CFP: The Mise-en-scène of a Decade: Visualizing the 70s

Of the countless movements of switching, inserting, pressing and the like, the “snapping” of the photographer has had the greatest consequences. A touch of the finger now sufficed to fix an event for an unlimited period of time. The camera gave the moment a posthumous shock, as it were.
—Walter Benjamin, 1939


Though we are tempted to imagine time as inherently promiscuous—freely related to moments both past and still to come—it is clear that certain moments are uniquely entangled with each other, linked by a kind of historically necessary energy of filiation or disavowal. In a structure loosely analogous to that of the unconscious of an individual subject, a time enters into what can only be called an obsessive compulsive orbit with another period or era: it falls in love, though the parameters here are not those of transparency or fullness, but constitutive dependency and misrecognition. It may be that our own present exists in precisely such a relationship to the 1970s.

Within contemporary media culture, the visuality of the 1970s is more variegated and accessible than ever before, opening up an era once reduced to bellbottoms and disco-balls to far more differentiated understandings that are able to draw on a fully-globalized reserve of forms and styles. In addition to being expanded, the political, technological, and social coordinates of the present also draw us toward images of spaces and technologies that have radically transformed or sit on the precipice of disappearance. Material residues of industrial, suburban, and consumer environments threatened by advancing development or simply abandoned as ruins are identified and exhaustively cataloged by internet communities. Films from the period are experienced as affectively-charged artifacts of urban and technological life-worlds long since vanished. Moreover, new techniques of nostalgia dot the landscapes of popular media, from popular retro photo filters and throwback graphics, to the meticulous production design of period films and television. In the film remake of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (2012), for example, we are not merely presented with a narrative set in the 1970s, but one that is somehow obsessively about the decade itself (as a visual whole). Such films express a kind of restless analytical desire for what we would like to call the “mise-en-scène” of the 1970s, a kind of politico-aesthetic totality that nevertheless always remains just outside the frame. We are interested in the cultural origins of this desire for, and perpetual invocation of, the decade and its “spirit.” What obscure needs or desires are being met here?

For all its seeming heterogeneity, it should also be said that our contemporary fascination with the 1970s remains organized around a set of tropes that unconsciously reproduce the seeming naturalness and necessity of today’s governing political ideals. Neoliberalism in many ways survives precisely on the basis of a highly codified set of images—what we might call “stock footage”—that colour our sense for the decade and its possibilities. It does this by consistently returning to notions of the period as hangover, narcissism, decadence, decline, and crisis—a fearful montage of strikes, shortages, states of emergency, addictions, and panic. When foregrounded, this works to produce an idea of the 1970s as gross error, an untenable, structurally necessitated mess generated by the complacency, indulgence, and stubbornness of the welfare state. Instead of being a crossroads of possibility, a conjuncture plied by myriad speculative futures, the 1970s becomes a simple crisis or problem. It is within the givenness of crisis that neoliberal austerity comes to appear as necessary, a severe, but fundamentally sound treatment designed for a body that would die without it. It is our sense, however, that the visuality of the 1970s also contains myriad repressed political possibilities and potential. One question we are posing then, is how to deploy images from the 1970s in ways that intervene in, rather than merely reproduce or buttress our moment’s imperceptible common sense. Can our preoccupation with images from and of this time be used in some way to reconfigure or re-energize the present?

This special issue invites contributions invested in exploring the intersections between the 1970s and its many visual afterlives and echoes. Our desire to re-think the recent past occurs in a present-day context in which it is increasingly difficult, yet necessary, to imagine alternative futures. But instead of abandoning the past (and its afterlives) as mere fantasia or the prerogative of reminiscence, perhaps a productive route forward could be found by describing the past in more precise ways and in reflecting on the desires it continues to provoke in us, expanding its inventory of images, with an eye to what such an expansion can teach us about the limits of the present itself. Here we are guided by the relationship to the past explored by both Benjamin and Adorno, figures who mine historical forms not in the mode of a merely psychological nostalgia or as a way of avoiding the present, but as the dynamic site of collectively repressed dreams and possibilities. We are therefore interested in contributions that engage the decade as residue and reproduction, as a material form that extends to us from the period, as a symbolic act rooted in the present which seeks to give life to a time now vanished or changed, or artistic attempts to name, critique, or perform the decade in some way. In the spirit of developing fresh visual constellations we are looking for a mise-en-scène that allows us to see the 1970s more clearly in its hold on, and relation to, the present.

Possible topic areas include but are not limited to:

  • Afterimages of the Vietnam War, but also any other of the decades many anti-imperialist flashpoints (Nicaragua, China, Ireland, Grenada, etc.)
  • Moments between modernism and post-modernism in architecture and other arts, as well as residual and non-North American modernisms.
  • Visual cultures of computing and communication
  • Media archaeologies focused on the 1970s
  • Post-industrial landscapes and urban decay
  • Visual culture (or afterlives) of 1970s communisms (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, etc.)
  • Digital and visual effects technologies in popular and experimental media
  • Iconographies of 1970s unionism, GLBT activism, second-wave feminism, environmentalism, and anti-nuclear movements
  • Reflections on the historical ontology of 1970s visual culture. What are the many “auras” at work in these artifacts? How do they resonate with us affectively today?
  • Amateur media production in print culture, television, film/video
  • Visual histories of East v. West and Global North/South.
  • Representations of inflation and inflationary panic, but also any of the other various “states of emergency” linked to the period (Oil Crisis, Three Day Work-Week, etc.)
  • Landscapes and iconographies of racial integration and segregation
  • Transnational histories charting visual flows and cross-cultural encounters or fusions.
  • Legacies and after-images of 1960s counterculture (Whole Earth Catalog, etc.)
  • Theoretical (but visually inflected) reflections on periodizing the 1970s.
  • Sexual cultures of the 1970s, from pornography to the singles scene
  • Aesthetics of 1970s state politics (iconographies of Nixon, Carter, Heath, Wilson, Trudeau)
  • Utopian images of the 1970s
  • Sitcoms, movies-of-the-week, mini-series, and other televisual forms.
  • Nightclubs, malls, arcades, and other cultural spaces and environments.
  • Present-day representations of the 1970s in popular culture (The Iron LadyInherent Vice, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
  • Vernacular and mass cultural architectural spaces—malls, shopping plazas, suburbs, retrofitted industrial shopping/entertainment zones
  • Present-day media culture of the 1970s (Pintrest, photo filters, Tumblr photography accounts, graphic design)
  • 1970s imaginings of the future, but also present texts which fantasize alternate versions of the 1970s themselves.

Essays should be between 5000 and 8000 words in length and in keeping with Imaginations’ mandate pieces may include visual content as part of their argumentation rather than as simply supplemental material. Please send full submissions to and including a 100 word abstract and a 100 word bio by December 20, 2016. Please include any images separately, as well as embedded in the submission, as high quality (300 dpi) files. Full Submissions will be due by April 2016.


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