Transferring trauma: understanding distressing images and ghoulish spectres in the Internet culture
University of the Arts, London
Supervisor: Professor Roger Sabin
This research explores the circulation of ‘shocking’ images and frightening figures in Internet culture, with the aim of examining the place of horror and collective trauma in the virtual world. The question of how fear and revulsion operates within digital spaces (what this is, where it comes from, and how it functions) underpins the project. To answer it, I intend to closely research a selection of case studies that reflect the constantly mutating space of Internet culture. The most suitable case studies are: images of 'Slender Man' - this ghoulish character supposedly stalks and abducts children, and has allegedly inspired violent attacks among American youth; the self-portraits of Allison Harvard nicknamed 'Creepy Chan' from her 2005 Myspace photographs - a young woman whose images bega to circulate around 4chan due to her 'ghostly' appearance; the work of Jasha Lottin, a young American woman whose photographs of her crawling naked inside the corpse of a horse she had killed became a tabloid Internet sensation in 2011; the videos of Elliot Rodgers 2014 You Tube videos about his hatred of women, filmed before he carried out the massacre that made him famous; the 'heart eating cannibal' video which began to circulate in 2013, which depicts Abu Sakkar, a leader of the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade in Syria, supposedly consuming the corpse of a Syrian soldier. This diverse selection of case studies sufficiently spans the breadth of storytelling, horror and Internet folklore, reflecting the relationship between the 'real' and the 'imaginary' in online images and the unstable boundaries between the two. Thus, made-up memes and urban legends complement out of context photos, whilst the ‘sicko image forum’ genre is developed in relationship to true cases of violence that become dislocated in online spaces. In centring questions of storytelling and unstable border keeping, this study explores a space beyond simple voyeurism, allowing us to beg the questions of what is a ghost, a ghoul, a corpse, or even simply an ‘idea’ in the uncanny realm of the Internet.