Bare Liveness: The Eyewitness to Catastrophe in the Age of Humanitarian Emergency
This chapter situates the humanitarian emergency as a genre of live media event that brings together two optics of immediacy: the humanitarian emergency and the televisual discourse of catastrophe. It traces the merger of these optics in the transformation of “liveness,” arguing that this theatrical convention associated with the professional reporter has been transformed into a humanitarian testimonial convention. The chapter undertakes a comparative analysis of Anderson Cooper’s live coverage of Hurricane Katrina and Trouble the Water (2008), a film featuring live eyewitness footage by a Katrina survivor. The author argues that participatory media extends the predatory cultural logic of disaster capitalism when it enlists disaster victims to supply the unmediated contact with imperiled life (“bare liveness”) that televised catastrophe performs but fails to deliver. The chapter concludes with a Foucauldian critique of contemporary critical investments in states of emergency as sites of potential, especially those of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.