The Communication of Horrorism: A Typology of ISIS Online Death Videos

In this article, the authors theorize the communicative logic of ISIS online death videos—from the burning and shooting of individual hostages to mass battleground executions. Drawing on Adriana Cavarero’s reflections on contemporary violence, they demonstrate how ISIS’ digital spectacles of the annihilated body confront Western viewers with horror— or rather with different “regimes of horrorism” (grotesque, abject and sublime horror). These spectacles of horror, the authors argue, mix Western with Islamic aesthetic practices and secular with religious moral claims so as to challenge dominant hierarchies of grievability (who is worthy of our grief) and norms of subjectivity. In so doing, the authors conclude, ISIS introduces into global spaces of publicity a “spectacular thanatopolitics”—a novel form of thanatopolitics that brings the spectacle of the savaged body, banished from display since the 19th century, back to the public stage, thereby turning the pursuit of death into the new norm of heroic subjectivity.

Tags: Content Analysis, ISIS, Violent Jihadism