Blurred Figures of Speech

Blurred Figures of Speech:

The Speaking Subject in the Anonymous Interview

Patrik Sjöberg, Assistant Professor

Karlstad University


Whistleblowers, witnesses, informants, activists, graffiti artists, drug dealers, illegal immigrants in hiding, and other people that for one reason or another cannot publicly reveal their identity by having their faces shown, have become regular features in documentary media. These subjects are blacked out, blurred, pixilated, silhouetted, creatively lit, wearing hats and sunglasses, hoods, they are viewed from a great distance, they are sitting with their back towards the camera, or they are all together animated. The voice of the person can be scrambled or otherwise manipulated, or simply read back by another person altogether. This paper does not so much map out the history of this representational strategy, as it probes some of the questions that arise when examining these: how should we consider the position from which a hidden subject is speaking? In what way(s) does the hidden identity alter, influence, or determine the content of what is being spoken by the subject? How should we consider the voice of the subject in the anonymous interview?


These and other closely related questions will be framed within the ongoing larger research context that aims to properly situate the speaking subject in documentary media. My discussion is anchored in a variety of examples taken from a host of sources (documentary film, Television, investigative reporting, radio, pornography, the Internet, and print media), as well as spanning over most of the last century and up until today. The topic is one part of my ongoing research on the speaking subject in documentary media.


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