This article examines a series of media events occurring during General Vo Nguyen Giap's death that shine the spotlight on politics of the body in the public arena. The author's analysis focuses on the general's corpse, its connection to the larger body politic of the Vietnamese nation, and its symbolic and practical ties to the bodies of other common citizens. The author frames these interlinked relationships as “body politics,” a process in which the interaction of corporeal bodies in public spaces and their representations by channels of mass media would subject the national body politic to bottom-up contestations as well as reactionary responses. The study of media and its relationship to structures of feeling offers ways to evaluate the multiplicity of readings people have for parading bodies in both democratic and socialist contexts. As old communist leaders whose personal biographies lend legitimacy to the incumbent political order pass away, new figures come to the forefront of public consciousness manifesting as the “people-as-many.” Late socialism is thus seen as a cultural battlefield in which traditional media comes into friction with new media with regard to state censorship, ownership, and control over national ideologies. What we call “politics” and “resistance” are not necessarily concerted and motivated series of actions by specific actors but instead occur at particular conjunctures when public engagement with media stimulates forms of cultural friction across a spectrum of ideological and social relations. General Giap's funeral offers a useful case study about the interaction between traditional and new media and their political implications in present-day Vietnam, which has broader connections to the study of censorship, political subjectivities, and nationalism elsewhere in the digital era.
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Tri Phuong; Saint, Celebrity, and the Self(ie): Body Politics in Late Socialist Vietnam. positions 1 November 2017; 25 (4): 821–842. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-4188434
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