Published on October 21st, 2012 | by Thompson3
Culture Sucked Through the Lens
Everything this week seemed to be written specifically for me. I enjoyed reading things that are so pertinent to what I know and do. Kress and van Leeuwen’s investigation into image form, particularly advertisements, was like a review from my ad classes when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s in marketing, and Manovich’s discussion of the human-computer interface and operations made me feel a lot better about the value of my film degree. Anyone who thinks “the Gutenberg galaxy turns out to be just a subset of the Lumières’ universe” (80) is OK in my book…despite their diction. “Rather than being merely one cultural language among others, cinema is now becoming the cultural interface, a toolbox for all cultural communication, overtaking the printed word” (86). Manovich is finally starting to grow on me, but how could a film nut resist?
I’d like to say I agree with Manovich’s assertion that cinema is becoming “the cultural interface,” but I have my doubts. I agree “the language of cultural interfaces is largely made up from elements of other, already familiar cultural forms,” and cinema is certainly on the up and up (71). All you have to do is walk into a local public library and watch what the kids are doing (and not creepily). Most of them are watching YouTube videos and very few of them are reading words from books…or even on screens for that matter. “[C]inematic ways of seeing the world, of structuring time, of narrating a story, of linking one experience to the next, have become the basic means by which computer users access and interact with all cultural data” (78-79). It seems cinema has a hold of the nation’s youth.
Manovich’s coverage of the video game industry really supports this notion of cinema being “the cultural interface.” I never had a video game console as a kid. My dad always said that shit would fry my brain, and I’m kind of glad my dad never gave in. I did get a GameBoy from my godmother one Christmas, though I hardly played it. Had I been hooked as a kid I’d be just another example of the strength of the gaming industry like my friends, but I don’t play games. I still prefer regular-old cinema…maybe because I don’t want to be sucked into an alternate world and act within that world. I go to a movie to avoid acting.
Manovich made me realize that I was drawn to web design because of my film background. The opportunity presented by the medium was unavoidable. “The interface shapes how the computer user conceives of the computer itself. It also determines how users think of any media object accessed via a computer. Stripping different media of their original distinctions, the interface imposes its own logic on them” (64-65). Though I had no instruction in web design, after I graduated MSU I wanted to prove that self-education was just as effective as university education, so I decided I would teach myself how to design webpages. In three months I had created my first website, and since then I have worked on many others, but it wasn’t until I read Manovich that I realized my interest in web design was motivated by my interest in cinema. “Just as in cinema, ontology is coupled with epistemology: the world is designed to be viewed from particular points of view. The designer of a virtual world is thus a cinematographer as well as an architect” (82). I think this notion of cinematographer/architect really called to me. I wanted to create something in digital space that would never go away. “[I]f in ‘meatspace’ we have to work to remember, in cyberspace we have to work to forget” (63). I wanted to post the films I had made in college on my website and create web videos to share with like-minded people all over the world. The web is an ideal means of distribution for amateur filmmakers, and “as ‘professional’ technology becomes accessible to amateurs, new media professionals create new standards, formats, and design expectations to maintain their status,” which forces the professionals to make the medium even better and more versatile (120). The medium also gets infused with the culture of the “users,” and changes as users’ goals change. “[W]e are no longer interfacing to a computer but to a culture encoded in digital form” (70). It’s as if we looked into the camera and our culture was sucked through the lens and onto the hard drive.
“Film theorists have hailed the look at the camera as a daring, Brechtian, ‘self-reflexive’ style figure, but in television newsreading the look at the camera is commonplace and, we would think, not exactly ‘self-reflexive’ – at least for the presenters: an interviewee who looks at the camera in a television news programme breaks the rules in an unacceptable way. Not everyone may address the viewer directly,” (126) but Ferris Bueller can. I’m a big fan of breaking this convention of not looking into the camera. I think every movie I’ve made has had a look-into-the-camera shot, and it’s generally my favorite shot in all my movies. Why? Power. He who looks into the camera and addresses the audience has power over that audience. I loved that Kress and van Leeuwen covered this topic. “When, for instance, the mass media (or automatic teller machines) begins to use ‘demand’ pictures, those educated in the linguistic and visual genres of objective knowledge and impersonal address may feel patronized, ‘addressed below their class’. Those not so educated (or those who contest the value of such an education) may feel that communication has become more effective (and more fun) than was the case in the era of more formal and impersonal public communication” (127). It’s a dangerous game to ‘demand’ attention, but when it’s done right, it can be very powerful.
This idea of the ‘demand’ and ‘offer’ image is a way of giving all texts form, whether it is objective or subjective, all writers have to make this decision regarding the presentation of their texts. Shall I demand or offer? The question brings form to the text, though “[t]here is no ‘image act’ for every ‘linguistic act’. But this need not be so forever. What can be ‘said’ and ‘done’ with images (and with language) does not derive from intrinsic and universal characteristics of these modes of communication” (129). So I guess it’s our job to investigate the many modes available to us as writers and how we can alter those modes to serve our needs. I think our multimedia project is a great way to investigate and discover an appropriate form for our arguments. Cinema truly does allow us to do so much more, and many of us aren’t familiar with the medium, which allows us all to bring a different view of the potentialities the medium has to offer.
With that, I guess I’ll throw some Bernhardt out there. “If teachers would begin to look at naturally-occurring discourse forms which have evolved outside the classroom, they would begin to develop a descriptive base for visual design. A preoccupation with conventional essay format allows little attention to visual features. Instead of helping students learn to analyze a situation and determine an appropriate form, given a certain audience and purpose, many writing assignments merely exercise the same sort of writing week after week, introducing only topical variation” (77).