Reading Shane Hipps’ book, Flickering Pixels; How Technology Shapes Your Faith, I realized that Marshall McLuhan’s work had indeed shaped mine. Then I also realized I hadn’t given McLuhan any credit, though I’d studied with him as an undergrad, and then went on to do work in media studies and philosophy, not giving him so an entry in the bibliography of A Phenomenology of Movies: Subjects, Objects, Language and Time Reconsidered (again and again)… and here reconsidered again…
So thank you, Shane Hipps… and yes, thank you Marshall…
Digital media changes the way we record images, receive images, and perceive images. Hipps recognizes that as part of the trajectory: from cave paintings that are directly perceived (you have to be there – hence they constitute a physical community of people perceiving the images), to photography where there are traces of light recorded so there are still traces of direct perception of the object of perception and the perceiver.
Movies made these pictures move so, in McLuhan’s terms, this is a relatively ‘hot medium’; you don’t have to do a lot of interpreting. Just sit back and enjoy the show. But movies are kind of cool insofar as they involve more than one sense perception – the audience is linking the voices and music to the visual images. Cooler than cave paintings anyway. But we talk about the audience in the singular, as if it’s one experience everyone’s sharing. Kind of like a cave painting.
‘Kind of like Plato’s cave, but that’s a well-trod path we’ll avoid traveling down now.
Television is cooler, partly because the quality of early television in McLuhan’s day was low-resolution, black and white, interrupted by ads, etc. There was a lot happening on the screen, and a lot going on among the people watching the screen(s). It’s way cooler today with the audience multi-tasking today, with maybe three screens flickering at the same time: the TV, and maybe a laptop and a cell phone … how does anyone concentrate? We don’t. That would be McLuhan’s point, I suppose, if he was alive today to make it.
An aside: I’m hugely grateful to bell hooks (she doesn’t capitalize the first letter of this, her pen name) for her analysis how this is different for African American audiences that white audience, as she writes about in Reel to Real; Race, Sex and Class at the Movies.
FOCUS, ROBERTA! That’s my point… It’s hard to stay focused because new media, digital media, is cool.
And Kenny is the coolest character of all because he slips in and out of lived life in South Park, dies and then it’s like it didn’t happen. There he is in the next episode alive again.
Shane, I’m getting back to you. You point out in Flickering Pixels how we get back the simultaneous quality of hot media, media that creates a viewing audience that’s right there, media that constitutes a community, but we’re not experiencing it at the same time necessarily, and almost certainly not in the same place. Particularly with cell phone videos.
A disparate audience, a community of isolated individuals which would be a contradiction of terms if we are using those terms to describe what used to be, but we’re not; we’re trying to describe what is happening now. What we are experiencing now.
What’s happened to Kenny?