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The Real and The Rear-View Mirror

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The Real and The Rear-View Mirror. Modes, realist and fantastic: definitions Realism and the real Modes and technology Undermining modal oppositions. Genres and modes… Genres: discursive categories involving narrative conventions, iconography etc.

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slide1
The Real

and

The Rear-View Mirror

slide2
Modes, realist and fantastic: definitions
  • Realism and the real
  • Modes and technology
  • Undermining modal oppositions
slide3
Genres and modes…
  • Genres: discursive categories involving narrative conventions, iconography etc.
  • Modes are broader discursive categories, cutting across genre distinctions
  • Most significant modes (for us): realist and fantastic
slide4
What makes something fantastical or realist? Subject matter? Form?
  • Whose reality, whose fantasy?
  • Are the real and the fantastic diametrically opposed?
slide5
Realism

Raymond Williams:

“Realism is a difficult word, not only because of the intricacy of the disputes in art and philosophy to which its predominant uses refer, but also because the two words on which it seems to depend, real and reality, have a very complicated linguistic history.”

- from Keywords (Williams, 1988)

slide6
Realism is a discursive construction
  • What counts as “realistic” changes over time and space (e.g., think Bollywood, Latin American soap operas)
  • For many cultures, realism is not a priority
  • The term itself is a recent, and provincial invention (19th c. Europe)
  • Legal and economic connotations: something that is legally owned (“real estate”)
slide7
Elements of realism
  • Alignment with “real events”: the facts
  • Stylistic emphasis on the factuality of facts:
      • E.g. documentaries and camera technologies; no “acting”; no intrusive music; objective information
slide8
Realism

Bill Nichols:

“Documentaries…do not differ from fictions in their constructedness as texts, but in the representations they make. At the heart of documentary is less a story and its imaginary world than an argument about the historical world.” (Nichols, 2001: p.111)

slide9
Elements of realism
  • Alignment with “real events”: the facts
  • Stylistic emphasis on the factuality of facts:
      • E.g. documentaries and camera technologies; no “acting”; no intrusive music; objective information
  • Hides traces of intervention and construction (remember genre and verisimilitude, narrative and transparency, closure)
  • Excessive details (e.g. Mike Leigh, but also…Lord of the Rings?)
  • Concern with material conditions of life
slide10
Politics of realism
  • Often concerned with the oppressed and downtrodden: so, involves truth claims regarding groups lacking the resources to challenge them
  • Politics of aesthetics: debate about political implications of realism in film and media studies:
      • Colin McArthur: realist texts expose social conditions, can inspire action
      • Colin McCabe: realist mode inspires passive, contemplative engagement – more inventive, disruptive, analytical forms required.
    • (See Bennett et al., 1981)
slide11
Politics of realism

John Ellis, Visible Fictions, pp.6-7:

“In essence, realism is a regime of unified portrayal: every criterion of realism aims at the same objective, to combine all the elements of the representation at any one point into a harmonious whole. This prevents the reading of the image, scanning it to see its different elements and their possible conflicts or combinations, which is a central feature of modernist tendencies in the other visual arts.”

(Remember narrative session, Elephant: transparency vs foregounding, closure vs aperture etc.)

slide12
The Wire:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbK5HIfdyWc

slide13
Modes and technology
  • Realist and fantastic modes tied to technologies as well as styles
  • E.g. special effects, CGI and the fantastic
  • Realism and photographic technologies…
slide14
Realism and photographic technologies…
  • A literal trace of the real? CS Peirce’s “index”
  • Mechanical: no apparent human intervention
  • But: link between photography as much to do with uses (criminal, legal, medical) and discourses (scientific, artistic) as the technology itself (see John Tagg, The Burden of Representation)
  • Realist mode associated especially with portable camera technology: e.g. cinéma vérité, 7/7 footage
slide15
New technology and the return of the real…
  • Convergence of TV and internet, ubiquitity of webcams
  • Proliferation of ‘reality TV’ genres and sub-genres: apparently “deystifying” and “democratic”
  • News as spectacle: rolling news as infotainment
  • Commodification of reality as entertainment, packaging of entertainment as reality (Andrejevic, M. [2004]).
slide16
Realistic and fantastic: a false opposition?
  • See Lord of the Rings thread on the forum (“Is fantasy racist?”)
  • Genres that undermine opposition: e.g. magical realism, allegorical fantasy
  • E.g. Pan’s Labyrinth: both a fantasy and an account of the Spanish Civil War
  • E.g. Star Trek and Kennedy’s America
  • Less a genre or mode than a way of reading: bi-focal…
  • (You don’t need to intend a political argument in order to express one…)
slide17
McLuhan’s Rear-view Mirror
  • “We look at the present through a rearview mirror. We march backwards into the future. Suburbia lives imaginatively in Bonanza-land” (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967, n.p.)
slide18
Rear-view mirror

- A way of describing our relationship with new technology. We define the new through its resonance with the familiar

- E.g….

slide19
- electric keyboards look like pianos – why?

- We still talk about ‘dialling’ phone numbers

- The ‘file’ icons on computer desktops

- The term ‘desktop’

- “Global village”?

slide20
Not just about anachronistic figures of speech
  • McLuhan argues that our institutions – family, education, government – belong to the past: they have not kept pace with technology
  • Still live as if in visual space: individuated, fragmented, contemplative
  • Electronic media produce acoustic space: no borders, everything connected, no time or space for reflection
  • In what ways might McLuhan understand us to be living in the past as regards the Internet?
slide21
Intellectual property?
    • Information can be reproduced and distributed almost without cost, but we still treat “immaterial” commodities in terms of a 19th century economic model of scarcity. Is capitalism a reflection in the rear-view mirror? (See Hardt and Negri, 2006; Branston and Stafford, 2010, Ch.8)
  • Privacy?
    • The “old” media (especially newspapers) are full of stories about social media and the loss of privacy. Do young people actually care about what McLuhan would see as another 19th century idea?
  • Worth considering these and other examples for the case studies…
slide23
What is technological determinism?
  • Extreme (also called "strong" or "hard") technological determinists:: Information technology (or some other) will radically transform society and/or our ways of thinking (or has already done so).
  • In a more cautious variation of this stance, weak (or "soft") technological determinists present technology as a key factor which may facilitate such changes in society or behaviour.
slide24
Accusations generally made from one of the following positions
  • Socio-cultural determinists present technologies and media as entirely subordinate to their development and use in particular socio-political, historical and culturally-specific contexts.
  • Voluntarists emphasize individual control over the tools which they see themselves as "choosing" to use.
  • from: Technological or Media Determinism Daniel Chandler http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/tecdet/tdet11.html
slide25
McLuhan as technological determinist
  • Newspapers create the public (collective made up of rational individuals)
  • Electronic media create the mass (no separate and distinct viewpoints, no time or space for reflection etc.)
slide26
But consider:
  • “Today, the mass audience…can be used as a creative, participating force. It is, instead, merely given packages of passive entertainment. Politics offers yesterday’s answers to today’s questions.” (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967, p.22)
  • Is this a descriptive statement (says how things are) or a prescriptive statement (says how they should be: a call to action)?
  • Paradox of the rear-view mirror: our thinking has not caught up with the way that technology has changed our thinking…
  • Is McLuhan asking us to think for ourselves about the fact that technology is thinking for us?
slide27
Next week
  • Read Branston and Stafford, Ch.11, “Debating advertising, branding and celebrity”
  • Remember the forum is still open for business…
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