Friday 18 June 2010

The Hurt Locker

The sciSCREEN Hurt Locker event on Thursday 27th May was very well attended. Indeed, it was a shame that we had to turn people away from the screening, though we made efforts to ensure that everybody who wanted to attend the discussion was accommodated in Media Point. The film, and sciSCREEN, was introduced by Dr Katie Featherstone of the ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen). This post-film discussion was held in the newly renovated Media Point room. Although Cinema 2 seats 57 with space for two wheelchairs, nearly 70 people attended the discussion chaired by Dr Jamie Lewis of Cesagen/MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (CNGG). Each speaker gave a short 5 to 10 minutes talk, highlighting aspects of the film that they found interesting and that linked to their areas of expertise.

First to speak was Dr Tracey Loughran from the School of History and Archaeology, who has written on the history of ‘shell shock’. Starting from Peter Bradshaw’s – a film critic for the Guardian – description of the Hurt Locker as ‘Shell Shock 2.0’, Tracey discussed the history of the term ‘shell shock’ and the ways in which the psychological trauma of war and battle has been handled by psychiatrists and the military over the past century. This was followed by a first hand account from Lt. Felix Carman of the Royal Navy, who talked about his own experience of the psychological effects of being in the military and of the psychiatric help available.

The third speaker was Dr Jonathan Webber, of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy. Jonathan used Aristotle as a starting point for a discussion of ideas of cowardice, bravery, and recklessness in relation to the characters in the film. Jonathan argued that it was not accurate to describe the main character in the Hurt Locker, James, as reckless or foolhardy, as that fails to take into account that James has an accurate understanding of the danger that he places himself in. Jonathan was followed by Professor Jon Bisson, Director of Research and Development for Cardiff University School of Medicine. Jon spoke with reference to his own experience as a military psychiatrist, and discussed the significant differences between the mental health problems in the UK and US militaries. The final speaker was Dr David Machin, of the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Culture, who spoke about the representation of war in the media, and the way in which our collective imagery for war is increasingly assembled from the cheap, reusable and generic stock images.

After the talks there was nearly an hour of discussion between the audience and the speakers, and between members of the audience. Some of the questions and issues discussed included: The use of alcohol in the military; both in terms of the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism in terms of the way a diagnosis of alcoholism might mask other psychiatric problems. The problems of re-adjusting to everyday life after the experiences of war. The idea of ‘professionalism’, especially with regard to how ideas of bravery and responsibility play out in extraordinary situations. The relationship between bravery, selflessness and selfish bravado. The way in which stock photos shape, and potentially clean up, our imaginations of war, and the parallels between this and historical monuments. And what the term ‘Hurt Locker’ actually means. We wrapped up the formal discussion just after 10pm, however, with people invited to continue the discussion informally – and to finish off the wine – we had difficulty ushering people out of Media Point.

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the event […]. I thought the whole thing was very well organised, so have nothing to add there, and found the other speakers really fascinating. I will definitely come along as an audience member again!’, Tracey.

The next Cardiff sciSCREEN event will be a screening of Inception on Friday, August 27th at 5.45pm at Chapter Arts Centre. Further details of the event will be circulated soon.

*The Hurt Locker Cardiff sciSCREEN event was sponsored by the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics.

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