‘What is Your Advice to the Drinking Housewife?’

by: , June 14, 2021

© Jennifer Rigley aka JenniCam

‘JenniCam’ was an early star of the silent digital screen, a ‘lifecaster’. Starting in 1996, a black and white webcam, showing Jennifer Ringley’s student dorm, refreshed every three minutes. At its most popular JenniCam attracted up to four million views a day.


In 1998 ‘Jenni’ played ‘JoanneCam’, a fictional version of herself, murdered during the first few minutes of an episode of the detective series, Diagnosis Murder. A dead girl is the start of something, the point at which a human becomes a thing: ‘Late at night Amanda witnesses on-line on ‘Joannecam’ the star stab-murder by a masked man who looks straight into the web-cam,’ [1] says the IMDB (Internet Movie Database), rating the episode a high 8.4.

Rear Windows ’98 refers to the past and the present: Hitchcock’s thriller, and the then newly released Windows ’98 operating system. Before the credits, we see a white-coated medic sitting in a hospital staff room. Out loud to no one, she asks the internet to ‘take me somewhere I don’t have to do any paperwork.’ [2] The doctor is a middle-aged African-American woman. She watches a younger white woman eat lunch onscreen: ‘nice living room… unbelievable!’. I don’t know if she doesn’t believe the decor, or that someone would screen herself eating lunch, or that anyone would watch it.

JenniCam attracted similar incredulity. If something is being screened, critics thought, something else must be hidden in plain sight. ‘Jenni’ only occasionally stripped for the camera: though she left the webcam on to film masturbation and sex, she did not perform to it. What outraged (largely male, self-appointed) critics was her ‘banality’. Steve Baldwin, who reviewed JenniCam in May 2004 under his blog category ‘Forgotten Web Celebrities’ was disappointed by Jenni’s refusal to make an exhibition of herself: ‘the only thing really being published at jennicam.org is pictures of empty chairs, empty rooms, empty walls, or sleeping jennis’. [3]

The viewer of JoanneCam’s murder (the medic or the TV audience) sees hardly any ‘banality’ when a white, male figure in a balaclava, clothed entirely in black, the contextless killer, walks onscreen behind the lifecaster, struggles with, and stabs her, before approaching the webcam to (uselessly now) break it. Before doing this he stares directly into the camera as though he is looking at the medic/viewer. As though looking, and being looked at, were a proof of something.

Autopsy, Kate Zambreno [4] tells me, comes from the ancient Greek for ‘to see with your own eyes’—what we are looking for is the evidence of some kind of absence: death—and autopsy is also Dr. Amanda’s (the medic who witnesses the murder onscreen) job. If looking provides some sort of evidence, is its object the murderer, the victim, or the observer? Before her death, Jenni-asJoanne does not look at the screen. She does not act like someone acting for the camera and she does not act like a non-actor aware of a camera in the room: she acts like a non-actor acting avoiding acting like a camera is there.

Online, ‘Jenni’ often looked at the camera as though it could respond. Was JenniCam a cyborg subject, or a cyberobject? If (Godard said—or was it D. W. Griffith?) [5] all you need for a film is a girl and a gun (or something you can shoot with), is all you need for a girl a film and a gun? Is all you need for a gun (it’s no surprise now, though it may have surprised some in the mid-90s, to learn that ‘Jenni’ received death threats) a girl and a film? What about the ‘you’ that has these needs? Is all you need for ‘you’—for the male Godardian directorial subject who is not the girl or the gun or even the film—all those things?


The titles come up featuring the four main characters (three white men, one black woman). A magnifying glass glides over an optometrist’s chart (the profession of none of the characters) highlighting their names. Writing screens what it has hidden in plain sight.

The series Diagnosis Murder was directed by a man and starred the IRL father and son duo Dick and Barry van Dyke, but the series writers were both women. One of them, Joyce Burditt, had worked on a number of mystery series, and also wrote The Cracker Factory, a 1977 TV movie based on her novel about her own experience of institutionalisation for alcoholism, after a living as a ‘drinking housewife’.

First scene: Dr. Amanda is explaining the murder to the father/medic (Dick van Dyke) and son/detective (Barry van Dyke) in a non-medical setting (another living room). The two men ask if the murder ‘really’ took place. Was it ‘live’? Was it ‘fiction’? ‘Maybe it was just a joke then,’ suggests the son/detective, who also suggests that tracking the victim ‘will be tough without a full name or an address of any kind… It could have happened anywhere in the world’. The son/detective: ‘I just don’t think there’s enough to go on.’ The doctor declares that because she witnessed it, the murder must be real, and that she is ‘the only one who cares,’ shifting the focus of ‘truth’ from witnessing to feeling.

In a 1977 interview [6] with People Magazine, Burditt describes a situation in which it became rational to behave irrationally: her labour as a housewife was neither recognised nor recompensed, but always expected.


A younger male doctor argues with a young female patient about the nature of her pain. It turns out they are a couple, and furthermore that the patient asserts that she was poisoned at the restaurant in which the doctor has a financial steak. The same (male) doctor questions the murder story told by the (female) doctor who witnessed JoanneCam’s death. This scene comes right after the scene with his girlfriend but he seems in no distress. The doctor asks, ‘Why would anybody do that, set up a camera in their house, all those strangers watching you all the time?’. He does not ask why anyone should commit murder. The female doctor reasons, ‘Nobody does ever know who you are; you’re just this body wandering across the screen, whatever’.

Burditt’s alcoholism was professional and locational: ‘A housewife has no place to go. She lives in her office, surrounded by the things she hasn’t done, 24 hours a day, seven days a week’. [7] Burditt’s eventual escape was via the screen, not by watching but by writing for it.

The doctors visit some teen/early 20s ‘gamers’ in a bar. They are 2 guys and a goth/emo girl who describes her clothes as ‘visual critiques of culture trends’. The girl stands behind one of the guys, one hand on his chair in a classic girl pose, signalling that she’s present but not central. One guy is interested to meet a doctor who has practiced real autopsies, as he is ‘way too interested in fighting demons’. The goth girl—’the irony in the life of the community’ [8]—critiques the boys in a kind of inner monologue, spoken aloud, which neither seems to hear. She describes ‘JoanneCam’ as ‘one of the webcam floozies’. When he hears the webcam has been taken down, the main guy says, ‘My first real dead cybercorpse: gone!’. They have no sense that the crime should be solved, or that they are in a genre called the detective story.

The People interviewer clearly identifies Burditt with the heroine of The Cracker Factory, although Burditt replies the personal elements are only ‘about 50 percent. The basic story is autobiographical, but there are fictional situations and characters. I didn’t want to write a diary—there are parts of my life that are not that enthralling’. [9]


Dr. Amanda & Dr Dick Van Dyke who talk about the banality of webcams.

Dr Dick: ‘the electronic frontier!’

Dr. Amanda: ‘scary.’

Dr Dick: ‘Sad.’

‘The web likes lists,’ they agree.

‘It is that truth, let us note,’ Lacan notes in his Seminar on the Purloined Letter, ‘which makes the very existence of fiction possible’. [10]

‘Banality’ only becomes ‘scary’ or ‘sad’ onscreen. The two doctors watch a site that literally shows grass grow.

The Cracker Factory starred Nathalie Wood, who was found drowned under mysterious circumstances off the boat she owned with her husband, in 1983.

Dr. A. experiences flashbacks to the events she witnessed onscreen. Her flashbacks are visual: the ‘dead’ nature of the image is ‘life-like’, life’s uncanny double. If the practice of autopsy is to witness, to experience ‘the uncanny, according to Freud,’ writes Cathy Park Hong, ‘is also to feel ‘robbed of one’s eyes’. [11] Dr. A. thinks she remembers that ‘Joanne’ has a club foot (Jenni IRL does not). ‘Well at least I really saw what I really thought I saw,’ says Dr. A., as the detectives check the murders of club-footed women.

Though he was never charged, it seems possible Wood was murdered by her husband, also a screen star, after an argument. They were both drunk.

Dr. A.’s credit card is mysteriously blacklisted. The Doctor/restauranteur cuts it up. ‘But this is me, I’m not a stranger,’ she protests. ‘I didn’t have a choice,’ he replies. The computer told him to do it. ‘I hate computers,’ the restauranteurs conclude. The Dr/restauranteur apologises to Dr. A.: ‘How embarrassing it must be to have something like that happen to you right there in public’. Dr. A. can’t clear up the credit card problem because she banks online: ‘Your bank’s computer has to talk to the credit card company’s computer… And with my luck they’ll hate each other… At least my computer seems to like me. Or maybe not’. 

Wood’s drunkenness was cited in the initial verdict of ‘accidental death’, which was later revised to ‘drowning and other undetermined factors’.


We see fragmented parts of a white guy in a car with much electronic technology, sunglasses, denim. Because he is seen incompletely, we know that he must be the murderer. [12] This man has access to virtual technologies that have effects IRL. He can not only control Dr. A.’s credit cards, but change the sequence of traffic lights so she is nearly run over. Fingerprints found on a crime scene are identified as ‘hers’.

‘Patients, particularly women, are reluctant to say they have a drinking problem, and doctors are equally reluctant to mention it,’ said Burditt in the People interview.

A club-footed woman is discovered to have been murdered locally.


Burditt said ‘AA is not a group of weirdo strangers; it is filled with your neighbors.’ [13]

We watch Dr. A. as she has a flashback to the murderer ‘looking’ at her through the screen. There is no non-occult interpretation to account for the murderer knowing she saw him onscreen, other than the feeling that the screen’s interface is contagious.


 If, to paraphrase Jenny Holzer, paranoia comes as no surprise, then here’s a mystery: why would a woman—who, according to a body of writing by women on paranoia including Sianne Ngai (2001), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (2002), Rita Felski [14] (2012), and Lisa Ruddick [15](2015), has real reasons to be be paranoid about gendered threat—write a murder mystery over her own dead body? Coincidence? Or is there something behind it?

Tense music. Dr. A. is seen entering a sinister graffiti’d building. Switch of perspective to first-person shooter: we see her as though we might be following her, as though we might be the killer, or the detective. ‘Where the hell is everybody?’ she narrates to no-one. So far in the episode, we have hardly seen a character alone, never in domestic spaces, always in public. There is no indication that this empty space is the scene of the murder. 

A mystery casts its viewer as paranoid. There has to be something hidden, or where’s the plot? Paranoia, writes Sedgwick, is ‘inescapably narrative’. [16] This narrative relies on the binary of mystery and solution, one concealing the other. If the subtext is hidden by the text, hierarchically, the ‘subtext’ is‘superior’. [17]

 Dr. A. finds information about the dead woman. ‘He wanted me to find this, it’s the only thing that makes sense.’ Paranoia, or the demands of the screen narrative?

The paranoid binary par excellence, writes Sedgwick, is gender (to describe gender as an all-pervasive structure is, by Sedgwick’s own definition, a paranoid theory), and gender—historically performed as a placeholder for something hidden—is structured like a murder mystery.

Dr. A. visits the gamers again: ‘This isn’t a joke, this is real you guys.’ One male gamer describes Dr. A. as a ‘damsel in distress’. The goth girl, now dressed as a Chekov heroine, says, ‘I don’t see a damsel anywhere’ (again she corrects the narrative, speaking to an unseen viewer).

Damsels, Freud wrote in ‘Femininity’, one of his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, are never seen anywhere. ‘Woman’ is the originator, he claims, of no technology but weaving, which she invented in order to screen what she has not got. She is the originator of this hierarchy of the mystery of the seen and unseen, and her subjectivity is subject to this performance. ‘For Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, the fundamental category of consciousness is the relation hidden-shown or, if you prefer, simulated-manifested.’ [18] This is Paul Ricoeur, on whose ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ Felski’s writing in particular depends. If Ricoeur is right, subjectivity is not a state but a process, and it involves the doubled function of screening/screening as showing/hiding.

Dr. A. lets the gamers use the hospital’s computers (boundaries are flimsy). Again the doctor/restauranteur and Dr. A. argue about how much they exist ‘onscreen’. Again Doc Resto defends the virtual, which Dr. A. insists has material consequences. ‘They are serious about what they do,’ says Dr Resto to Dr. A. as the two guy gamers throw a skull to each other. They two doctors watch from behind a glass wall, the gamers have taken the place of the doctors in their office.

Giving Freud the benefit of credulity, if all she is concealing is her lack, a woman has nothing to hide. Her technology, screening ‘nothing’, works to draw attention to (‘to screen’ in the sense of ‘to broadcast’) this screening. Paranoid Freud only sees the screen, not what is screened. He does not need a reveal to witness what he already ‘knows’ not to be there. In fact, to continue in his authoritative state of paranoia, he specifically needs a reveal to not-happen; for the mystery to not be solved.

 Doc Resto and Doc Detective argue about Dr Resto’s girlfriend who wants to report her food poisoning: ‘Marry her, just fix this,’ (game over), and also: ‘Your girlfriend is delusional’. ‘Nah,’ says Doc Resto, ‘I’ve dated delusional women’. But, after three days at a ‘girls’ camp’ she has returned, ‘way too community minded’.

As for Freud’s women, do they only see that they must be screening ‘nothing’ when they witness Freud’s (un)witnessing process? Do they see him seeing? In ‘When Nothing is Cool’, Lisa Ruddick argues that paranoid reading (or viewing) imitates Freud’s ‘posture of detachment,’ involving what Leo Bersani (quoted in Sedgwick’s account of paranoid and reparative reading) calls ‘an inescapable interpretive doubling of presence’. [19] Unlike mirror-stage self-identification as subject/object, the ‘doubling’ of paranoid identity is located by separating the watcher from the watched, producing subjectivity (in the viewer)that outsources any notion of guilt, including responsibility for producing a watchable action, to the watched.Obliged to dismember or disaggregate themselves, having to suspend feelings, ethics, values,’ paranoid readers reflexively induce subjectivity by condemning others: ‘You do not know that you are ideologically-driven, historically determined, or culturally constructed, but I do!’ (Felski). This separation from warm affective relation with a person or text produces the watcher/critic as ‘doubled’ subject, de-humanising the watched, though they remain the ‘content’/’narrative’ that enables this doubling. Ruddick (discussing paranoia as an academic trend) ‘believe[s] that when a scholar traffics in antihumanist theories for purposes of professional advancement, his or her private self stands in the doorway, listening in’.

The gamers argue with Dr. A. about lifecasting: ‘It demonstrates the interconnectedness of every life on the planet, pure visual communication to bind us together,’ says the chief gamer (who says least, but is always visually central). ‘That is a crock,’ says the goth girl. ‘It’s all about making their insignificant lives seem significant. Say you’re some poor slob who works in a cubicle all day…’ The flip side of workplace alienation is fame.

Ruddick describes students who, struggling with critique’s ‘detachment’, are reluctant to bear witness that ‘the emperor has no clothes’. She calls paranoid reading, a ‘mode’, as though it might be put on and taken off, like a fashion in dress: ‘What began as theory persists as style’.

‘Cool!’ The main gamer suggests Dr. A. create her own workplace webcam. ‘Autopsycam.com’—’You’ll get more hits than a Pamela Anderson site.’

Pamela Anderson was, in the 1990s, an actress and ‘glamour’ model, famous for wearing a swimsuit. Inverting The Emperor’s New Clothes, few noticed the garment that ‘screened’—projected while hiding—her body. If it hid ’nothing’, the red swimsuit induced not a ‘doubling of presence’ in her but a doubling of non-presence.

‘That’s here in LA!’ exclaims Dr. A. as the gamers’ ‘weasel’ (operated by the goth girl) traces the hacker’s modem. Again everything is local. The address of the modem is that of the killer’s next victim. In the background of his apartment is a poster that suggest the work of Saul Bass, Hitchcock’s regular poster designer, though it’s not the poster for Rear Window. 

The emperor’s cool is blown when he’s revealed to have failed to have screened what he has. Pamela Anderson is cool because she’s seen onscreen, screening ‘nothing’. Her fans don’t really want to see her naked (nudity was not so hard to find, even in the early days of the internet): they want to be seen to be wanting to see—aspects of their own identity are produced via this relation—but they don’t want it to be known that they prefer the fig leaf to the fig: that’s not a cool look. The boy who saw the emperor had no clothes wasn’t calling out only—or even primarily—the emperor, but his witnesses.

Visiting the apartment, the crime team find they are being filmed by a webcam. Like the killer, they approach and stare helplessly into its lens.

Is it cool to reveal, or cool to be cool with not-revealing? Would tearing off Anderson’s swimsuit be a liberating act, or an act of gender aggression? Ruddick is particularly troubled by such ‘cool’ transgressions, for example the critic Jack Halberstam’s [20] ‘badboy’ championing of the ‘postgender’ possibilities of director Jonathan Demme’s male serial killer Buffalo Bill’s suits made from the skins of murdered women in his film The Silence of the Lambs, while refusing to acknowledge the misogynistic text hidden in plain sight above the subtext.

 ‘We’ve got ourselves a serial killer,’ says Dr Dick, who traces (online) dead webcam operators in six cities. A serial killer has a tricksy modus operandi and no apparent motive. Dr Dick suggests he might enjoy ‘killing people twice, once in real life, and once in cyberspace.’ Screen fame does not guarantee immortality but mortality.

(But I want to know what position ‘cool’ occupies in Ruddick’s piece. Describing a critical (in every sense) situation in which ‘nothing’ is ‘cool’, does she mean that that positive affects in critical reading are ‘cool’ (and we’re lacking them) or that it’s the pursuit of ‘cool’ that induces the ‘nothing’ of negatively affective critical readings?)

The killer blows up small details with a ‘digital enhancer’ says Doc Dick, as though the screen does not pixilate on close-up, as though there were no interfacing lens, as though it were real.

Onscreen cool, writes Marshall McLuhan, relies on distance but invites ardent engagement. Mediated by the screen, cool generates a ‘hot’ affective response in the viewer—usually, as with Pamela Anderson’s fan, with a sexual flavour. In Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the telephone functions as what Avital Ronell calls, ‘an instrument of seduction and entry’. [21] In Rear Windows ’98, that role is taken by the digital screen (remember the dial-up modems of that era, and the telephone’s connection to the internet?).

More attack financial/legal attacks on Dr. A. render her life what we would now call ‘precarious’. She is a single mother (this is the first time we have heard this: are we surprised?) and afraid her son will be ‘taken away’.

Ronell’s (screenless) 1980s phone in The Telephone Book was an interface enabling the son to screen the mother’s expected call. The screen is another such affective interface. ‘Characterized by wariness of strong emotion in general and maternal fervor in particular,’ [22] writes Susan Fraiman in her book on the ‘cool men’ who direct the big screen, ‘coolness as I see it is epitomized by the modern adolescent boy in his anxious, self-conscious, and theatricalized will to separate from the mother’. ‘It goes without saying,’ writes Fraiman, ‘that within this paradigm the place occupied by the mother is by definition uncool.’ [23]

Dr. A. admits to the gamers, ‘I guess I am that damsel in distress.’ The team are finally arrested after a fake warning, the police say ‘we were just following orders.’ The goth girl is wearing a tailored non-military jacket with decorative army stripes.

If the screen is a place to manage affect-based subjectivity, the ‘hot’ situation of a murder mystery (characters exhibit passion, anger, violence, terror) generates a ‘cool’ paranoid reaction from the viewer, who finds what would be shocking IRL ‘interesting’ in Ngai’s sense of the word: a mystery to solve. Material that might have made a melodrama is muted, via the genre’s expectations, to paranoia’s flat affect (‘a curiously non-emotional emotion of morally inflected mistrust,’ Felski), which guarantees not only that ‘surprise’ is never ‘neutral’ but always negative, but that it is also negated as ‘surprise’ (we suspected as much…). However, when a murder mystery becomes a detective story, the detached stance of the ‘cool’ detective as avatar-witness re-casts the viewer as fan: no wonder so many watchers find screen detectives ‘hot’.

All the characters follow a lead to another sinister building, a warehouse of ‘loft-style’ offices. Again we see them as though we might be the murderer. Inside is a computer linked to a webcam on which they witness another killing. Again this private space is the location of a murder in another private space.

For minoritarian subjects with good reason to be paranoid there may be little difference or hierarchy between the ‘delusional’ paranoia of the ‘hot’ victim and the ‘rational’ suspicion of the ‘cool’ detective. If the screen is governed by a violently gendered hierarchy (and a hierarchy of gendered violence), can paranoia go some way to dissolving these binaries? Or, by making them equivalent, does it merely show their seams)? 

‘The answer’s in there,’ says Tec Resto, pointing to the computer (for all that the screen provides only an image). ‘What do you see?’ they ask. I think we got him,’ says Tec Resto when they identify a regional football mascot onscreen but, again, they identify the victim’s, not the killer’s, location. This second victim is male. He is not named (because he is an actor, not a ‘real’ non-pro like Jenni?), just ‘that guy’.

Sedgwick insists on the ‘powerful reparative practices that, I am convinced, infuse self-avowedly paranoid critical projects’. [24] Ngai reports that paranoid states can offer opportunities for ‘thinking’ and ‘escaping’. Paranoia, writes Sedgwick, can ‘open up a space’ to ask ‘what does knowledge do?’ [25] (how does it ‘perform’?). If the screen is a paranoid exercise in affective distancing, what spaces can women—like Burditt—induce via performances of threat to, and images of, dead female bodies?

We see Dr. A., as at the opening of the episode, with her laptop in front of her. We are behind the laptop (the position of the webcam, also of the camera in horror movies: we can see what is behind her). As in most horror films, it is evening, after hours, which means after work hours: time becomes dangerous. The killer, who is in the hospital disguised as a catering worker (wearing a lab coat identical to those of the doctors), has shut off all digital equipment to prevent calls for help. The hospital should surely be full of living people, although Dr. A. deals only with the dead.

‘You can write about anything so long as it is dead,’ Felski reports a student saying. Only closed narratives afford venues for generous critical engagement (Ngai notes avant-garde contemporary criticism’s lack of interest in avant-garde contemporary writing). To keep on producing a dead image in order to induce a space for action, to tautologously mention what is no surprise, can nevertheless produce a platform from which to ‘perform’ paranoia’s resistance to its own process. It seems essential that paranoia is an element here: its anti-authoritarian, anti-‘rational’, ‘hot affect, based on an understanding of being under threat, can provide space for the minoritarian viewer to take up a ‘cool’ position: that of the researcher, the critic, the detective.

Dr. A. is shown herself on a webcam on her laptop. She moves her hands to make sure it’s her, as on cctv. Seeing the killer approach from behind, she hits him with her laptop. Discovering her colleagues are unconscious or dead she runs to the door. We switch to the killer’s POV and see her through it on the other side. She hits the killer with what appears a very domestic lamp, with such unlikely force that he falls against and shatters a hospital door (surely toughened glass). She defeats the killer by spraying him with the smoking gun of a scalding water hose, mentioned earlier. No conventional weapons are used.

Felski’s paranoia ‘overlaps with, and builds upon, the stance of detachment that characterises the stance of the professional or expert’. This affords ‘the engrossing pleasure of a game-like sparring with the text in which critics deploy inventive skills and innovative strategies to test their wits, best their opponents, and become sharper, shrewder, and more sophisticated players’. But Dr. A., an ‘amateur’ female detective, is not Felski’s ‘policeman’. She is constantly ‘surprised’ by events that threaten her. Her capacity as potential victim as well as detective make her a codependent creation brought into being when witnessed—by the viewer—witnessing. This outsourced looking creates a space in which the minoritan subject who expects to be paranoid does not undergo the ‘doubling of presence’ that creates a paranoia, but it’s reverse. The viewer and her avatar, Dr. A., are brought together by the experience of witnessing, of (re)producing the image as a platform not for splitting but for integration, identification, sympathetic reading.

In the final conciliatory scene, the goth girl is dressed in a conservative floral frock. ‘Put a frame on it and put it on the wall.’ Doc Resto’s computer is mocked as a museum piece, its uselessness rendering it suitable to be used only as art. It couldn’t even host a webcam.

The viewer of the mystery onscreen converts the ‘negative’ paranoid affect (any surprise is a bad surprise: no surprise) to positive. Performed as entertainment, viewers watch gleefully to have their paranoid expectations fulfilled and also defeated.

‘Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web’. [26] Doc Resto wants to make his restaurant ‘hip and profitable’ by providing internet access.

Not all bodies onscreen are equal. One image (such a Demme’s) of gendered violence that can be interpreted (by Halberstam) as gender-liberating does not perform in exactly the same way as another, made in a different cracker factory or, as Ngai puts it: ‘qualitative differences exist (as I believe they do) between works produced within the material conditions that give rise to an avant-garde and works produced under the auspices of official [verse] culture’. [27]

The doctors and detectives discuss the killer’s motives but the killer is never revealed. His appearance IRL would be a disappointment: ‘Since he refuses to talk we may never find out.’ His stalking does not produce him as a subject: in the end we’re not very interested.

If Hitchcock’s Rear Window contained paranoid invitations to create screen selves via the witnessing of virtual violence, and if Rear Windows ’98 offered opportunities to rework paranoia via a campy replay of genre, ‘JenniCam’s’ narrativeless ‘banality’ did not. While Pamela Anderson showed nothing, so was thought to have everything to show, Jenni, showing everything, was judged to be a site of ‘nothing’. And she was cool with holding her viewers at a distance that was not ‘cool’ because—with no boundary between the sexual and ‘banal’—it did not invite a ‘hot’ response. If cool critique’s ‘mistrust’ of its material means it is always ‘negative’, writes Felski, then ‘critique in its positive aspects thus remains effectively’—like Jenni—’without content’.

All the doctors and detectives, who deal with both dead and living bodies, get together to cook and eat meat.

Though her major was Economics, only after several months’ operation did ‘Jenni’ think of monetarising her ‘content’. JenniCam ceased operations in 2003. Steven Baldwin continued his critiques of ‘Rotten or Abandoned Websites’ (‘Has your own site been online (dead or alive) for more than a decade? We need to talk!’ [29]) until October 2008. Baldwin is not forgotten: I found him because of Jenni.

(I message a friend: you’ve got to watch this; it’s killing me!)


[1] ‘Diagnosis Murder’, at IMDB, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0559255/?ref_=ttep_ep21 (last accessed 12 June, 2017).

[2] All quotes from my personal transcription of Rear Windows ’98 in Diagnosis Murder, Season 6, Episode 8, watched on DVD.

[3] Baldwin, Steve (2017), ‘Forgotten Web Celebrities: Jennicam.org’s Jennifer Ringley’, Ghost Sites of The Web, https: //www.disobey.com/ghostsites/labels/Jennicam.html (last accessed 13 June 2017).

[4] Zambreno, Kate (2019), The Appendix Project, South Pasadena: Semiotext(e), p. 110.

[5] I cannot trace this quote to either Godard or Griffith, though I find it often attributed to Godard and, as often, attributed to Godard quoting Griffith, neither attribution ever linking to a textual reference.

[6] Faber, Nancy (1977), ‘Joyce Rebeta-Burditt Knows Why Housewives Become Alcoholics: She’s Been Through the Ordeal’, People Magazine, 5 September 1977, https://people.com/archive/joyce-rebeta-burditt-knows-why-housewives-become-alcoholics-shes-been-through-the-ordeal-vol-8-no-10/ (last accessed 20 June 2017)

[7] Faber, People Magazine.

[8] Hegel, Georg W. F. (1976), The Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 288.

[9] Faber, People Magazine.

[10] Lacan, Seminar on The Purloined Letter, p. 272.

[11] Park Hong, Cathy (2015) ‘Against Witness’, Poetry, May 2015, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/70218/against-witness, (last accessed 5 July 2017).

[12] ‘Melley demonstrates in his study of women’s stalking fiction, which argues that the characteristic amorphousness of its persecutory figures strategically enables female authors to depict these shadowy and vaguely defined perpetrators as ‘deindividuated stand-ins of a more general cultural pattern’ and ‘construe male violence as if it were ‘intentional and nonsubjective’’ (94 emphasis added), thus ‘mak[ing] visible the violence involved in the production of ‘normal’ heterosexual relations’.’ Ngai, Sianne (2001), ‘Bad Timing (A Sequel). Paranoia, Feminism, and Poetry’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, p. 39.

[13] Faber, People Magazine.

[14] All Felski quotes in this chapter, if not otherwise attributed, from: Felski, Rita (2012) ‘Critique and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion’, MC Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/431, (last accessed 23 February 2018).

[15] All Ruddick quotes in this chapter from: Ruddick, Lisa (2015), ‘When Nothing Is Cool’ in The Point Magazine, December 2015, https://thepointmag.com/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool/ (last accessed 7 September 2017).

[16] Kosofsky Sedgwick Eve (2002), Touching Feeling, Durham: Duke University Press, p. 138.

[17] It’s no coincidence that Whit Stillman’s 1994 film, Barcelona, set against a background of political and cultural paranoia in ‘the last years of the cold war’, contains the following exchange:


Plays, novels, songs – they all have a subtext’, which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that’s right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what’s above the subtext?


 …The text.


OK that’s right. But they never talk about it.

Whit Stillman, Barcelona (Fine Line Features, 1994).

[18] Ricoeur, Paul (1988) ‘Negative Hermeneutics’, in Twentieth-century Literary Theory: A Reader, London: Macmillan, p. 195.

[19] Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, p. 127.

[20] Halberstam, Judith (1995), Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, Durham: Duke University Press. (Jack Halberstam’s book remains published under his former name, and is quoted by Ruddick as such.)

[21] Ronell, The Telephone Book, p. 104.

[22] Susan Fraiman (2003), Cool Men and the Second Sex, New York: Columbia University Press, p. xii.

[23] Fraimain, Cool Men, p. xii.

[24] Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, p. 129.

[25] Kosfsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, p. 124.

[26] Benjamin, Walter (2007), ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations New York: Schocken Books, p. 233.

[27] Ngai, ‘Bad Timing (A Sequel). Paranoia, Feminism, and Poetry’, p. 10.

[28] Baldwin, Steve (2017), Ghost Sites of The Web, https://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/ (last accessed 13 June 2017).


The title of this piece is a quote from ‘Joyce Rebeta-Burditt Knows Why Housewives Become Alcoholics: She’s Been Through the Ordeal’, published in People Magazine, 5 September 1977.


Baldwin, Steve (2017), Ghost Sites of The Web, https://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/ (last accessed 10 May 2021).

Benjamin, Walter (2007), ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations New York: Schocken Books.

Diagnosis Murder’, at IMDB, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0559255/?ref_=ttep_ep21 (last accessed 10 May 2021).

Faber, Nancy (1977), ‘Joyce Rebeta-Burditt Knows Why Housewives Become Alcoholics: She’s Been Through the Ordeal’, People Magazine, 5 September 1977, https://people.com/archive/joyce-rebeta-burditt-knows-why-housewives-become-alcoholics-shes-been-through-the-ordeal-vol-8-no-10/ (last accessed 10 May 2021).

Felski, Rita (2012) ‘Critique and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion’, MC Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/431 (last accessed 10 May 2021).

Fraiman, Susan (2003), Cool Men and the Second Sex, New York: Columbia University Press.

Halberstam, Judith (1995), Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, Durham: Duke University Press

Lacan, Jacques, ‘Seminar on The Purloined Letter’, in Essential Papers on Literature and Psychoanalysis (New York: New York University Press, 1993).

Ngai, Sianne (2001), ‘Bad Timing (A Sequel). Paranoia, Feminism, and Poetry’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 1-46.

Park Hong, Cathy (2015) ‘Against Witness’, Poetry, May 2015, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/70218/against-witness (last accessed 10 May 2021).

Ricoeur, Paul (1988) ‘Negative Hermeneutics’, in Twentieth-century Literary Theory: A Reader, London: Macmillan.

Ronell, Avital, The Telephone Book, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

Ruddick, Lisa (2015), ‘When Nothing Is Cool’ in The Point Magazine, December 2015, https://thepointmag.com/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool/ (last accessed 10 May 2021).

Sedgwick Eve Kosofsky (2002), Touching Feeling, Durham: Duke University Press.

Zambreno, Kate (2019), The Appendix Project, South Pasadena: Semiotext(e).


Films & TV

Burditt, Joyce (1998), Rear Windows ’98 in Diagnosis Murder, Season 6, Episode 8.

Stillman, Whit, Barcelona (Fine Line Features, 1994).


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