I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to another article in the New York Times from a few days ago – this one is by A.O. Scott, so you know it’s more credible than my last one (maybe) – because I feel like its particularly relevant to our discussion on Tuesday (11/25). Scott discusses the different ways we view media, and how that affects our reception of the material. That said, there seems to me to be an enormous gap in his article.
Scott’s central question is whether (or how) the new plethora of digital means of viewing material (primarily film) affects what he calls “the art of cinema.” It’s certainly a valid question, and Scott suggests a link between the contemporary situation and the era that introduced television as a mainstream media. That is, film adapted to the introduction of television by adopting various wide-screen formats, and eventually relaxing its censorship standards. Similarly, Scott notes the rise of home video on VHS in the 80s did not engineer the downfall of traditional cinema. These are all true observations.
However, there exists a central question that Scott does not address. That is, how does/will society’s inundation with new viewing platforms (iPods, VODs, YouTube, etc.) affect or change narrative media? I would like to think that it is clear that Hollywood fiction filmmaking will not collapse simply because I can watch a film on my iPod. Nevertheless, “traditional” storytelling has definitely adapted to the changing platforms. Consider television ads: DVRs have forced the shortest-narratives to become even shorter, and many commercials now end with a distinct logo in the last three seconds or so that’ll you’re bound to glimpse as you fast-forward through the ads. Also, as cable has multiplied the number of options a viewer can choose from, many television shows have become more flashy, intense, and sexy to immediately hook an audience. A few weeks ago Amy Bucher told our documentary film class how the made-for-TV documentary now has to be more exciting and sensationalist, particularly in its opening minutes, to attract and maintain an audience.
So clearly narrative forms have had to adapt to different modes of viewing, it is now merely a question of how they will adapt to these newest platforms. It’s not an easy question, perhaps that’s why Mr. Scott dodged it, but it’s certainly one that at least needs to be highlighted, if not speculated.