Conventional Wisdom

Ooooh, the next two weeks have me tingling with anticipation: it’s time again for the Democratic National Convention and its bearded-Spock alternate-universe doppelganger, the Republican National Convention. I intend to watch from my cushy couch throne, which magisterially oversees a widescreen high-def window into the mass ornament of our country’s competing electoral carnivals.

Strangely, the Olympics didn’t hold me at all (beyond the short-lived controversy of their shameless simulationism), even though they served up night after night of HD spectacle. It wasn’t until I drove into the city last week to take in a Phillies game that I realized how hungry I am to immerse myself in that weird, disembodied space of the arena, where folks to the right and left of you are real enough, but rapidly fall away into a brightly-colored pointillist ocean, a rasterized mosaic that is, simply, the crowd, banked in rows that rise to the skyline, a bowl of enthusiastic spectatorial specks training their collective gaze on each other as well as inward on a central proscenium of action. At the baseball game I was in a state of happy distraction, dividing my attention among the actual business of balls, strikes, and runs; the fireworky HUDs of jumbotrons, scoreboards, and advertising banners, some of which were static billboards and others smartly marching graphics; the giant kielbasa (or “Bull Dog”) smothered with horseradish and barbecue sauce clutched in my left hand, while in my right rested a cold bottle of beer; and people, people everywhere, filling the horizon. I leaned over to my wife and said, “This is better than HD — but just barely.”

Our warring political parties’ conventions are another matter. I don’t want to be anywhere near Denver or Minneapolis/St. Paul in any physical, embodied sense. I just want to be there as a set of eyes and ears, embedded amid the speechmakers and flagwavers through orbital crosscurrents of satellite-bounced and fiber-optics-delivered information flow. I’ll watch every second, and what I don’t watch I’ll DVR, and what I don’t DVR I’ll collect later through the discursive lint filters of commentary on NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and of course Comedy Central.

The main pleasure in my virtual presence, though, will be jumping around from place to place inside the convention centers. I remember when this joyous phenomenon first hit me. It was in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running against Bob Dole, and my TV/remote setup were several iterations of Moore’s Law more primitive than what I wield now. Still, I had the major network feeds and public broadcasting, and as I flicked among CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS (while the radio piped All Things Considered into the background), I experienced, for the first time, teleportation. Depending on which camera I was looking through, which microphone I was listening through, my virtual position jumped from point to point, now rubbing shoulders with the audience, now up on stage with the speaker, now at the back of the hall with some talking head blocking my view of the space far in the distance where I’d been an instant previously. It was not the same as Classical Hollywood bouncing me around inside a space through careful continuity editing; nor was it like sitting in front of a bank of monitors, like a mall security guard or the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded. No, this was multilocation, teletravel, a technological hopscotch in increments of a dozen, a hundred feet. I can’t wait to find out what all this will be like in the media environment of 2008.

As for the politics of it all, I’m sure I’ll be moved around just as readily by the flow of rhetoric and analysis, working an entirely different (though no less deterministic) register of ideological positioning. Film theory teaches us that perceptual pleasure, so closely allied with perceptual power, starts with the optical and aural — in a word, the graphic — and proceeds downward and outward from there, iceberg-like, into the deepest layers of self-recognition and subjectivity. I’ll work through all of that eventually — at least by November 4! In the meantime, though, the TV is warming up. And the kielbasa’s going on the grill.

5 thoughts on “Conventional Wisdom

  1. Aha, the inner Baudrillardian comes out! Or was it already out?

    I actually attended part of the ’04 Dem Convention in person, and the most striking thing (besides trying to stalk Anderson Cooper and seeing Ben Affleck instead) was how obvious it was the proceedings were geared not toward those in attendance but to the televisual spectacle. The big exception was Obama’s speech, which had a presence of place in addition to (presumably) its telegenic quality.

    And I presume you’ve seen this?
    http://tvdecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/election-08-obama-to-get-the-brett-favre-treatment-including-skycam/

  2. I’ll be watching the Dems at a convention party at our local Obama HQ. I’ve signed up as a volunteer for the campaign — you can probably guess what my ulterior motive is.

  3. “bearded-Spock alternate-universe doppelganger”

    Heh heh. That’s about it!

    So how does this work — is Schwarzenegger going to Minneapolis and Shriver to Denver? “You’re not sending ME to the cooler!”

    I won’t be able to get within 100 feet of any television broadcasting that thing…I mean the “Red” one…ironic, since red is my favorite color…but every four years I make an exception…ba-dum-pish! I’ll probably only be able to tolerate fleeting moments of the other one — namely, Biden (he’s never boring) and Obama, if only for perhaps one of the first and last times in long while that we’ll see a politician truly embracing his own ego in the mad spectacle and aura of a 70,000 stadium rock concert.

    Then again, perhaps in the future all politicians will become like “rock stars” — but only if Obama wins in November.

    But here’s a hypothetical scenario…

    If he *doesn’t* win, I suspect that upon his return to the Senate, Obama will strongly resemble Warner Bros.’ last “Superman” film, which, after middling box office performance (relative to its over-bloated budget), has been relegated to the “dunce corner” in the classroom, the awkward pink elephant that no one wants to talk about or even look at. If he fails, Obama’s rise and fall will greatly resemble the last Superman’s critical and commercial turnaround, with journalists and fans actually realizing, months and even years later, that they were brainwashed into believing in a literally dumbfounding mix of mythical, pop cultural and moral conundrums that couldn’t decide what kind of product it really wanted to be, a “Superman” that was hardly a lofty speaker, but also a false prophet, that on the surface resembled past glories, but “returned” with a far too liberal approach for middle-of-the-road, “moderate” audiences, and didn’t really contain anything of substance whatsoever, even coherent “spectacle.” Directed by a man who couldn’t control his budget (and apparently still can’t–read about “Valkyrie” lately?), and produced by a studio that had made numerous attempts at “re-launching” its potentially blockbuster franchise, but was ready to settle for an unknown “actor” in its lead, a “narrative” continuing from a 30-year old dream (while simultaneously borrowing full chunks of its precursor’s “scripts” and serving as a loose “remake”), and an unexplained “kid” that began to exhibit fatal blows like throwing pianos at mono-syllabic criminals, who were crushed under the weight of their own redundancy. The studio and so-called “fans” will ponder why they ever supported a guy who spoke about “Truth, Justice and all that stuff” rather than actually embracing who he was, and where he came from, and telling the truth about his origins, so that the largely uneducated general public could understand just why this “hero of the people” was actually different than many of the other “super-powered” dudes and “dastardly villains” around him.

    Both the studio, and later, the general public, will wonder why they (a major corporation, surely with some semi-intelligent scriptwriters at hand) would spend all this time and money developing a “feature film” that was merely repeating and regurgitating past “plotlines” and empty statements like “I’m always around” — when the entire movie and even its title started with the premise that he had been GONE — rather than actually offering something NEW and RELEVANT for the audience and fans.

    The studio and audience will finally grow tired of respecting to the point of ludicrousness a 30-year old archetype and approach that clearly should have been updated “on-screen” long before now.

    If Obama is not successful, for almost two years the Democratic Party will hide their heads in shame regarding their failed “hero,” not speaking much of this once-thought-of “blockbuster” and failed “franchise starter,” before they finally, like Warner Bros., come clean and admit they made a mistake (WB President Jeff Robinov: “It didn’t position the character the way we needed him to be positioned”). Due to being increasingly beat out in the marketplace by Marvel Studios (i.e. “the red boys”) they will announce plans to further cohere their working relationship with DC Comics (i.e. middle America), revamp their slate in a more “mature” approach, and “reintroduce” their flagship candidate in a “new” feature, which presumably will ignore all previous elements of past incarnations. The Blue Guys (Warner Bros and DC)) will be forced to once again re-build their approach from the ground up, now standing for a new America that is ready to embrace a modern hero that, while recognizing his history, being the only survivor of an alien planet, and adopted and raised by farmers in rural Kansas, knows that he must move forward in uniting people of ALL kinds, even the “non-believers,” who should finally be receptive when they realize that all the “blue guys” want to do is inspire them and help them towards a better future.

    Hopefully, they’ll build enough momentum for a sequel.

    …Aaand as Dennis Miller used to say, “That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.” :-)

    Bob, you’ve done a wonderful job (as usual) of incorporating your “real world” fears and desires into academic thoughts (I could never apply Zizek to a hot dog — though I bet he could, and has). I appreciate your honesty about, what I interpret as, your desire to have “complete control over all technology within reach” — or rather, becoming your own “Ghost in the Machine.”

    Personally, I’ve never gotten used to the “multi-angle” options — I prefer a competent director and/or editor to do it for me, someone who’s more qualified than me for the job. I always think that the moment I choose to flip over to Left Center, I will miss some priceless moment or gaffe on Stage A, like Biden belting out “BARACK AMERICA!”

    :-)

  4. So, Obama’s stadium speech on Thursday was watched by 38-40 million viewers. More people watched this than the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, the Academy Awards, and yes Bob, the American Idol finale [cringe]. Also, I believe this doesn’t include C-SPAN or PBS. Additionally, we should factor in all of the people — which I would estimate to be a great amount, in this modern viewing age — who might have missed it on network television, and caught it later via Obama’s website, YouTube or download and peer-sharing networks. Plus, there are American citizens abroad who surely might have been watching… I’m not going to estimate a full viewership amount, but I think I can say that people were paying attention.

    And with the increasing possibility that the “red boys” next week will be upstaged/preempted/postponed by a Category 3-4 Hurricane which is headed straight for New Orleans *again*, I think the “blue boys” scored a pretty big coup.

    By the way — and this is not meant as any slight to our northern brothers and sisters reading this — did anyone ever expect that an Alaskan with a part-Eskimo spouse would be thrust onto the international political stage in total surprise to almost everyone?

  5. I can’t help but think that The Architect is currently residing outside a particular door on LPAC floor #2, grandly overseeing a particular drop box.

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