roots (the "truth" of psychoanalytic discourses having been called into question by Foucault in the The History of Sexuality) and Neo-Marxist cultural studies' insistence upon the ideological role of cinema.

  13. According to Shaviro's theories, a film does not merely deposit ideology into the brains of passive individual viewers; rather, it negotiates "truth" with viewing subjects through their bodies. It presents, through emotion-laden images that act directly on these bodies, popular discourses that may resonate with their own subjectivity. We can fairly easily see such a process at work in a popular prison film such as The Shawshank Redemption, in which the incarcerated hero undergoes a physical and emotional trial by fire and finally effects his own inspirational escape from prison by literally carving out a space within its walls. Film critic Brian Webster summarizes a typical audience response to the film: "When the film's conclusion starts to unfold, you suddenly realize that this is one of the more inspiring films you've seen in a long time--yet you don't feel the least bit manipulated." Of course, Shaviro posits a Foucauldian variety of resistance within such a process: "[The] body is a necessary condition and support of the cinematic process: it makes that process possible, but also continually interrupts it, unlacing its sutures and swallowing up its meanings" (257). This notion complicates and perhaps redefines the production of "truth" by cinema, but it does not eliminate or deny it. Certain reinforcements of social assumptions, definitions, and meanings, such as the necessity for prison reform and "the delinquent," respectively, are still enacted by film texts, through the very pleasure of bodies that Shaviro discusses.

  14. Contrary to what one might think at first glance, however, documentary films rely on the body in ways somewhat similar to those of mainstream film, but they usually do so at a lower level of physical intensity (for instance, viewers are often warned in advance at the approach of a graphic scene, which serves to control their physical response by way of a mediating authority). Viewers' expectations of the documentary involve, instead, a greater reliance upon the fact-value of the filmic text and the authenticity of its authority. In his essay on documentary and subjectivity, Michael Renov notes, "few have ever trusted the cinema without reservation. If ever they did, it was the documentary that most inspired that trust" (84). Renov locates the impetus for such public trust of the documentary in its involvement with, or derivation from, scientific discourse: "It is the domain of nonfiction that has most explicitly articulated this scientistic yearning; it is here also that the debates around evidence, objectivity, and knowledge have been centered. I would argue, then, that nonfiction film and the scientific project are historically linked" (85). Evidence of such a linkage between scientific discourse, especially social scientific discourse, and documentary film may be seen in some of the cinematic techniques of documentary filmmaking.

  15. One of the most frequently utilized is the "documentary interview," which presents to the audience a focus on certain individual subjects not unlike that which we find in psychoanalytic case studies. In documentary prison films such as Liz Garbus' The Farm: Angola USA, viewers hear several inmates relate their stories as well as their fears and hopes. Thus, the prison film interview resembles the psychiatric/criminologic interview, which is, as Foucault has shown, a form of the confession, which "governs the production" of true discourse, and the examination, which allows a body of individualizing knowledge: "The examination that places individuals in a field of surveillance also situates them in a network of writing; it engages them in a whole mass of documents that capture and fix them" (Discipline 189). The documentary interview, then, fulfills the audience's expectation of a subject-centered presentation, but it also fulfills the expectation of a sort of social scientific authenticity by relying on the interview/examination so familiar and useful in social scientific discourse. Consistent with this observation is the fact that the documentary, unlike mainstream popular films, often allows the filmmaker's voice to be heard off-camera asking questions. This goes far in establishing both a scientific authenticity and a sort of self-referential realism. Such documentary techniques call attention to the fact that the film is not a mere representation but a "real case," and the camera is an acknowledged part of it. Of course, the ostensible purpose of such a case is to inform and to teach. And it is the didactic quality of documentary films, run by the engine of social scientific discourse, which causes their failure in terms of the work of archaeology--they end up working a lot like regular, entertainment-driven films, producing meaning in similar ways, reducing a monument to a document.

  16. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that conventional documentary films such as The Farm, while portraying some of the harsh realities of prison life are, nonetheless, welcomed by prison officials and social administrators: "The Farm has been roundly praised by both Louisiana prison officials--who want to use it for guard-training programs--and the governor's office" (Lewis). Filmmakers like Liz Garbus, who may believe that their films are transgressive due to their sympathetic portrayal of rehabilitated-yet-still-imprisoned inmates, are puzzled by such reactions of acceptance by administrators: "'Now that really surprised us; I won't even try to explain it,' says Garbus. 'I suppose that everyone takes what they want into a film'" (Lewis). But it is not difficult to see how these significatory documentaries are easily compatible with, and appreciated by, a bureaucracy and a society[5] that places value on the reform of delinquents and the accumulation of individualized knowledge about them, the same values and technologies of discipline that have, according to Foucault, been emphasized since the rise of the prison. Thus, by attempting to subvert the institution of the prison by enacting its own discourse of reform and employing the disciplinary tactics of information-production, Garbus's film merely acts as another social scientific node by which the disciplinary power of the prison functions. Of course, here one might pause and ask a rather Jamesonian question: doesn't this example demonstrate the manner in which Foucault's theory constitutes a vision by which attempted resistance is "reintegrated" into a total system? On the contrary, this example simply demonstrates the manner in which Foucault can provide a cautionary strategy that enables a clearer perception of the way in which projects of humanist "resistance" such as Garbus's documentary cannot act as levers against disciplinary power, situated as they are within it, and clearly cannot make progress in terms of the subversion of dominant discourses, reproducing as they do those very discourses.

  17. Documentary films, then, rely upon authentic technologies and discourses as well as upon bodies. The audience's expectation is to be informed, taught, and possibly moved and motivated. Documentaries, usually through their production of images, impact bodies, and the audience is anticipating a process of truth-production, one that relies upon both the scientific objectivity of the documentary filmmaker as a sort of authentic popular social scientist and the documentary itself as a significatory text. Can such expectations, and the frustration of those very expectations, be a possible explanation for the extreme negative reaction by social scientists and officials to a film like Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies? What is the relationship of Wiseman's film to other films, both mainstream and documentary? How does his film produce not a document of disciplinary institutional truth but a monument that refuses not only such truths but also the processes by which they are produced?

    Titicut Follies

    The film product which Wiseman made [Titicut Follies]...constitutes a most flagrant abuse of the privilege he was given to make a film.... There is a new theme--crudities, nudities and obscenities.... It is a crass piece of commercialism--a contrived scenario--designed by its new title and by its content to titillate the general public and lure them to the box office.

    --from the ruling by Judge Harry Kalus in Commonwealth v. Wiseman, 1968 (Anderson and Benson 97)

  18. In their detailed narration of the events that arose around the filming and banning of Titicut Follies, Carolyn Anderson and Thomas Benson explain that Frederick Wiseman was given permission to shoot a film at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater because the facility's administrators assumed that his film would enact the usual sort of documentary social force:

    Superintendent Gaughan was particularly eager to educate the citizenry about the variety of services at Bridgewater and the difficulties the staff encountered in providing those services adequately. At that time, both Wiseman and Gaughan assumed that heightened public awareness would improve conditions; both subscribed to the Griersonian notion that a documentary film could be a direct agent of change. Both saw opportunities in the documentary tradition of social indignation. (Anderson and Benson 11)

  19. This notion that Wiseman's film might contribute to reformation of the institution is further revealed by Wiseman's testimony that the superintendent had claimed "that there was no film [he] could make...that could hurt Bridgewater" (qtd in Anderson and Benson 11). Obviously, the assumption that even a film that depicted the grim conditions at the Bridgewater facility could only be beneficial to the institution is deeply rooted in the humanist disciplinary discourses that assume the ultimately beneficent possibilities of the rehabilitative institution and the continual need to reform it. But something went wrong. Wiseman's film failed to live up to the expectations of the social scientists, prison administrators, etc. who had hoped that the film would further the process of reform. Shortly after its limited release, they rushed to have it banned. Perhaps the reason for this turn of events is that, instead of taking part in familiar social scientific discourses, Wiseman's film seemed to disrupt them. Instead of providing the hope for institutional reform so commensurate with a humanist progress narrative, Wiseman's film seems to call the facility's various forms of institutional discipline and rehabilitation, and even the "truths" upon which they are based (such as the possibility of, and need for, "rehabilitation" itself), into question.

  20. One of the first things that one notices upon viewing the film is the absence of narratorial voice, which some viewers find immediately disconcerting. French documentary filmmaker Jean Rouch has said: "I would like [Wiseman] to say something, say what his thesis is.... In Titicut Follies there isn't any [commentary or 'guiding hand'], it's a certified report, which could perhaps be interpreted as a cynical and sadomasochistic report" (qtd in Anderson and Benson 39). Wiseman foregoes the usual directorial voice (removing from the film the disciplinary quality of a "certified report") and the documentary interview, dismantling the documentary film's role as a technology of individualizing knowledge, a social scientific documentation of, definition of, "the external frontier of the abnormal" (Discipline and Punish 183). Rather than utilizing such techniques as the interview/examination, Wiseman's film simply presents them as the institution employs them. Hence, in one shot, we see a traditional Freudian psychiatrist grilling an inmate about his past sexual experiences, asking him how many times a day he masturbates and whether he has had any homosexual experiences, carefully noting the information. Later, we see confrontations between a patient and his doctors, as the patient doggedly and lucidly argues for his own sanity and for the fact that the facility is actually "harming" him. Wiseman captures the smug, clinical condescension of the doctors along with a sense of the absurdity of their attempts to "rehabilitate" the patient through the use of strict discipline, drugs, and psychoanalysis.

  21. Wiseman also rejects any pretence to scientific objectivity, editing the film in such a way that the prison's disturbingly comic musical "follies" frame the film, creating a sense of parodic disjunction with the film's primary content. Regarding the role of the documentary as a scientifically impartial text, Wiseman says:
    Any documentary, mine or anyone else's, made in no matter what style, is arbitrary, biased, prejudiced, compressed and subjective. Like any of its sisterly or brotherly fictional forms it is born in choice--choice of subject matter, place, people, camera angles, duration of shooting, sequences to be shot or omitted, transitional material and cutaways. (qtd in Miller 225)

  22. Wiseman doesn't even refer to his films as documentaries, preferring, instead, to call them "reality fictions," apparently as a sort of "parody" of the documentary form (Anderson and Benson 2). Instead of reinforcing documentary's aspirations to social science by categorizing and recording individuals, Wiseman's film creates disjunctions by utilizing some of the conventions associated with the most mainstream cinema. For instance, he uses cutaways for ironic effect and portrays bodies in such a way as to create intense discomfort for the viewer, as when the film cuts away from the view of Mr. Malinowski being force-fed to Mr. Malinowski's corpse being shaved and groomed for burial. The body in its relationship to the restraining, training, and marking by institutional power is one of the primary foci of the film; the nude, abject bodies of the prisoners provoke uncomfortable sensations in the audience in scene after scene.

  23. Such a use of bodies, those of the film's subjects and those of the audience, recall Shaviro's conceptualization of the production of cinematic truth as a negotiation between discourse and subjectivity through the mediation of the physical sensations brought about by images. Toby Miller quotes Christopher Ricks as saying that "'Wiseman's art constitutes an invasion of privacy,' the privacy of the viewers, their right to be left undisturbed" (222). Of course, Miller is primarily interested in a more traditional critique of the film that involves the ways in which Wiseman's art re-positions or challenges the gaze of the spectator (227). He says, "Titicut Follies provokes an uncomfortable gaze at the self by the spectator" (227). But such a view sets up a relationship between audience and film that relies upon notions of the subject and social awareness that do not seem particularly useful in an analysis of this film. Titicut Follies does not so much provoke social awareness as it disrupts it as a concept. Shaviro's theories may prove a more effective tool for analyzing Wiseman's film and the reactions to it. It may be the bodily element of Wiseman's filmmaking, for instance, that provoked the somewhat bewildering criticism by Judge Kalus during Commonwealth v. Wiseman that the film was titillating and obscene, "excessively preoccupied with nudity" and "a crass piece of commercialism" (Anderson and Benson 97).

  24. That Titicut Follies could in any way appeal to the prurient interests of its audience is, of course, the height of absurdity, but Judge Kalus' comments are, perhaps, revelatory of his perception that the film does utilize some of the physically oriented techniques and stresses of mainstream cinema, but without the reassuring signification which normally accompanies them. Kalus' outrage, then, and the outrage of the social scientists, administrators, and guards who opposed the film's release was largely a response to the fact that the film did not enact the type of social force that it was supposed to do. Instead, it combined "authentic" documentary with the audience-based methods of truth-production of mainstream cinema, subjective presentation, and physical provocation. In other words, by rearranging the intensities of mainstream cinema and documentary and by reneging on its "promise" of social scientific objectivity, Titicut Follies actually accomplished the (usually unaccomplished) work of the documentary film project by creating an asignificatory monument.

  25. What is perhaps most interesting about the response that Titicut Follies provoked is the fact that juridical power was actually called in by the purveyors of social scientific discourse to prohibit the distribution of this monument, except (after a number of legal appeals) to those who possessed the proper training and subjectivity to view the film: "Titicut Follies could be shown in Massachusetts to qualified therapists. Screenings had to be accompanied by a statement that Bridgewater had been reformed" (Miller 224). That the screenings were accompanied by the statement of reform demonstrates clearly the manner in which the film was re-situated as a significatory social scientific project. Judicial authority specified the audience (one that had been extensively trained to perceive the film in the proper manner) and thus redefined the discursive mode of the film. If it could not change who was speaking, or perhaps, the fact that no one was speaking, it could use the audience as a substitute speaker, bringing the film in line with the sort of authoritative enunciative modality that Foucault discusses in the Archaeology of Knowledge:
    Who is speaking? Who, among the totality of speaking individuals, is accorded the right to use this sort of language (langage)? Who is qualified to do so? Who derives from it his own special quality, his prestige, and from whom, in return, does he receive if not the assurance, at least the presumption that what he says is true? What is the status of the individuals who - alone - have the right, sanctioned by law or tradition, juridically defined or spontaneously accepted, to proffer such a discourse? (50)

  26. In other words, and put simply, it was an attempt to turn the "monumentary" Titicut Follies into a document, one that was to be written and read by authorized viewers. [6] Interestingly, many scholars and critics continue to refer to the film as "subversive" (Anderson and Benson 38), in much the way that Garbus's The Farm: Angola USA is "subversive," in a similar mode of documentary critique, one that makes claims for the film's significatory value. These attempts to interpret the film as a project of social critique are perhaps not surprising given the sort of juridical response that the film provoked. But it is interesting that critical responses to Titicut Follies seem to have focused on precisely what is not most relevant to an understanding of what the film does. And it is doubtless worthwhile to note that the initial audience response, which might be described as a somewhat halting inability to speak in the face of the monument, or at least as a bewildered struggle to find a relevant point of signification from which to begin an interpretation, eventually transmuted (in the hands of institutionally sanctioned cultural critics) into later broad claims for the film's subversive meaning.

  27. Of course, it is clear from Foucault's work that it is never a question of subverting ideology but merely a question of producing a counterdiscourse to a discourse, a force to oppose another force. This is something that Wiseman's film certainly does by "investigat[ing] how discourses and institutions produce and oversee identity" as Toby Miller claims (225). On the Museum of Television and Radio's Documentary Films of Frederick Wiseman A to Z videotape (1993), Wiseman remarks that "the real subject of documentary filmmaking is normalcy," a comment followed by the force-feeding sequence [in Titicut Follies] (Miller 225). This notion is more than a little reminiscent of Foucault's assertion that "to find out what our society means by sanity, perhaps we should investigate what is happening in the field of insanity. And what we mean by legality in the field of illegality" ("Afterword" 211). But if Wiseman's film produces a monument that differs substantially from the documents produced by mainstream feature films and social documentaries, it is not because he produces a different version of "truth," but because he, like Foucault, "strips society to the relationships of forces" (Wexler qtd. in Miller 225).

  28. For Foucault, the production of "truth" involves the various mechanisms by which discourses define and organize our social world; some discourses become dominant or accepted versions of reality and others become marginalized, according to the interactions of power. In both Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Foucault enumerates the ways in which humanistic, social scientific discourses are imbricated within the web of power relations, the social grid. Psychoanalysis and criminology constitute forms of social scientific discursive "truth" that are still dispersed in various forms throughout the social body. Today, the mass media, including the film industry, are perhaps the most extensive set of apparatuses for the distribution of definitions and concepts perpetuated by social science. And one of the most "authentic" discursive forms within this industry is the documentary film. But as a film like Titicut Follies demonstrates, documentary film is also one of a number of points of resistance within power which "play the role of adversary, target, support, or handle in power relations" (Sexuality 95). Documentary films such as Wiseman's darkly absurd "reality fiction" may not be subversive or transgressive in a Marxist sense, but they may number among the many "odd term[s] in relations of power...inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite" (Sexuality 96).

    Department of English
    Pennsylvania State University

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    I would like to thank Jeffrey T. Nealon for his encouragement and insightful commentary during the revision of this essay.

    1. Jameson also points out Foucault's "totalizing dynamic" in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (5). It should probably be noted here once again, though it has doubtless been noted before, that Jameson's reading of Foucault's discussion of disciplinary power's various technologies in Discipline and Punish does not attempt to account for the localized specificity of the techniques of power in question, tending, instead, to use the umbrella term "technologies of the body" to stand in for a number of forces and specific developments in the rise of disciplinary power.

    2. In what I would call a more careful and rigorous reading, Poster reads Foucault's "technologies" as "technologies of power" which, he says, "suggests that discourses and practices are intertwined in articulated formations," an observation that he follows up with the somewhat baffling claim that this notion is "not fully conceptualized in the works of Foucault" (52).

    3. See Deleuze, "Postscript."

    4. Shaviro uses Deleuze's conception of the "double articulation" to clarify this apparent duality between the bodily and the intellectual. For Deleuze, the double articulation operates as a double doubling that involves "intermediate states between" through which "exchanges" pass (A Thousand Plateaus 44).

    5.The Farm: Angola USA won a National Society of Film Critics Award and was nominated for an Oscar for Feature Documentary in 1999.

    6. In recent years, of course, much of Wiseman's work, including Titicut Follies, may be viewed in limited exhibition at major art galleries or museums in urban centers such as Boston or Washington, D.C. Always difficult to situate as a social scientific text, the film now seems to have been placed with a view toward establishing artistic and "high cultural" merit, a suitably amorphous signification, and one that is likely to be accepted by the audiences high in cultural capital and educational training who would constitute the primary audience for a documentary in such a venue. For more on educational level, cultural capital and film viewing, particularly in urban areas, see Bourdieu's Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Of particular relevance here is Bourdieu's assertion that "any legitimate work tends in fact to impose the norms of its own perception and tacitly defines as the only legitimate mode of perception the one which brings into play a certain disposition and a certain competence" (28).

    Works Cited

    Anderson, Carolyn, and Thomas W. Benson. Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991.

    Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.

    Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. Trans. Sean Hand. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.

    ---. "Postscript on Control Societies." Negotiations. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. 177-82.

    Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

    The Farm: Angola USA. Dir. Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack. Co-dir. Wilbert Rideau. Narr. Bernard Addison. Firecracker Films; Gabriel Films, 1998.

    Foucault, Michel. "Afterword: The Subject and Power." Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Ed. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983. 208-226.

    ---. The Archaeology of Knowledge. 1969. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972.

    ---. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1977. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995.

    ---. The History of Sexuality: Volume I, An Introduction. 1978. Trans. Robert Hurley. NewYork: Vintage, 1990.

    Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981.

    ---. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991.

    Kilborn, Richard, and John Izod. An Introduction to Television Documentary: Confronting Reality. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1997.

    Lewis, Anne S. "The Farm." The Austin Chronicle 9 Nov. 1998. 23 Apr. 2000. Online. <>.

    Miller, Toby. Technologies of Truth: Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998.

    Poster, Mark. Foucault, Marxism & History: Mode of Production versus Mode of Information. Cambridge: Polity, 1984.

    Renov, Michael. "New Subjectivities: Documentary and Self-Representation." Feminism and Documentary. Ed. Diane Waldman and Janet Walker. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999. 84-94.

    Shumway, David. "Disciplinary Identities; or, Why Is Walter Neff Telling This Story?" symploke 7.1-2 (1999): 97-107.

    Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body: Theory Out of Bounds, Vol. II. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.

    Titicut Follies. Dir. and prod. Frederick Wiseman. Wiseman, 1967.

    Webster, Brian. "Apollo Leisure Guide's Review of The Shawshank Redemption." 1998-2000. 23 Apr. 2000. Online. <>.

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