New Ways of Viewing
November 17th 2008 @ 4:27 pm Uncategorized

Yesterday I watched a significant number of Bones episodes in reverse chronology because that was how they were listed on Hulu. Silly? Yes. Lazy? Absolutely. But an interesting experience nonetheless. 

Angela Ndalianis would probably classify Bones under her fourth prototype:

The fourth schemata relies on the technique of ‘variation on a theme’ and on the personality of the main character … There is no overall series story that closes the show’s form and, like examples in the third prototype, the series could continue indefinitely … Episodes build upon the model established in prior episodes. The episode narratives remain the same (a crime is committed in the beginning and the investigators solve it), yet different in that there are always slight variations in terms of the method of the crime, and in how the main characters expose the criminal. 

For those who don’t indulge, Bones charts the crime fighting skills of forensic anthropologist and FBI agent duo, Bones and Booth. Most episodes begin, much like Law and Order, with the discovery of unidentifiable remains. Booth and Bones solve the crime using sleuth and forensics (on the victim’s skeleton), while indulging in the requisite witty banter and personal growth. I’m not giving it a good sell here; Bones is an entirely entertaining crime procedural show. 

Ndalianis examines in her essay how different prototypes describe the way different television shows are constructed. It’s not much of a stretch to apply her arguments towards the way shows are consumed: how we viewers recognize prototype and the ways applying these schemata affect how the show is interpreted/understood. But what then of my backwards watching? Much like the color bits of Memento, I saw the results before the causes, and got to chart the ‘rising’ sexual tension between Bones (female) and Booth (male) backwards to its inception. Did watching half a season in reverse radically change my understanding of the narrative? No. I fancy myself a savvy consumer. I was able to fit the pieces of the puzzle I created back together. But my viewing practices point to an under-studied issue in film and (especially) television scholarship: aberrant consumption. 

These days, viewers practice what would be considered aberrant viewing on a shockingly regular basis. Not only DVDs (with scene selection making it easy to leap-frog through an intended narrative), but DVD extras like commentary and making-of documentaries have drastically changed the way our generation views media. Research has shown that 43% of the online population in America have watched their favorite television show online. In the 24 hours before this study, 25% watched a prime-time show time shifted, online or on demand. With online video networks like revver, youtube and hulu flourishing, and exclusively online content practically exploding onto the net, the norm of media consumption is clearly being redefined as aberrant. In a world where my grandmother sends me as many youtube specials as chain letters, and where the president elect is switching from weekly radio to online addresses from the first laptop in the Oval Office, I think it is exceedingly important to consider how these viewing practices affect the consumption of the original narrative. Not too long ago, fast forwarding through an unenjoyable part in a movie was revolutionary. Now we just clip our favorite moments and post them online to share with an ever increasing worldwide online population. 

Yet media is still produced as if it will be consumed in its original form, namely, the whole text in one temporally continuous sitting. Exclusively online media is usually shorter, cutting out the first act, to account for the short internet attention span, but still assumes a text-chronological, continuous viewing mode. If this is clearly not how media is consumed in practice, how do we, as film scholars, rectify this disconnect? Does it matter when we view aberrantly, or do we always simply (as I did with Bones) construct the intended narrative?

-Leslie Stonebraker
rss no comments
comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.