Conference: Ghost-Movies in SEA and Beyond. Narratives, cultural contexts, audiences (3-6 Oct / Goettingen)

Prof. Dr. Peter J. Bräunlein, BMBF Competence Network “Dynamics of´Religion in Southeast Asia”, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Göttingen
03.10.2012-06.10.2012, Göttingen, Holborn’sches Haus

Deadline: 28.09.2012

Within the diverse and colorful religious landscape of Southeast Asia, ghosts and spirits play an important role, not only in the pre-modern past but also in the post-colonial presence. Spirits become visible and audible in shrines and temples, through trance mediums and by the means of performance, but also in mass media such as TV-series, blockbuster cinema, cartoons and tabloids. This holds true for rapidly transforming societies such as Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore or Indonesia, to mention only few examples. Whereas a good deal of studies focus on spirit cults and spirit-mediumship, the realm of consumer culture, of entertainment and the popular is rather unexplored when it comes to “ghostly matters”. In the late 1990s, right in the middle of the Asian crisis, ghost-movies became great box-office hits. J-Horror, a brand name for the most exquisite cinematic thrill by then, stimulated ghost-movie productions in Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Hongkong, and Singapore.

Frenzy, ghastly homicides, terror attacks, communication with unredeemed (Un)dead, vengeful (female-)ghosts and their terrifying grip on the living – all this is part of popular TV- and film-entertainment. Such films are world-view mirrors but also enhancers of morals and convictions. They reflect traumatic events of the past, but can also be used as instruments of social criticism, ironic or moral comments, or as validation of magical machinations behind a mundane surface.

However, the audience of the extremely popular ghost-genre is largely unknown. The workshop aims at film-reception research and the comparative analysis of ghost-discourses in the realm of popular culture of various Southeast Asian countries and beyond. Methodological problems involved should be taken as special challenges in this workshop.

What are the sources on which such film narratives are based (myths, urban legends, stage drama, social drama, literary fiction, crime)? What kind of people (age, gender, class, education) become horror-movie fans? Why do people like to be scared (and pay for this experience)? Are ghost-movie morals perceived as conservative or anarchistic, or do they back middle-class values? In what ways is scary entertainment related to worldviews, politics, aspirations and religious convictions of the (middle-class) audience? Do “tele-visions of the otherworldly” promote forms of imaginations that undermine (or stabilize) the dominant knowledge formations? How about violence and terror in such movies? What about irony and overt critique as stylistic devices of the ghost-film genre? Are the products of the film industry sources of re-enchantment, or do they simply produce forms of “banal religion”, or do we need different analytical categories, beyond the enchantment-disenchantment metaphor?

Preliminary Program

Wednesday October 3rd
17.00 Arrival

18.00 Julian Hanich (Berlin): Horror, Shock, Suspense. A Typology of Cinematic Fear

19.30 Get-together

Thursday, October 4th
09.00 Welcome

09.30 Peter Bräunlein (Göttingen): Introduction

10:30 Coffee

11.00 Vivian Lee (Hongkong): Universal Hybrids: the Trans/local Production of Pan-Asian Horror

12.00 Lunch Break

14.00 Narratives I

Martin Platt (Copenhagen): Telling Tales: Memory, Community, and Horror in Thailand

Natalie Böhler (Zurich): Ghostliness and the Nation’s Borders in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Arnika Fuhrmann (Hongkong): For Tomorrow, For Tonight: queer aesthetics of haunting in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s recent cross-media projects

16.15 Coffee

16.45 Narratives II

Jessica Imbach (Zurich): Fictions of Mulian ghosts in Lu Xun and Jia Pingwa’s writings

Elisabeth Scherer (Düsseldorf): Fear behind crumbling concrete walls: J-Horror ghosts as symbols of social issues in contemporary Japan

18.15 End of conference day 1

Friday, October 5th
9:00 Cultural and historical contexts I

Imke Rath (Hamburg): The trans-cultural changes of the Philippine Aswang before and during its international career as main actor in ghost movies

Roland Tolentino (Manila): Shake, Rattle and Roll Franchise and The Spectre of Nation

10:30 Coffee

11.00 Cultural and historical contexts II

Maren Wilger & Yusuf Pratama (Berlin): Sundelbolong as a mirror of State Ibuism? – Analysis of popular Ghost movies in Indonesia

Henri Myrttinen (Berlin): Phantom Menaces, Magic Powers, Invincible  Bodies – Examining the Interplay Between Movies, Post-Conflict Violence and Re-Imaginings of Tradition/Modernity in Timor-Leste

12.30 Lunch Break

14.00 Reception and audience I

Katarzyna Ancuta (Bangkok): Cinematic horror and contemporary Thai spiritual reality

Mary Ainslie (Kuala Lumpur): Thai horror movies: style and reception context

Benjamin Baumann (Berlin): Tamnan Krasue – Popular Cultural Perceptions of ‘Khmerness’ in a Thai Ghost Movie

16.15 Coffee

16.45 Reception and audience II

Line Nybro Petersen (Copenhagen): American television fiction transforming Danish teenagers’ religious imaginations

Gerhard Mayer (Freiburg): The Phenomenology of Ghost Hunting Groups in the USA and in Germany

18:15 End of conference day 2

Saturday, October 6th

10:00 General Discussion

Future research directions on Ghost-movies in Asia and beyond

Workshop results

Further theoretical and methodological challenges, waymarks, promising and missing issues

12:30 end of the conference

Workshop Homepage