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Deadly Theatre: Ethnicity as a Script for Violence
Unformatted Document Text:  unarmed woman. Theidon argues that the reason soldiers raped in groups was to eradicate shame. As she explains: “[A]cts that obliterate shame also obliterate a sense of self, lending themselves to processes aimed at subsuming the individual to create group cohesion and ‘selflessness’ in the service of a collective.” The vacuum created by the surrender of self, I would add, is filled with a new identity that the act of mass rape generates. The perpetration of mass rape unifies the collective but also transforms the identity of the individual. As Theidon found, young recruits who were reluctant to join in a gang rape faced an untenable choice. If they refused to participate, the recruits were gang raped themselves by the same men. As Theidon’s informant explained when describing the practice of raping new recruits who refuse to rape: “They said they were ‘changing his voice’—with so much screaming, his voice would lower and he wouldn’t be a woman anymore.” The transformation from “woman” to “man” occurs through the act of raping or being raped. Gang rapes are clear instances where the utility of the act is its communicative power. The utility of a gang rape is not only to instill terror in the rape victim or victim’s community, but also to transform the identities of the rapists. As these examples suggest, under conditions of violence, ethnicity does not operate like a stable or constant property. It remains “up for grabs.” One’s identity thus becomes the source of potential threat as well as potential power. As a result, actors strategize about how they present or identify themselves to relevant audiences. To enact power, actors stage their performances for full effect. They choose their venues and costumes carefully. They arrange themselves in specific configurations. When violence is the means and not the end, actors’ identities are transformed through performances. Examples of deadly performances To illustrate my argument, I explore two examples of ethnic performances: lynching and gangbanging. The first exemplifies how people perform identities through 11

Authors: Fujii, Lee Ann.
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unarmed woman. Theidon argues that the reason soldiers raped in groups was to
eradicate shame. As she explains: “[A]cts that obliterate shame also obliterate a sense
of self, lending themselves to processes aimed at subsuming the individual to create
group cohesion and ‘selflessness’ in the service of a collective.” The vacuum created by
the surrender of self, I would add, is filled with a new identity that the act of mass rape
generates. The perpetration of mass rape unifies the collective but also transforms the
identity of the individual. As Theidon found, young recruits who were reluctant to join in a
gang rape faced an untenable choice. If they refused to participate, the recruits were
gang raped themselves by the same men. As Theidon’s informant explained when
describing the practice of raping new recruits who refuse to rape: “They said they were
‘changing his voice’—with so much screaming, his voice would lower and he wouldn’t be
a woman anymore.” The transformation from “woman” to “man” occurs through the act of
raping or being raped. Gang rapes are clear instances where the utility of the act is its
communicative power. The utility of a gang rape is not only to instill terror in the rape
victim or victim’s community, but also to transform the identities of the rapists.
As these examples suggest, under conditions of violence, ethnicity does not
operate like a stable or constant property. It remains “up for grabs.” One’s identity thus
becomes the source of potential threat as well as potential power. As a result, actors
strategize about how they present or identify themselves to relevant audiences. To enact
power, actors stage their performances for full effect. They choose their venues and
costumes carefully. They arrange themselves in specific configurations. When violence
is the means and not the end, actors’ identities are transformed through performances.
Examples of deadly performances
To illustrate my argument, I explore two examples of ethnic performances:
lynching and gangbanging. The first exemplifies how people perform identities through
11


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