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DOI: 10.30628/1994-9529-2021-17.2-61-117

OLGA A. LAVRENOVA
Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences
of the Russian Academy of Sciences,
MISIS National University of Science and Technology,
GITR Film and Television School,
Moscow, Russia
Researcher ID: AAK-6407-2020
ORCID: 0000-0003-4916-0622
e-mail: olgalavr@mail.ru

“THE SEAMY SIDE OF THE CITY”: MARGINAL LANDSCAPES AND CONTEMPORARY VISUAL CULTURE

Abstract. The topic of people thrown to the sidelines of life is considered in a double frame—in the context of the way the urban space is arranged and in the context of modern visual culture (feature films, video and photo blogs, videos on popular YouTube channels). The most hyped-up type of marginal landscape in modern media is slums. The otherness of such spaces has always been a subject of interest and curiosity, for “gazing”—interpretation, perception and entertainment. In modern mass culture, the “location” of the global south slums is especially trendy. In such exterior, hyper-popular feature films such as Slumdog Millionaire have been shot, causing a new cultural phenomenon—mass slum tourism. This phenomenon seems to be ambiguous from an ethical point of view; but from the point of view of visual culture, it is voyeurism brought to the level of an art and everyday life practice. The second type of marginal urban landscapes is local “invasion” into the decent and institutionalized city space. This art form serves as a “location” for a psychological drama of superfluous people. Features of national identity are most clearly manifested on its seamy side rather than anywhere else. Japanese townships of the homeless, incorporated into central and well-to-do areas, are no strangers to order and aesthetics; while Russian realities—chaos, departure from norms and underground—are completely opposite. Classic films devoted to this issue—Dodes’ka-den by Akira Kurasawa, Promised Heaven by Eldar Ryazanov, The Lady in the Van by Nicholas Hytner—model these seamy spaces and their peculiarities inherent in national culture. Very popular now are YouTube channels about the life of homeless people, which show real characters in their real habitats, introducing marginal spaces into the rank of a hot-topic visual culture. This type of visualization provokes another cultural phenomenon— the perception of marginal loci and their inhabitants as an interactive performance. Interactivity can vary from attacking to fraternization, from preaching to charity. Odd as it may seem, hyper-visualization and aestheticization of social ulcers contributes to their social invisibility. It is a problem, which no one is going to solve anymore; it has become a part of modern culture with its own philosophical and aesthetic arguments—and in a certain sense they act as its justification.
Keywords: city, slums, marginality, cultural landscape, visual culture