Invitation to Witness: The Role of Subjects in Documentary Representations of the End of Life

Emily West


This article considers recent media texts from four Western countries that invite audiences to watch someone die. When dying people resist the default of social invisibility by participating in documentary media, they challenge hegemonic attitudes about dying and physical fallibility, even as they introduce this aspect of life into the logics of media visibility and self-disclosure. I focus on their invitation to witness and the faith in the possibilities of media visibility they express by agreeing to die on camera, bearing in mind the power relations among dying people, media professionals, and audiences within which this invitation occurs. The participants in these texts articulate a desire to deprivatize the deathbed in order to help other dying people and their caregivers. Their motivation speaks to the idea that seeing death may puncture the neoliberal fiction of the autonomous, invulnerable self.


image ethics, documentary, witnessing, death and dying, visibility

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