Cultures of Exhibition
2004 MMLA Meeting
St. Louis, Missouri
04 November


Abstracts of Papers

Cultures of Exhibition I: Horror Film Exhibition and Reception

J. Rocky Colavito
Department of Language and Communication
Northwestern State University
Natchitoches, LA 71497

Title: Bally(who?); Bally(what?); Bally(how?): Rhetorical Practice and the Marketing of Horror Films

It's by now commonly known that Roger Corman's American International Pictures quite often produced a marketing campaign prior to actually having a film in the can; William Castle was better known for the gimmicks that went with his films than the films themselves, and the less than stellar works of filmmakers like Roy Dennis Steckler were often reinforced by the presence of actual "monsters" that hopped off the screen and ran through the audience. These techniques, which we know as "ballyhoo" originated with traveling carnivals and were thus transferred to movie companies in search of audiences. The techniques of ballyhoo are a wonderful area ripe for rhetorical archaeology, and the aim of this presentation is to examine these techniques as evidence of astute rhetorical practice. Of particular interest are the intertwining of the appeals of pathos (emotion) and logos (logic/factual) that conspire to engage the audience by revealing more than the movies perhaps delivered. By examining these rhetorical elements, we'll come to see a vital, and significant, aspect of the history of advertising and the place of rhetorical practice within it. The presentation will not only engage the written material (press releases, et al.) but also visual documents (posters, trailers), and performed elements (radio spots, spook shows, and so on).

Robert Spadoni
Case Western Reserve University

Title: " White Zombie and the Living Dead World of Silent Cinema"

The low-budget 1932 film White Zombie (Victor Halperin) continues today to captivate viewers and to draw praise for its atmospheric, dreamlike, and poetic qualities. This essay explores these senses of the film in relation to aspects of its formal makeup and in the context of its first reception. It argues that the effectiveness of White Zombie was, in 1932, in part a result of the film's resonance with viewers' senses of silent films as dead and ghostly entities. The Halperin film's pale and silent zombies certainly play a role in evoking the defunct silent cinema. Other aspects of the film do as well, including qualities of its sound, tendencies in its editing, and certain facts concerning the film's cast. These narrative, stylistic, and biographical aspects of the film, and ways that some exhibitors promoted the film, suggest that White Zombie was a ripely uncanny film for viewers who, in 1932, vividly remembered silent films but no longer found them to be vital- or normal-seeming.

Gary D. Rhodes


When Paramount decided to adapt H. G. Well's novel ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU for the screen in 1932, they were consciously participating in the burgeoning horror film genre (or "cycle" as the industry dubbed it) of that decade. Indeed, they produced the film at a particular moment within those years in which many viewers saw the horror film as a problem. Such movies were bad for audiences, especially younger ones, the moral groups inside and outside of the film industry proclaimed. Paramount pursued production of their film undaunted, and even saw a unique opportunity to tear down the "fourth wall" by running a national contest looking for an amateur actress to portray one of the film's "manimal" characters. "The Panther Woman" would be given a role in the film, as well as a studio contract. Kathleen Burke, the winner of the contest, and other finalists like Verna Hillie, have been well-documented in their careers by such horror film historians as Gregory William Mank. However, horror film history has ignored the contest's lower levels from city to city where contestants emerged. My paper will cover the competitions as they occurred in such cities as New Orleans. From out of the audiences came contestants that were given screen tests taken at local theaters. Audiences then saw their own peers the following week as screen tests were projected as a special feature of the program. And local celebrities quickly developed as stores and restaurants offered citizenry the chance to meet local Panther Women. Beyond mere anecdotal history, my paper will attempt to view the first level of the Panther Woman competition as a unique moment in horror film reception, one in which audience members quickly crossed the line from viewer to film player in the space of a week. And viewers who weren't in the contest saw their friends and relatives go from theater seat to screen in that same time frame. Reception studies and theory on larger issues of spectatorship have often constructed very passive viewers, and when they have discussed more active viewers it has often been in monolithic groups ("The audience didn't like the film," for example). My paper will show a highly active instance of horror film reception that for a small number of people redefined what it meant to be a viewer.

Kevin Heffernan
Umphrey Lee Center
Southern Methodist University
P.O. Box 750113
Dallas, Texas 75275-0356

Title: " Seething, Crawling, Slithering Through the Distribution Pipeline:   Killer Snakes
and the Grindhouse Theater"

The Hong Kong horror film Killer Snakes / She sha shou (1975) was produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio and released in the U.S. by independent distributor Howard Mahler Films as one part of double and triple bills in inner city theaters catering to a predominantly African-American audience.   Many economic, social, and aesthetic factors are at work on the movie's reception context.   The theaters which played the movie were at the tail end of a cycle of martial arts and blaxploitation genre films which would prove to be the final stage in the economic life of many of these impoverished former subsequent-run theaters which had struggled as major studios cut back on their number of annual releases throughout the sixties and seventies.  

Smaller distributors such as Mahler served these theaters (and their more upscale sibling, the art theater) with a mix of imports and low-budget American independent features.   In the case of Mahler, their release slate of the first half of the seventies included the Danish/American coproduction Threesome (1970), a drama misrepresented as a soft-core sex film, two Hong Kong martial arts movies starring African American kung fu performer Ron Van Clief, Black Emmanuelle / White Emmanuelle (1974 - an Italian melding of Emmanuelle and Mandingo ), the British import Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977) featuring John Gielgud, and Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975).  

As this breathtaking survey of Mahler's output will suggest, the movies playing in the inner city were often audacious genre hybrids of the blaxploitation, kung fu, horror, thriller, and sex film formulas.   These disparate sets of genre conventions were mirrored in the wild programs of multiple bills booked by these theaters, which would include three or more of these genre programmers along with a subsequent-run engagement of a major studio hit.   I will trace these exhibition circumstances in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas movie marketplace in 1974-75.   Here as in other major cities, movies in these theaters often ran "on the grind," with the program starting at nine or ten in the morning and running all day and night until long after midnight. Show times were rarely posted, and audience members, who frequently shouted their reactions to the action onscreen in a call-and-response pattern, came and went with little concern for a movie's three-act structure.  

It is into this environment that Killer Snakes was released in 1975, carrying an "X" rating as the result of a wildly repulsive scene of snakes crawling all over the nude body of a woman tied to a fetid bed.   Although Hong Kong imports were often enthusiastically received by the inner-city audience, Mahler's artwork on ad slicks and posters for the film seemed to depict a Caucasian cast.   The movie itself was highly derivative of MGM's Willard and told the story of an abused and reclusive teenager's growing friendship with and dominion over a nest of poisonous snakes.   It is not hard to imagine the narrative of Killer Snakes, with the victimized outcast of the Mongkok slums taking revenge on the shop owners and gang members who victimize him - and, tragically, the young woman who tries to befriend him - having particular resonance with the film's original young male audience watching the movie as the inner-city exhibition scene (and the inner city economy) slid into a bottomless abyss from which the early twenty-first century seems to promise no escape.  

Cultures of Exhibition II: Signs of Display: Linguistic and Semiotic Analyses of the Exhibition Space

Jennifer Eagleton
Chinese University of Hong Kong

Title: "The Hong Kong Story": Just Who is it for?

Time is a continuum in which events occur in irreversible succession from the past to the present to the future. We try to "capture" it in the museum and use it to depict a past that has irrevocably altered outside its walls. Many cities have "living museums" in its midst--that is, the building and structures still extant in them. However, in Hong Kong, where change seems to be its identity/destiny, little evidence of the past remains as buildings are torn down and (re)constructed.

            Much ink has been spilt on constructing, defining, and "solidifying" the Hong Kong identity, particularly post-1997 with its return to China and the emphasis on cloder links with the Mainland. The "The Hong Kong Story" is one such attempt, a permanent exhibition in the Hong Kong Museum of History, comprising eight galleries located on two floors. It consists of over 4,000 exhibits, with graphic panels, dioramas and multimedia programmes, and enhanced with special audeo-visual and lighting effects, to outline the natural environment, folk culture, and historical development of Hong Kong. What interests me is how the exhibits "frame" the story for botht he Chinese and the non-Chinese visitor--are there any differences? This paper sets out to analyze just for whom this story is for by comparing and contrasting both the Chinese and English companion texts using the methods and perspectives of pragmatics and
critical discourse analysis


Todd Oakley
Case Western Reserve University

Title: "The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's Rainforest Exhibit: A Cognitive Semantic Analysis"

This presentation explores the dynamics of meaning construction in a modern zoological exhibit using the perspectives and methods of Cognitive Semantics, the name given to an recent school of linguistic theory that sees language and other sign systems as issuing from general cognitive operations grounding in our bodily interaction in the world. Perhaps the two most recognizable figures in Cognitive Semantics outside linguistics are George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), the pioneers of Conceptual Metaphor Theory, but this presentation develops along the lines of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner's (2002) Conceptual Blending theory of meaning construction based on Fauconnier's earlier theory of Mental Spaces. Mental Spaces and Blending theory (MSBT) has been shown to be useful for describing and explaining a range of grammatical, semantic, and pragmatic phenomena, such as tense and modality, analogy, metaphor, counterfactuals, reference, and deixis. Historically treated as completely separate phenomena governed by separate mental operations by other schools of linguistics and theories of mind, these diverse phenomena shake out as manifestations of the similar set of mental operations when examined within MSBT framework. Given this general orientation and given Fauconnier and Turner's commitment to the study of how human beings think, act, and talk in specific situations, MSBT is therefore a promising interpretive framework for studying the dynamic operations of meaning construction among diverse semiotics systems operating in parallel, a mode of analysis not actually fully enacted but nevertheless endorsed by Fauconnier and Turner. I intend to show how an alternate mode of blending analysis inspired by Brandt & Brandt (2002) and designed specifically for the study of complex semiotic systems can be profitably extended to institutional analysis. In addition, the present analysis will demonstrate how conceptual blends can be "materially anchored" in the perceptual environment consist with Hutchins's (In press) most recent study of "cognitive artifacts."

            Modern zoological gardens and parks make excellent case studies for a cognitive semantic analysis of cultural institutions. As institutions serving diverse and often conflicting cultural, political, and economic interests as either animal preserve and breeding ground, scientific laboratory, instructional agency, and recreational park, they contain rich sources of variegated interacting signs systems surely to test any general theory of meaning. This analysis will show that in their daily visits to the local zoo astute patrons are confronted with conflicting interests and imperatives that define and redefine the zoo experience and which must be integrated into coherent mental models in order for the institution to satisfy its principal mission "to improve the future of wildlife." This presentation attempts to explain how Western patrons create coherent zoological experiences by: (1) giving a psychologically plausible account of the mental spaces and blending networks active in selective attention and working memory during a visit to the rainforest exhibit; 2) providing a account of how some signs distract attention from the principal mission by creating rhetorically ineffective conceptual blends; (3) offering a global analysis of the rainforest exhibit as an materially anchored conceptual blend; and 4) showing how Fauconnier and Turner's (2002) central insight that human meaning construction entails "compression to a human scale" relates to the inherent constraints on representing bio diversity in ways that resonate with patrons.

            Ultimately, this paper contributes to a rapprochement among cognitive theorists, who in developing general models of meaning construction pay insufficient attention to the particularities of time, place, and culture when conducting analyses and developing models, and social and cultural theorists, who in examining particular discourse practices often pay insufficient attention to the general constraints human cognition places on the workings of culture.


Brandt, Line & Brandt, Per Aage. (2002). Making sense of a blend. Apparatur 4: 65-71.

Fauconnier, Gilles & Turner, Mark. (2002). The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the

             Mind's Hidden Complexities . New York: Basic Books.

Hutchins, Edwin. (In Press). Material anchors for conceptual blends. Journal of Pragmatics .

Lakoff, George & Johnson, Mark. (1980). Metaphors We Live By . Chicago: University of

              Chicago Press.


Jeri Moxley
University of California--Berkeley
Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Title: "African Art for America: Exhibiting Post-Colonial Africa in Civil Rights Era Berkeley"

            This paper employs cognitive metaphor theory and the mental spaces and blending framework to account for meaning construction in an exhibition of African American Arts and the University of California, Berkeley's anthropology museum in 1967. Analysis of the exhibit text reveals that as attendees moved through the exhibition space, they progressively constructed an understanding of African culture through conceptual blending involving (1) a Western sense of aesthetics, (2) African culture as primitive, (3) Colonialism as a disease which infected and killed African culture, (4) African independence as a movement parallel to the American civil rights movement, (5) Africa as a wilderness safari and an interesting blend of this conceptual space with the notion of independence as an achievement of an approximation of western civilization. From start to finish, the exhibit text developed a story for the audience of the importance not only of the role of the museum in preserving culture, but also of African contributions to Western culture and the relevance of African Arts to a changing American society.

            The museum's exhibit archives provide an excellent record of not only the exhibit text and photographs of the objects and exhibit layout, but also include publicity and educational materials for the exhibit which further situate it on the heels of African independence, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, and, more specifically, for the progressive Berkeley-era audience. The exhibit was coordinated by the museum's director, professor William Bascom, an anthropologist specializing in Yoruba culture who had personally collected many of the objects on display.

            The exhibit text begins with general statements about African independence, direct reference to African descendants in the United States, and a map of the African continent showing the geographic distribution of cultures on display. The introductory text notes the importance of art to the new nations of Africa and expresses a hope that African's descendants in America may identify with these art forms as well, evoking a sense of shared struggle and a need for enduring symbols of identity in both communities. Immediately the text moves into the past tense to describe masks and ritual objects, evoking a sense that the display represents cultures and cultural practices no longer in existence and the importance of the role of the museum in preserving them for the American audience.   Exhibit sections move subtly from the African past to the American present, beginning with sections labeled Magic and Divination, Religion, and Initiation . These are followed by a stand-alone quote from the European artist Maurice Vlaminck referencing his 1905 discovery of African art. The exhibit then moves into technology sections on Brass-casting, Weaving, and A Wood-carver's tools before transitioning to more direct reference to the importance of the exhibit to the American audience. A stand-alone panel refuting the notion that Africans have no aesthetics is followed by exhibit sections on Lineages , with associated cultural artifacts, and Arts without context , noting the loss of utilitarian and cultural contexts for the displayed objects. Before concluding with a section on African music , text panels with quotes from Henri Matisse and Maurice Valminck noting the importance of African sculpture to European artists at the start of the 20 th century are interspersed between exhibit cases. The exhibit concludes with a blending of many invoked themes, including a statement that "by now it is realized that, despite their great contribution to our own art tradition, the arts of Africa are to be recognized first and foremost in their own right."


Sarah Pogell
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Title: "Still “Lost in the Funhouse” of Language:
George Saunders’s Theme-Parks and Corporate Discourse as Simulacra"

Contemporary short-story writer George Saunders likes to set his darkly futuristic tales in theme parks, which, as several readers have suggested, closely parallels Baudrillard paradigmatic simulacra and exemplified by Disneyland’s hyperreality. What has not been examined is that Saunders seems fascinated by these artificial realms precisely for their potential to access the real. In their phony, overdetermined pretension, theme parks, in addition to early man exhibits and historic reenactments, set in relief the all-to-real, behind-the-scenes park employees, Saunders’s prototypical loser-protagonists, whose apathy and ineffectuality would have gotten them killed in the actual battles they daily reenact. The juxtaposition is not only ironic but funny. Yet danger lurks in these funhouses in the form of language—specifically that of the park owners whose absent yet controlling presence is felt by the exhortatory and threatening office memos and reports they regularly send to their workers. Written in a strikingly familiar yet somehow unfamiliar style, this discourse reproduces what is commonly referred to as corporate-speak, yet corporate-speak taken to such a high register of cruelty and unironic self-parody that the CEOs don’t realize they’ve reproduced a paper facsimile of themselves with no referent and no relation to the actual experience of human beings and work.