Friday, February 22, 2008

Prestige, Affect, and Forgotten Films: Another Manifesto for the Cinematic Experience

If you check out's recent article "Oscar, Are You Listening?," you're bound to find some really interesting comments (my personal favorite is Farhad Manjoo's assertion, "The thing about [There Will Be Blood] is that every encounter ends up on the lonely side of loony; you're led to think these folks are merely eccentric, and then, across several pivotal scenes, it turns out, no, they're actually far, far further gone than you ever suspected.") But at the end of the article, IFC News host Matt Singer raises an interesting dilemma about our current cinematic taste culture by pointing out that Once and Music and Lyrics are "practically the same movie and they're both quite good," but that the latter "has already been forgotten, another Hollywood product destined for the discount bin of movie history."

It's a strange reversal of how we normally discuss value in the popular imagination: usually it's the big-budget Hollywood film that is destined to be remembered (at the very least through constant replaying on cable movie networks), while the small independent non-American film tends to get lost in the dustbin of history. But it also raises an interesting point about the ephemera of cinema that should always be obvious to us but is rarely discussed. We talk semi-frequently about "lost" films (it's a burgeoning field of scholarship, and I know someone in my department who does excellent work with them), but that category is suggestive of films that are absent but still somehow remembered, often fondly and with the vain hope of recovering it once again.

But Singer raises the specter of forgotten films, those films which we once experienced fondly but which are somehow lost affectively rather than materially. The film as an object still exists, but our culture as a whole has not generated the kind of affect for it (either loved or hated) that sustains its life in the public imagination. It's an incredibly common thing: hundreds of films are released every year, and, if I recall correctly, the average American movie-goer visits the cinematic temple around seven times a year. How many of the films that get made just drift away in this manner? Check out any random year in the IMDB to see how many of the hundreds of films released that year you actually saw. How many of them have you even heard of? How many of them could actually be raised in conversation and given even a spark of recognition?

Most interestingly, this article connects the ratio of forgotten-ness among films to the amount of prestige the picture was awarded (most critics would probably point to box office returns and DVD sales). Ted Pigeon also just raised a similar point about the manner in which great films are forgotten because Oscar discussion limits the field of inquiry. And they have a point: new film buffs (such as myself back in the day) frequently turn to past award winners/nominees and films appearing in any number of best-of lists as a guide of how to expand cinematic knowledge. Films with no award nominations and limited box office like Music and Lyrics don't make it on to these lists, and they are thus ignored ("written out" would be too active a phrase) when cinema history is recorded for the public. Realizations like this one remind us that canons are built upon a process of active exclusion, rather than inclusion: the attempt to bolster the best that has been thought in the world (to paraphrase Matthew Arnold) is really only the side effect of years of culturally whittling away our collective memories so that we only have a select few memories from which to choose. It is a process of effacing the multiplicity of media experience to bolster the singular aesthetic experiences of a singular few. [NOTE: In point of fact, I haven't seen Music and Lyrics either, and I hadn't intended to do so until reading this article. Now I'll have to add it to my Blockbuster queue right above Once, which was already on the list.]

It's a sad state of affairs, really. Time, effort, and money is dumped in to every feature made, and only the most disrespectful of film-goers would have the temerity to suggest otherwise. It's one reason why I try to find something--a character, a scene, a musical cue, a single image--that makes even the worst movies I see worthwhile. When confronted with the ephemera that is the cinematic experience, we have to realize that our personal affective responses are precisely what contributes to the manner in which prestige is accorded and thus to the manner in which films are remembered for posterity. The cinema needs some of that old time religion, in which people genuinely arrive in the theatre to experience a kind of communion with something outside themselves (a character, a scene, a musical cue, a single image, a critical understanding of the culture surrounding us, a self-awareness of why we would engage in the absurd activity of sitting in a darkened room with strangers only to watch lights flicker across a screen). These are the things that can restore our belief in the cinema, and allow us to question whether a belief in this kind of media is really even necessary. And it is this kind of communion with the cinematic experience that we must carry into our daily lives. This would be better for the films which are better off remembered for something and for the people who watch and care about them in some way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Picturing the Hollywood Past(iche)

You may have seen the recent spread in Vanity Fair in which current Hollywood stars pose in iconic moments from Hitchcock films. You may also have seen Lindsay Lohan's recent spread in New York Magazine, in which photographer Bert Stone replicates the even-more-iconic final photo shoot he had with Marilyn Monroe before he death.

It seems no coincidence to me that two such photo shoots would be released within a week of each other, and I think it's somehow emblematic of a particular vision of the Hollywood past that we are trying to refract through a current Hollywood lens. One could call it a kind of palimpsest, in which a more recent representation overcodes and denies the impact of an "original" (the term is originally a reference to artists who would paint over their older works with newer ones). And, it would be tempting also to suggest that such re-presentations of these images merely reinforce the superiority of the "original" images. Nevertheless, I feel that both interpretations of this kind of re-shoot would miss out on the kind of tension that exists between the two existing representations, as each vie for a prized place in the individual viewer's memory of that image. It would be absurd to suggest that any remake could completely remove the effects of an original, and I've always found the idea of automatically privileging an "original" version of any media artifact to be somewhat silly. As Linda Hutcheon has argued in A Theory of Adaptation, there is a significantly more complicated interaction here between adaptations and the works that are being adapted. That the images being adapted have the status of genuine Hollywood iconography (a status that seems destined to be conferred upon these re-visions as well, at the very least through association with the originals) complicates even more how viewers actually look at the images and how it may change our perceptions of the Hollywood past it literally re-presents for us.

Take the Hitchcock photos, for instance. The Vanity Fair photos all strive for the polish and sheen of a classic Hollywood film, most likely using various camera filters and digital processes to replicate the claustrophobic chiaroscuro and the eye-popping vastness of Hitchcock's black-and-white and Technicolor compositions, respectively. Each image painstakingly seems to recreate the kind of gloss one would associate with the slick self-promotion of an old movie press kit. Such a recreation of the original context of the use of these images as stills from the films also competes with residual memories of how we've seen such stills circulated on the internet for other purposes. And yet, here they are now, appearing as high art in one of the most elitist American magazines available today.

More importantly, the choice of actors to "stand in" for the original actors presents an interesting dynamic of how we see the images. All of the images necessarily present themselves as iconic, but in terms of the actors "playing" each role, our reaction depends most dramatically upon whether we're familiar with the images from their original cinematic contexts. In this sense, the most "successful" photos (if we're judging their success in terms of whether the actors in these re-shoots completely "own" these roles) are probably those images from films that many of the magazine's readers likely haven't seen. In terms of the sheer images alone (divorced from the original parts they're supposed to play), I would completely buy Naomi Watts as Marnie had I not seen the film; likewise Charlize Theron in her role as the would-be murder victim in Dial M for Murder or the "heroic" crew of the Lifeboat (having seen the films, however, these poses obviously compete sometimes ironically with how I understand the overall films themselves). However, from the discussion I've seen on message boards, no one seems to buy Seth Rogan as a stand-in for Cary Grant, and it's almost impossible not to see Ironman when Robert Downey, Jr. stands in for the same in To Catch a Thief.

What's really fascinating about all of these examples is how obsessively these actors attempt to strike the pose that most easily fits into our preconceptions of what old Hollywood looked like. Oftentimes, the specific content/context of the film is completely eschewed in favor of a pose which represents not a character, but nostalgia itself. The actors seem to be posing as a simulacrum of fond memories of a master at work, and thus, rather than using the opportunity to "act" in roles that they had previously had no opportunity to play, the actors are really engaging in a different kind of make-believe, a game of "dress-up." This is an opportunity for Scarlet Johansson to become Grace Kelly: she's not believable here as a character entranced by the possible devious games her beau has ensnared her in, but she looks awfully pretty, like a soon-to-be princess dignitary. As someone has kindly pointed out in conversation with me, this is precisely why we don't buy Seth Rogan: there is no pretense that he could possibly be Cary Grant, which is precisely what is wrong with image to so many people. It's a gross violation of the audience's expectations, and it thus fails to provide the affect of nostalgia so necessary in this particular kind of photo shoot.

Such a dynamic is even more vexed in the Lohan/Monroe pictorial. As reported by Cinematical, representatives at New York Magazine discuss the value of the original iconic Monroe photos: "But the pictures are also remarkable for the raw truths they seem to reveal. In them, we see an actress whose comedic talents were overshadowed by her sex appeal, a woman who is cannily aware of her pinup status, yet is also beginning to show her 36 years. In many shots, she is obviously drunk. This was an unhappy time for Monroe." The magazine deliberately attempts to foreground the context of the original shoot in order to shut down the possibilities of a nostalgia for a Hollywood past: these photos represent in some ways the manner in which Hollywood could destroy the very icons they prop up in the first place. And, it seems, such an interpretation of classic photos attached to such a troubled contemporary actress seems to imply not a nostalgia for values that have disappeared, but rather a cautionary tale regarding the destructive values that still seem to prevail even today. Such a replication this time around doesn't empty out the content of the original photos into a simulacrum by foregrounding a break with the past, but rather enhances them to advance a particularly vicious argument about the continuities with the past, that every re-presentation is still very much present as an indicator of larger cultural forces that constantly batter at us.

***UPDATE***: Just to add more to the pot, Jessica Alba did a shoot for Latina Magazine, in which she replicates famous shots from horror movies (she even takes on Psycho, as Marion Cotillard had already done (better), and The Birds, as Jodie Foster had already done (counter-intuitively) in the Vanity Fair shoots). The Alba shoot is interesting because she's such a notoriously bad actress and because it thus emphasizes the kind of nostalgic posturing going on here.

Even weirder, Annie Leibovitz recently shot some famous stills from animated Disney films with famous actors. This one adds a whole new dimension in terms of the relationship between animation and live film: the actors aren't cartoons, but they try their best. I also wonder if it's a veiled commentary on the manner in which animated projects in the past decade or so have required major celebrity talent to succeed, something that you don't really see in the older Disney films as much.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Belief in the Everyday on the Blogosphere

People may have stumbled upon the 90DayJane blog in the past couple of weeks, in which an anonymous young woman claimed that she would commit suicide online in 90 days. The blog was something of a phenomenon, with people immediately jumping into the comments boards with many different kinds of reactions, from empathy to encouragement that she do the deed.

Unsurprisingly, the whole thing turned out to be untrue, and she’s now taken the site down. Reactions to the fact that the site was a lie have been interesting: Kim Voyner at Cinematical reports parenthetically of the “personal art project,” “that’s ‘hoax’ to you and me,” and the Defamer piece that initially broke the story is filed under “Webtards.”

More provocatively and productively, Voyner frames the entire incident as an example of the manner in which mediated versions of the “everyday” have penetrated into how we actually live in the everyday:
Jane certainly isn't the first person to document her troubles, real or imagined, on the internet. I remember several years ago, back when the word "blog" was not yet a buzzword, happening across the website of a young man purporting to be documenting his sucky life, which largely consisted of being poor and miserable (but not too poor to afford a computer and internet access, apparently) and popping his mean, bitchy grandfather's boils and carbuncles. Thankfully, he was not documenting that experience on video for the world to see. Point is, between Google Video, YouTube, and blogs that make it easier than ever for the average Joe -- or Jane -- to put videos out there, anyone can become a documentarian of his or her own life, however exciting, mundane, depressing or asinine it may be.
The claim here is the somewhat familiar one that the public forum constructed through the internet and convergence video technology have encouraged an unprecedented interest in the workings of everyday life. While popping boils was not on the menu for this particular site, the implication is that people still would have tuned in to see it. This thankfully isn’t the standard argument about the lack of privacy that this encourages, but instead poses the interesting suggestion that the glut of the everyday seems to eliminate its overall impact, that we are no longer able to use mediated narratives of the everyday as a legitimate investigation of its functions.

Henry Jenkins recently returned from the DYI Video Conference at USC in which precisely these kinds of issues about the mediation of the everyday were posed. Not surprisingly,

I find myself taking a different perspective, drawing on the old feminist claim that "the personal is political" and thus that many of the films about "everyday" matters might still speak within a larger political framework. A case in point might be a disturbing video shown during the youth media session (which was curated by young people from Open Youth Networks and Mindy Farber): a young man had been filming in a school cafeteria when a teacher demands that he stops; when he refuses, she leads him to the principal's office, berating him every step along the way, and then the two of them threaten to confiscate his camera, all the time unaware that it is continuing to film what they are saying. The young man distributed the video via YouTube, thus exposing what took place behind closed doors to greater scrutiny by a larger public. Read on one level, this is a trivial matter -- a misbehaving youth gets punished, rightly or wrongly. But on another level, the video speaks powerfully about what it is like to be a student subjected to manditory education and the strategies by which adult authorites seek to isolate the boy from any base of support he might have in the larger community of students and feels free to say and do what they want behind closed doors.

For Jenkins, even the most mundane documentations of the everyday can become an overtly political act, even if he’s still wary about the individualized focus of these forays. But it may be instructive to think of other media at the moment which offered new potential for a collective (re)experience of the everyday and which threaten constantly to disengage the individual from the collective, thereby taking the critique out of the documentation of the mundane. For instance, for decades now, critics have opined how movies had started out as a collective experience with genuine potential for social change and has increasingly become individualized and alienating (a process increased by the rise of home entertainment and digital formats for distribution). But if we stop our nostalgia for a moment and examine the medium itself (and, in turn, the internet as well), we can still find a productive power that is immanent in the kinds of networks it creates. In Cinema II: The Time-Image, Gilles Deleuze writes of the invention of new worlds through the documentation of the everyday: “[I]t is because the world is intolerable that it can no longer think a world or think itself. The intolerable is no longer a serious injustice, but the permanent state of a daily banality. Man is not himself a world other than the one in which he experiences the intolerable and feels himself trapped” (170). In this manner, for Deleuze (and this is implied in Jenkins as well), the purpose of art is to construct an idea of “the people” in which we can believe:

Art, and especially cinematographic art, must take part in this task: not that of addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of a people. The moment of the master, or the colonizer, proclaims ‘There have never been people here’, the missing people are a becoming, they invent themselves, in shanty towns and camps, or in ghettos, in new conditions of struggle to which a necessarily political art must contribute. (217)

It is the purpose of all art, of all media, whether film or the internet or the new digital convergence of the two, to play not toward a preconceived understanding of the masses, but to invent an idea of how people should live in the world. It’s idealistic as hell, an ardent plea for a genuinely productive power that can have the power to create new networks of people in which to live and die together.

At least superficially, Jane claims that the goal of her blog was to create this kind of network, to create a “people” in which her death would leave a void. In her final farewell (for the blog, not her life), she writes,

I thought this mirror might reflect the isolation everyday people feel and the lack of true human connection on the internet.

It is my feeling that the internet is the best and worst example of human interaction. This was painfully proven to me by reading every comment and every email. I believe I owed that to everyone. I know we all saw the dark side of the reactions in the blog comments. There was so much hate, immaturity and apathy. But, I truly wish everyone could see the beauty and honesty in the emails; many people feel like Jane (me). People have been more real and heartfelt than I thought was possible. I owe them a debt of gratitude for showing me the difference between people's reactions and their true feelings. I understand.

She frames the site as a kind of artistic investigation of the effects of a media formation’s impact on how people relate to one another, on how they’re “networked,” if we’re using the language of the medium itself. But the results of her own “art project” are kind of unsurprising: people can be hateful, people can be helpful. This is really where I feel that she falls short and where the label “webtard” may be fitting: it fails to dig deeper beyond the purely superficial. She scratches our collective skin but refuses to dig her nails under it, to penetrate the everyday and to produce the everyday as a kind of allegory in the manner that Deleuze envisions: Jane’s journey is cut short artificially once it gets too “real” and, rather than allowing the blog to persist as a forum through which a “people” could genuinely emerge, the forum is closed down with a kind of smug self-satisfaction that borders on an exploitation of those who genuinely either believe in the power of art to produce or in the tragic deaths that can be a real result of our hyper-mediated age.

To close this media sermon, I’ll let Deleuze have the last word, both because (unlike Jane) he saw a real glimmer of hope in how we interact with media art and because, like so many people, he was also so overwhelmed with his pain in the world (from lung cancer) that he actually took his own life. He wrote:

Belief is no longer addressed to a different or transformed world. Man is in the world as if in a pure optical and sound situation. The reaction of which man has been dispossessed can be replaced only by belief. Only belief in the world can reconnect man to what he sees and hears. The cinema must film, not the world, but belief in this world, our only link. . . . Restoring our belief in the world—this is the power of modern cinema (when it stops being bad). . . . . Because the point is to discover and restore belief in the world, before or beyond words . . . . It is only, it is simply believing in the body. It is giving discourse to the body, and, for this purpose, reaching the body before discourses, before words, before things are named: the ‘first name’, and even before the first name. (171-2)

The necessary question to pose here is, when we’re mired in the insincere, sensationalistic, exploitative world of “artists” like 90DayJane, in our current transition into a new kind of convergence technology, what kind of a belief do we have the ability to produce? What kind of people will we create to populate our brave new world? What kinds of bodies will we construct, and what names will we eventually give them?

Let us hope that they are not given the name "webtard".

Friday, February 8, 2008

Politics of Consumption ... Literally

Okay, so this isn't (strictly speaking) about "film, media, and culture," but I think it's a relevant item in looking at the turn in our cultural politics.

According to a recent article in Scientific American, a new Mississippi law mandates that restaurants refuse to serve customers falling within the legally prescribed limits of what the legislature deems "obese":
We kid you not. The controversial measure (state House Bill 282) would prohibit eateries from serving food to "any person who is obese based on criteria prescribed by the state health department." The department would monitor compliance and have the power to revoke violators' permits. (Pity the poor waiter with the thankless task of denying corpulent customers service, leaving them with the humiliating dilemma of either twiddling their thumbs as their less hefty chums chow down or slinking (storming?) out and slogging to a supermarket or over the state line for sustenance.)
I find it appalling on a number of levels. The most obvious implication to me is that this is an extension of the kind of legislative policy dictated by concerns for "public health" that have been cropping up everywhere. When a smoking ban was enacted on campus at Indiana University, for instance, it made me wonder whether this was indicating a fundamental change in how our legislative policy would be dictated: after all, if even the existence of smoke on a public university campus could be a health hazard, then wouldn't the existence of Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Chik-Fil-A on the same campus pose a similar (and less scientifically suspect) health threat?

The other destructive implication, hinted at in the article itself, is the manner in which this law targets specific kinds of consumers. According to the article, the law has already drawn protest from the Coalition of Fat Rights Activists as discriminatory against larger folks. And while it undeniably is discriminatory in that manner, I'm more concerned with the shift in the manner of legislating consumption. In the past, laws like this would target the product (Prohibition, although not really justified by heath concerns; laws in cities about the use of butter in restaurant kitchens; even local or statewide smoking bans). But the Mississippi law targets a specific set of consumers of indistinct products. The laws of consumption have evolved from a supply-side to a demand-side legislation, meaning that our laws have finally undergone the kind of shift in attitudes toward consumption that corporations have by now exhibited for several decades. In this sense, this one law (if it becomes representative of a general trend) signifies a shift from a government that recognizes the so-called "culture industry's" exploitation of a monolithic public to one that recognizes how corporations are dividing up the public into particular audiences with specific social identities through particular kinds of consumption habits.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. In some ways, if we're assuming that a government's role is to protect its citizens from certain kinds of exploitative behaviors domestically or abroad, this is a good development: it can operate as a counter-measure against the kinds of narrowcasting enacted by corporate logic. However, the more likely possibility (and this particular law seems to embody this problem) is that legislation which operates on this kind of logic merely reinforces the kinds of social identity created by corporate logic in the first place, and continues to allow the most culturally disadvantaged categories among them to remain culturally disadvantaged in legally sanctioned ways.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fandom and Industry: The Educational Model of Culture

Nancy Baym over at Online Fandom recently discussed a quotation in which Dr. Who executive producer Russell T. Davies argues that American sci-fi producers "are way too engaged with their fandom. They all need to step back." What's interesting is the commentary that follows. Suppressing the initial knee-jerk reaction against such a statement (one that I shared, actually), Baym begins to explain that producers' over-engagement in fans' discourse (and vice versa) really benefits neither party. For instance, on the part of fans who are overly invested in the forums provided for them by producers, they become merely a subsidiary of the industry itself.

One of the key points I find myself coming back to repeatedly is the importance of letting fandoms have their independence — providing enough information, goodies, and attention to nurture it, but letting it belong always to the fans who create it. When fandom is a subsidiary of the production company it sets everything up for power struggles, for self-censorship, for legal-enforcement dilemmas, for feelings of accountability and betrayal that are beyond the bounds of duty on both sides. Fans need their own spaces to do their own things.
This is something like the party line in fan studies these days. More surprising is how this formulation gets reversed:
Fandoms can’t operate as though they belong to and are supervised by artists and producers. By the same token, artists can’t operate under continuous supervision (even internally imposed) of the most active fans any more than I, as a teacher, can forget about the students who aren’t as into my classes or the content of what I know and believe needs teaching and just teach what they want to hear to the ones who love me most. I’d be negligent and odds are my classes wouldn’t be as good. The fans who get into fandom may be more important than other fans in terms of the promotion, spearheading, and enthusiasm they provide. They may provide the most trenchant critiques and hence are usually worth listening to. But they are still a small segment of the audience, and producers need to think audience as much as they think fandoms. But even more than that — producers and artists need to operate first and foremost under the guidance and supervision of their own muses. It’s their creative process, just as fandom is ours.
There are two points of interest here. The first is the suggestion that artistic productions will somehow deteriorate over time if the producers are overly concerned with the needs and desires of their biggest fans. It intuitively recaps the time-worn logic that fans don't always know what's best for the objects of which they are fans. But the statement also counter-intuitively reframes this in terms of a mass audience: producers can only recreate the magic of their television series (or whatever) if they try to appeal to the larger audience that they were initially targeting. This seems to reverse the logic that so many people assume (in an equally knee-jerk manner as my initial reaction to the quotation above) when they discuss mass audiences: this old logic asserts that appealing to the mass audience means appealing to the lowest common denominator, something that ultimately ruins the cultural object. (This latter is always couched in some equally ugly and elitist assumptions that anything bound within a commercial logic is necessarily invalid as art, an assumption that many scholars, including myself, have devoted their careers to debunking.)

And this reversal of the usual logic of the marketplace leads me to the next startling point about Baym's analysis: the pedagogical analogy that she draws to illustrate fan-industry relationships. The classroom image is an incredibly loaded one, as she seems to be drawing upon the image of pedagogy as medicine for a majority of students and as candy to a devoted few. This necessarily creates a kind of power dynamic in which the teacher is deciding what is "best" for students, using the validations and critiques of the best and the brightest as a kind of support for these choices as they turn against the resistant students. It's not a dynamic that I necessarily disagree with (it's something with which I have become all too familiar as an instructor in certain classes in the past): it's just an interesting dynamic to apply to fan-industry relationships. Where does one isolate the power in this kind of dynamic: certainly the instructor has the most power, and this is reinforced by the "good" students who encourage the teacher to push further into territory that may not be entirely comfortable for "resistant" students, who will then attempt to subvert the instructor's authority in various ways. What happens when we apply this model to fandom? To me it gives almost too much power to the producers, but it does chart an important distinction between the super-fans who clearly have a hand in how the object turns out and the casual viewers who get boned in the end.

Even more evocative to me than the power relationships is what happens when we take the analogy literally and suggest that cultural objects really are instructive in very real and powerful ways and that fans and casual viewers alike are merely students in the cultural classroom. Not a huge leap to suggest that culture teaches us particular attitudes, strategies for social living, and identities to perform: Shirley Steinberg and Joe Kincheloe have discussed this manner of "cultural pedagogy" in the introduction to their edited volume Kinderculture (a must-read for anyone interested in issues of cultural politics that are imparted to youths through mass culture). However, if we add these bizarre power dynamics into the mix, one is left with the impression (if we follow the example set in this analogy) that the "bad" students or casual viewers end up learning more in a cultural sense than those "good" students or rabid fans: they are challenged more by the culture surrounding them. And since, as many before me have said, there's no way outside of the game of culture, they learn better to adapt to the rules of the game. Does this suggest a paradox about power in culture: that those who seem most at the disadvantage in the ways of cultural politics are actually in the best position to resist?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

DVD Killed the Video Star

A recent NY Times article by Dennis Lim (citing IU's own Barb Klinger as a source on the implications of media viewing technology), discusses the death of VHS technology. The article is essentially an advertisement for Michel Gondry's latest film, Be Kind Rewind (which will hopefully be less soporific than his last, The Science of Sleep), and it's final message seems to be, "Well, it had a good run, at least."

But it raises a lot of significant ideas about the associations we hold for different kinds of media in different contexts. For instance, Klinger notes how the medium has become a marker of authenticity for a particular generation of viewers (citing the uproar over the digital alterations to the original DVD release of the Star Wars trilogy), while Lim notes that, at least during the period in which the medium rose to prominence, it held the fairly alienating connotations associated with its role in surveilance and pornography.

We often examine the implications of various media formats historically: it's a variation of the kind of technological determinism initiated by Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan in the early 1960s. After all, Boogie Nights is a pretty substantial thesis on how video technology drove pornography in new and more exploitative directions, and Baudrillard's revision of Foucault's understanding of surveillance would not have been possible without video technology available as a material ground to some rather abstract theory. And, I have to admit, limiting the field of available questions to the effects of media technology alone is something of which I am occasionally guilty mysef in my own writing (see either of my two of my previous entries on digital technology to see what I mean).

But this poses a fundamentally different kind of question about how we relate to the effects of media technology. What is the process by which we somehow change our cultural attitudes toward different kinds of media as they become superceded? How does our understanding of a technology shift from that of invasive surveillance and hyperreal porn to that of the "authentic" text? My initial instinct is that this is actually a marker of how we have always perceived this technology. Video's sense of "authenticity" is precisely what had previously been deemed so disturbing in those earlier trends: its seeming authenticity, its "uncut" aesthetic fueled the sometimes violent fantasies that gave such success to the porn industry in the 1980s, and it also aided the paranoia of being "caught" in real time in live footage, even do something as mundane as walking through a parking garage or riding an elevator. But the question remains as to what cultural conditions are necessary for this quality of authenticity, deemed so menacing at the technology's origins, to have the potential to become (retroactively, of course) the basis for a fond nostalgia once the technology has died?

I suspect that arguing that the death of the technology alone is responsible would fall into the same old trap of technological determinism. Rather, to account for this transition from the threat to the fond memory of authenticity, we need a more sophisticated understanding of how affect operates at a larger cultural level, a more nuanced theory of how our investments are articulated by a host of issues shaped by the rise of convergence technologies, which in turn articulate a whole new politics of "authenticity" and its uses in media.