Of Mammies, Minstrels, and Machines: Movement-Image Automaticity and the Impossible Conditions of Black Humanity
Master of Arts (M.A.)
This thesis argues that the GIF, as an underexplored analytical vertex within the broader matrix of media ecologies, should be understood as a generative nodal point in the American system of racialized violence. Thought in relation to its medium specificity, the GIF's materiality, particularly its capacity for infinite looping, is critically interrogated for its potential to amplify the circuitry of dominating racialization that felicitously condition the GIF's circulation. I open my argument with focus on a subset of the GIF genre known as the reaction GIF, which, in its frequently racialized form, is situated within the interconnected genealogies of the figures of the mammy, the minstrel, and the machine. The reaction GIF is shown as a contemporary iteration of minstrel performance, known as blackface minstrelsy, that is deeply imbricated with the subordinating racialization of Black women. I demonstrate that the violent genealogies of mammy, minstrel, and machine facilitate the machinic transfiguration of Black women made into GIF content, a process of making-machine of the Black woman subject. Making-machine is the site of ontological capture the racialized reaction GIF institutes, and those Black women caught within its digital field become the inhuman iconography of the medium's motif. To substantiate this account of the racializing properties of the GIF, the text engages the GIF at the level of its mediatic specificity and through questions of affective labor and its expropriation. I contend that the mediatic properties of the GIF are central to its modulating brokerage of affect, and it is this capacity to disperse infinitely differentiated affective impulses that underpins the racialized reaction GIF's making-machine of Black women subjects.
© The Author
Lawless, Joseph Frank, "Of Mammies, Minstrels, and Machines: Movement-Image Automaticity and the Impossible Conditions of Black Humanity" (2018). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1550154008.