Portrait of Dr Dieter Declercq

Dr Dieter Declercq

Lecturer

About

Dr Dieter Declercq joined the School of Arts in 2013 as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD candidate in Film Studies. Dieter's PhD thesis philosophically investigated the nature and significance of satire in a variety of popular media. After completing his thesis in 2017, Dieter continued teaching in the School of Arts as an Assistant and Associate Lecturer, delivering modules in Film, Media Studies and History of Art. Dieter moved onto a lectureship in Film and Media Studies in 2019. 

Prior to arriving at Kent, Dieter completed a BA in Literature and Linguistics, a BA in Philosophy, an MA in Western Literature (all KU Leuven in Belgium), an MA by Research in Film Studies, focusing on TV comedy and the Baby Boom generation (De Montfort University) and an MA in Translation and Interpreting (Erasmus University College Brussels). This diverse trajectory has shaped Dieter's teaching and research.

Dieter's research combines methodologies from Film Studies, Media Studies and Philosophy of Art in the analytic tradition. He is particularly intrigued by the significance of popular media in our daily lives. Recently, he has worked on the political significance of satire, the moral value of irony in TV series and the value of comedy to our mental health. You can read a short introduction to Dieter's research on satire on aestheticsforbirds.com.

An important part of Dieter's work is outreach and widening participation. In recent years, he has delivered several short-form courses in Film and Media for students at primary and secondary schools in the local area. Dieter also regularly organises events and conferences at Kent, including the exhibition There is an Alternative! Critical Cartoons and Comics at the Templeman Library in 2016. Currently, Dieter is co-organising the British Society of Aesthetics Conference: Art, Aesthetics, and the Medical and Health Humanities, which will be held at Kent from Friday 7 February to Sunday 9 February 2020.

Research interests

Dieter has a broad interest in popular media, with a specific focus on satire, comedy, irony, cartoons, comics and graphic novels, animation, and, more recently, memes and video games. His approach combines methodologies from Film Studies, Media Studies and Philosophy of Art in the analytic tradition. In his research, Dieter philosophically investigates the value and significance of popular media in our daily lives. He values interdisciplinary research and actively welcomes collaboration across disciplines.

Dieter is currently writing a book on Satire, Comedy and Mental Health (Emerald, 2020). This book investigates how satirists use comedy to cope with the depressing sociopolitical world and explores how we can incorporate entertainment and narrative strategies from satire to address mental health challenges in modern life. His investigation reassesses the idea of satire as therapy and challenges the heroic conception of satire as a cure for the ills of the world. Instead, Dieter argues that satire is a tool to cope with a sick world beyond full recovery. Specifically, satirists develop aesthetic strategies to mitigate their limits in changing the world.

Other recent and current research interests include defining the nature, function and significance of satire, visual indicators of irony in comics, the distinction between fiction and non-fiction in relation to satirical cartoons and comics journalism, the moral value of irony in popular media, the limitations of the safety valve metaphor to frame the affordances of satire, what we do when we communicate ironically, the idea of satire as philosophy, the truthfulness of caricaturing, and the neoliberal values underpinning reality TV.

Teaching

In the current academic year (2019/2020), Dieter is convening:

MSTU3010: Media and Meaning (Stage 1, Media Studies, Autumn Term)

This module introduces students to the ways in which meaning is created and communicated across various media. The primary focus will be upon a range of key forms across the historical continuum of media practice. These trends will span both traditional and new forms of media content, such as print, radio, television, the Internet and user generated content. Media are therefore studied in this module as processes of transmission that shape and constrain what can be communicated through previous generations and into the future.

MSTU5006: Video Gaming: Play and Players (Stage 2, Media Studies, Autumn Term)

This module aims to provide students with a broad-based knowledge of the history and development of video gaming, alongside an understanding of the technological and industrial advances in game design. Students will learn about game theory and be able to use it analyse a wide range of game types. They will learn about intersecting questions of narrative, interactivity, space, play, players, game genres and representation. They will gain an understanding of how formal and informal regulation works to control game content, and be able to conceive of all of this through a range of critical theories.

FI622: Television Series: Narration, Engagement and Evaluation (Stage 3, Film Studies, Spring Term)

The module explores storytelling in fictional television series, and how the long duration of these series changes the spectator's engagement, as compared to engagement in the relatively short fiction film. The module also addresses how various types of television series have been valued in critical reception through the history of television. In addition to introducing the students to current developments in television studies, this module takes a film theoretical, narratological approach to current television series, and trains students in various approaches to the study of television series in and beyond television studies proper.

In the current academic year (2019/2020), Dieter also delivers seminars for:

FI587: Extreme Cinema (Stage 3, Film Studies, Autumn Term) Convenor: Professor Mattias Frey.

This course probes film cultural issues surrounding extreme cinema, i.e., 'arthouse' films which, because of violent, sexual, or other iconoclastic content, form or style, have created critical or popular controversy. Representative topics include the aesthetics of violence and the ethics of representing and viewing pain, boundaries between erotic art and exploitation, disgust and the ‘unwatchable’, authorial and critical discourses, marketing, audience and reception studies and censorship.

In recent years, Dieter hasalso taught a variety of other modules across departments in the School of Arts since 2014, including Film Style (FI313), Film Theory (FI315), Film Histories (FI316), Animated Worlds (FI573), Media and Meaning (ART301) and Introduction to Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art (HA361/2). He has also delivered the extra-curricular Study Plus Course, Film and Media Analysis (KE180).

Supervision

Dieter welcomes enquiries about supervision for BA, MA and PhD dissertations. Topics of specific interest and expertise include, but are not limited to:

  • Satire
  • Comedy
  • Irony in media
  • Animated cartoons
  • Cartoons, comics and graphic novels
  • (Video) gaming
  • Media and politics
  • Media and health
  • Media and ethics
  • Memes and the alt-right
  • Television aesthetics
  • Philosophy of Film
  • Cognitive Film Theory

Publications

Article

  • Declercq, D. (2020). Irony, Disruption, and Moral Imperfection. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice [Online]. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10677-020-10105-z.
    Irony has a suspicious moral reputation, especially in popular media and internet culture. Jonathan Lear (2011) introduces a proposal which challenges this suspicion and identifies irony as a means to achieve human excellence. For Lear, irony is a disruptive uncanniness which arises from a gap between aspiration and actualisation in our practical identity. According to Lear, such a disruptive experience of ironic uncanniness reorients us toward excellence, because it passionately propels us to really live up to that practical identity. However, Lear’s understanding of irony is idiosyncratic and his proposal overlooks that disruption often results from value incompatibility between different practical identities. The disruption which follows from value incompatibility does not inherently reorient us toward excellence. The point is exactly that achieving excellence in one practical identity is sometimes incompatible with excellence in the other. Pace Lear, I do not identify this disruptive experience as a central example of irony. Instead, I consider irony a virtuous coping strategy for such disruption, because it introduces the necessary distance from our moral imperfection to sustain practical deliberation and maintain good mental health. Such virtuous irony negotiates a golden mean between too little disruption (complete insensitivity toward one’s imperfection) and too much disruption (a complete breakdown of practical deliberation and mental health). I argue that ironic media in popular culture provide a rich source of such virtuous irony, which I demonstrate through analysis of satirical examples.
  • Declercq, D. (2019). Drawing Truth Differently. Matt Bors’ Fictional Satire and Non-Fictional Journalism. Imagetext. Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. [Online] 11. Available at: http://imagetext.english.ufl.edu/archives/v11_1/declercq/.
    This article investigates the comics of American graphic artist Matt Bors, which fall into two main genres: satirical
    cartoons and graphic (or comics) journalism. Interestingly, Bors also cultivates two different drawing styles—one
    cartoonish, the other more naturalistic – which map onto the distinction between these two genres. This stylistic
    difference in Bors’ comics introduces the question of why he consciously cultivates a cartoonish style for his satire and
    a more naturalistic style for his graphic journalism. The proposal I develop is that this stylistic difference helps Bors to
    frame his satire as fiction and his graphic journalism as non-fiction. To be clear, I will not advocate that certain
    drawing styles are essentially fictional or non-fictional. Yet, in the specific context of Bors’ work, the drawing style is
    one significant marker that frames his comics as fiction or non-fiction...
  • Declercq, D. (2018). A Definition of Satire (And Why a Definition Matters). The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism [Online] 76:319-330. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/jaac.12563.
    There is a consensus that satire cannot be defined, but is best characterised by a cluster account.
    However, I argue that a cluster account does not acknowledge the artistically and politically significant
    distinction between real satire and some forms of frivolous topical comedy which are casually labelled
    ‘satire’ in international media contexts. To uphold this distinction, I introduce a weak proposal that
    satire is a genre which necessarily sets out to critique and entertain (with the qualification that these
    purposes necessarily interact, although neither is wholly instrumental to the other). I further argue
    that this proposal also provides necessary and sufficient conditions for a definition of satire.
  • Dieter, D. (2016). Wink wink, nudge nudge? Visual indicators of communicative irony in comics. Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics:2-18.
    In this article, I set out to investigate how comics employ visuals in ironic communication. I aim to contribute to debates on the nature and success of visual irony indicators. I will argue that comics are a suitable medium for successful ironic communication, exactly because they “give images and text equal ontological priority” (Wartenberg, 2014, p. 101). This argument problematizes some aspects of the commonly accepted intuition that visual media are poorly equipped to convey communicative irony.
  • Declercq, D. (2013). The philosophical and ethical significance of humour. The Simpsons as humorous ethical truth-telling. Ethical Perspectives 20:271-298.
  • Declercq, D. (2011). Het vangen van de Road Runner. Beschouwingen bij Plato’s teleologisch project. Kleio. Tijdschrift voor oude talen en antieke cultuur 40:146-165.

Book section

  • Declercq, D. (2018). Can we learn the truth from Lenny Bruce? A careful cognitivism about satire. In: Rutter Giappone, K. B., Francis, F. and MacKenzie, I. eds. Comedy and Critical Thought : Laughter As Resistance. Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 45 -64.
  • Declercq, D. (2014). ‘Die mensen zijn de vijand!’ Het geweld van het neoliberale kapitalisme en de morele verantwoordelijkheden van de menswetenschappen. In: Van Coillie, G., Anckaert, L. and Thoen, P. eds. Geweld Herdacht. Voorbij Oorlog En Vrede. Acco, pp. 177-194.
  • Declercq, D. (2014). ’These people are the enemy!’ The moral responsibilities of film and television history as part of the humanities. In: Mee, L. and Walker, J. eds. Cinema, Television, History : New Approaches. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 105-120.

Conference or workshop item

  • Declercq, D. (2019). Humour as coping in the cartoons of Christine-Jane Wilson. In: Queering Graphic Medicine. Paradigms, Power and Practices.

Internet publication

  • Declercq, D. (2020). How Media Can Help Your Mental Health During Self-Isolation [Blog]. Available at: https://www.kent.ac.uk/news/society/24963/expert-tips-how-media-can-help-your-mental-health-during-self-isolation.
  • Declercq, D. (2020). Bojack, Animation and Mental Ill Health [Blog]. Available at: https://www.kent.ac.uk/news/culture/24289/bojack-animation-and-mental-ill-health.
  • Declercq, D. (2018). What Is Satire? [Blog]. Available at: https://aestheticsforbirds.com/2018/09/06/jaac-x-afb-what-is-satire/.
    Satire is infamously varied. The origins of the label date back to Roman times, as a classification for disgruntled verses by poets like Horace and Juvenal. Yet, although the Roman orator Quintilian tried to claim satire as “wholly ours” (satura tota nostra est), satire is clearly not limited to ancient Rome. Just think of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” (performed at Woodstock), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Pussy Riot, Guerrilla Girls, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Jordan Peel’s Get Out, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, Daliso Chaponda’s stand-up comedy…

Review

  • Declercq, D. (2019). ‘Comedy and Mental Health: Future Directions’, Conference Review. The Polyphony [Online]. Available at: https://thepolyphony.org/2019/05/29/comedy-and-mental-health-future-directions-conference-review/.
  • Declercq, D. (2018). Humour as Politics: The Political Aesthetics of Contemporary Comedy, by Nicholas Holm, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp., £67.99 hardback), ISBN: 9783319509495. Comedy Studies [Online] 9:260-262. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2040610X.2018.1494353.
  • Declercq, D. (2017). Where to From Here?: Four Conversations on Comedy and Aesthetics in Lewisburg, PA. American Society for Aesthetics Graduate E-Journal [Online] 9. Available at: http://www.asage.org/index.php/ASAGE/issue/view/25/showToc.
  • Declercq, D. (2015). Bart Pattyn,Media en Mentaliteit. Lannoo, 2014. ISBN 978-94-014-1289-6. Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies [Online] 10:147-149. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7227/CST.10.2.10.

Thesis

  • Declercq, D. (2017). A Philosophy of Satire. Critique, Entertainment, Therapy.
    What is satire, what can it do and what not, and why should we care about it? Since its introduction as a classification of artworks in Roman times, these fundamental questions about satire have been continually addressed by satirists themselves, their fans, their detractors, political and moral authorities, art-critics, and, not in the least, scholars. These longstanding debates about the fundamental issues of satire have often been fruitful and enlightening. Still, the fundamental questions about satire's nature, its function and its significance have remained unanswered. In this thesis, I aim to resolve these issues by engaging with satire throughout the ages in various media, with a specific focus on contemporary moving images. While satire was traditionally a literary phenomenon, it is nowadays most widespread on the screen, especially due to commercial success on American television (Gray, Jones and Thompson 2009, 19). For this reason, although I do not ignore debates in literary studies and other disciplines, I primarily engage with recent scholarship in film, television and media studies (e.g. Day 2012; McClennen 2011; Jones 2010; Baym 2010). Apart from moving images, I also discuss a variety of comics, because I argue that satire is characterised by similar storytelling techniques as cartoons and caricatures.

    My investigation aims to clarify fundamental, general and abstract questions about the nature, function and significance of satire. In order to realise these aims, I introduce and develop methodological frameworks from analytic aesthetics and philosophy. I draw mostly on methodologies in philosophy of art to address my research questions and clarify closely related concepts to satire, including irony (Wilson and Sperber 2012), humour (Carroll 2014), fiction (Friend 2012), genre (Abell 2014), aesthetic experiences (Stecker 2010), entertainment (Shusterman 2003) and narrative interpretation (Currie 2004). I also engage with scholarship which has sought to appraise the nature, function and significance of satire by comparing it to philosophy (Gray 2005; Higgie 2014). On the one hand, such comparisons are problematically vague and, under scrutiny, the differences between satire and philosophy quickly become apparent (see Diehl 2013). On the other hand, these comparisons are valuable because they rightfully highlight that satirists and philosophers share a moral concern for truth, which situates them in a similar existential framework. Still, concepts like 'truth' and 'ethics' have remained problematically vague in recent debates about satire, especially in the wake of postmodernism. In order to redress this situation and introduce greater clarity to the debates, I develop a meta-ethical investigation rooted in the quasi-realism of Simon Blackburn (1998).

    In the first chapter, I challenge the idea that satire is a spirit or mode which can only be characterised by a cluster account (Condren 2012). Instead, I define satire as a genre with the purpose to critique and entertain. This definition highlights a fundamental tension in satire between a broadly moral purpose to critique and a broadly aesthetic purpose to entertain, which explains the ambiguous reception of satire: hailed for its truthful moral interventions (Gray 2005), enjoyed for its aesthetic pleasures (Griffin 1994), but also dismissed as frivolous pastime that cultivates cynicism (Webber 2011). In the second chapter, I frame the significance of satire's definitive tension as corresponding to a fundamental conflict in ethical life between the demands of critique and its limits. Although I acknowledge that satire's purpose to entertain limits its political impact as critique (Holbert 2013), I revalue entertainment in satire as therapy to cope with the limits of critique. In the third chapter, I investigate the cognitive contributions of satire as critique, even if they are moderate. Acknowledging that fictions are epistemically risky (Currie and Levinson 2017), I acknowledge that satire can deceive, but I also defend that good satire can teach non-trivial truths, including moral truths. Nonetheless, I advocate a careful cognitivism which acknowledges that satire's cognitive contributions need to be complemented with further inquiry. In the fourth chapter, I explain that satirists often cultivate a humorous irony to cope with the limits of critique. In dialogue with psychological research on the therapeutic function of narratives (Roberts and Holmes 1999) and the correlation between humour and wellbeing (Martin 2007; Ruch and Heintz 2016), I conceptually clarify the therapeutic dimension of humorous irony in satire as a narrative strategy to cope with the absurd gap between the demands of critique and its limits. I conclude that further research about satire should focus less on proving that satire changes the world and more on how it copes with it.

Forthcoming

  • Declercq, D. (2020). Satire, Comedy and Mental Health. Coping With the Limits of Critique. Emerald.
    Satire, Comedy and Mental Health examines how satire helps to sustain good mental health in a troubled socio-political world. Through an interdisciplinary dialogue that combines approaches from the analytic philosophy of art, medical and health humanities, media studies, and psychology, the book demonstrates how satire enables us to cope because its ambiguous combination of critique and entertainment negotiates a balance between care for others and care of self. Building on a thorough philosophical explication and close analysis of satire in various forms – including novels, music, TV, film, cartoons, memes, stand-up comedy and protest artefacts – Declercq investigates how we can adopt and adapt aesthetic strategies from satire, especially comic irony, to cope with the fundamental limits of critique to change the world. In so doing, the book presents a compelling case that, while satire cannot hope to cure our sick world, it can certainly help us to cope with it.
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