Interactive Spectatorships

Media Viewing Practices in the Digital Age
 

Project Blogs

Some initial context and questions

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 11:45 AM

What does it mean to be film spectator in the digital age? It is undoubtedly the case that ‘traditional’ notions of communal viewing are being challenged by the encroachment of technologies into both the physical and cognitive space of the cinema auditorium. The increasing ubiquity of the smartphone (nearly one in three adult now use them) allows the text, the email, the tweet, the facebook update and the information search, to be made at any time and from any location. The notion of a ‘digital culture’ thus emerges from the processes and feelings of being constantly plugged-in to a social and informational communications network. Interactions in the digital environment therefore become not a specific outcome of specialized economic or cultural behavior but intrinsic to the very nature of contemporary experience. Questions therefore arise regarding the integrity of the darkened space of the cinema auditorium; will it remain an almost sacred arena for a specific type of unadulterated consumption? Or is there going to increasing tension between new media and old which will define what the cinema experience is to become?

The implications of this unbridled move into a ‘digital culture’ are at the forefront of many spheres of theoretical and sociological enquiry. One can perhaps make the general assertion that there has emerged a dichotomy between dystopian and utopian outlooks regarding the effects of new media technologies. On the positive side suggestions that we are entering era of widening participation - both in terms of cultural creativity and political citizenship – are often linked to new media. The breaking down of institutional hierarchies in the production of art, news, entertainment and knowledge derives from a bottom-up rather than top down flow of information and production. An idealised era of political engagement and globalised connectivity, in which citizens of a netropolis share thoughts, ideas and solutions, could eventually break down archaic barriers of national, ethnic, racial, religious and gender identities. In this context the local and global exist in a paradoxical, yet mutually beneficial symbiosis. Yet the negative implications are arguably just as acute. Ironically the proliferation of communication possibilities may have made us more individualized and atomized; generation of agoraphobes who struggle with real world interactions. Also the ubiquity of surveillance technology not only facilities more state control but arguably encourages a superficial obsession with the self. The banality of the average status update encapsulates contemporary subjectivity. With knowledge only a click away the epistemological basis that has underpinned historical, analytical and philosophical dialectics is becoming less secure. Rather than creating engaged students of a changing world does digital culture serve to obliterate critical thought. The issues that I touch upon here are just the tip of an expansive iceberg.

When reduced down to fundamentals perhaps the key of digital technologies on our lives revolves around concept of interactivity. The relationship between producer and consumer has changed as has how 'the audience' is constructed and defined. The question that underpins this project asks what happens when the practices of digital culture clash with traditional forms of media experience in which the mode of interaction is seemingly well established? It would not be too simplistic to suggest that the effect of digital communication on cinematic spectatorship has thus far been largely anecdotal and almost invariably posited as negative. I would argue that there still exists a rather antiquated understanding of the cinema audience that conforms to a modernist binary of active user or passive consumer. In film studies pedagogic practice there is often the explicit evocation that the former is to be strived for while the latter critiqued. However, this understanding of ‘activity’ in watching frowns upon the use of digital communications technologies which interrupts the ‘pure’ practice of film viewing. A paradox thus emerges in which the film studies student is expected to be a critically active viewer, dissecting in-depth the form and content of films, while forsaking their everyday (and often intrinsic) use of a range of media tools and practices that fundamentally structure their experience and identity. The aim of this project is to explore a model of spectatorship seeks to reclaim social media (specifically twitter) as a relevant and useful tool for pedagogic practice within a film studies environment. In writing this blog I intend to both outline the development of the project in functional terms suggesting the possibilities for enhanced methods of learning and teaching but also interrogate the many theoretical issues by research into the concept of film spectatorship in the digital age. With this in mind I intend this website to be an open forum for the discussion of ideas and a hub for the aggregation of resources. Any questions and/or comments would therefore be extremely welcome.

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2 Comments

Reply Dario Llinares
2:16 PM on March 27, 2012 
Thanks for your comments Anne. I think you make some good points, but like many I think you make an assumption that face to face or direct speech (i.e. phone call) methods of communication are fundamentally more desirable than communication that requires text. I think that all modes of communication are equally valid, it just depends on the context and application of their use. The possibility of ?reclaiming? social media, particularly twitter, as the starting point for greater levels of communication in student group discussion is the aim of the project i?m designing. I agree with you point about iphones and sweet papers being equally distracting when watching films. In fact I think eating is more distracting than texting in the cinema. But your definition of being in the cinema as a ?religious? experience requiring silence and concentration is exactly the kind of mode of spectatorship that film studies as a discipline advocates. The assumption is that there is only one right way to be a cinema spectator. However, today?s student generation who have grown up in the internet age have a completely different relationship to the media they engage with. This is the crux of the issue I want to investigate. Most students that I have spoken to actually prefer watching films on there computers and simply telling them they are wrong can only have a limited effect. I find this difficult to understand but that is the point, I can?t possibly know what it mean to view from a student perspective. So therefore this project is design to tackle these issues.

Anne Barron says...
Our thoughts seem to flow more steadily through our fingers than through our mouths. It is becoming a "chore" to pick up the phone and speak to someone - far easier to email them and hope they get the message. This must be damaging our natural sociability when face-to-face, but I can't see how that it is having a direct effect on isolating us when it comes to the cinema experience, as that has historically been an isolated experience with any "interaction" in the audence frowned upon. The use of iphones in the cinema is only slightly more annoying than the rustle of sweet papers. It has always been for me at least an almost religious experience of giving yoursel totally to the screen and blanking off any other distractions which might "break the spell".
Reply Anne Barron
11:51 PM on March 20, 2012 
Our thoughts seem to flow more steadily through our fingers than through our mouths. It is becoming a "chore" to pick up the phone and speak to someone - far easier to email them and hope they get the message. This must be damaging our natural sociability when face-to-face, but I can't see how that it is having a direct effect on isolating us when it comes to the cinema experience, as that has historically been an isolated experience with any "interaction" in the audence frowned upon. The use of iphones in the cinema is only slightly more annoying than the rustle of sweet papers. It has always been for me at least an almost religious experience of giving yoursel totally to the screen and blanking off any other distractions which might "break the spell".