Convention in a Bubble

A quick followup to my post from two weeks ago (a seeming eternity) on my gleeful, gluttonous anticipation of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions as high-def smorgasbords for my optic nerve. I watched and listened dutifully, and now — literally, the morning after — I feel stuffed, sated, a little sick. But that’s part of the point: pain follows pleasure, hangover follows bender. Soon enough, I’ll be hungry for more: who’s with me for the debates?

Anyway, grazing through the morning’s leftovers in the form of news sites and blogs, I was startled by the beauty of this interactive feature from the New York Times, a 360-degree panorama of the RNC’s wrapup. It’s been fourteen years since Quicktime technology pervily cross-pollinated Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s central chronotope, the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D, in a wondrous piece of reference software called the Interactive Technical Manual. I remember being glued to the 640X480 display of my Macintosh whatever-it-was (the Quadra? the LC?), exploring the innards of the Enterprise from stem to stern through little Quicktime VR windows within which, by clicking and dragging, you could turn in a full circle, look up and down, zoom in and out. Now a more potent and less pixilated descendent of that trick has been used to capture and preserve for contemplation a bubble of spacetime from St. Paul, Minnesota, at the orgiastic instant of the balloons’ release which signaled the conclusion of the Republicans’ gathering.

Quite apart from the political aftertaste (and let’s just say that this week was like the sour medicine I had to swallow after the Democrats’ spoonful of sugar), there’s something sublime about clicking around inside the englobed map. Hard to pinpoint the precise location of my delight: is it that confetti suspended in midair, like ammo casings in The Matrix‘s bullet-time shots? The delegates’ faces, receding into the distance until they become as abstractedly innocent as a galactic starfield or a sprinkle-encrusted doughnut? Or is it the fact of navigation itself, the weirdly pleasurable contradiction between my fixed immobility at the center of this reconstructed universe and the fluid way I crane my virtual neck to peer up, down, and all around? Optical cryptids such as this confound the classical Barthesian punctum. So like and yet unlike the photographic, cinematographic, and ludic regimes that are its parents (parents probably as startled and dismayed by their own fecundity as the rapidly multiplying Palin clan), the image-machine of the Flash bubble has already anticipated the swooping search paths of my fascinated gaze and embedded them algorithmically within itself.

If I did have to choose the place I most love looking, it would be at the faces captured nearest the “camera” (here in virtualizing quotes because the bubble actually comprises several stitched-together images, undercutting any simple notion of a singular device and instant of capture). Peering down at them from what seems just a few feet away, the reporters seem poignant — again, innocent — as they stare toward center stage with an intensity that matches my own, yet remain oblivious to the panoptic monster hanging over their heads, unaware that they have been frozen in time. How this differs from the metaphysics of older photography, I can’t say; I just know that it does. Perhaps it’s the ontology of the bubble itself, at once genesis and apocalypse: an expanding shock wave, the sudden blistered outpouring of plasma that launched the universe, a grenade going off. The faces of those closest to “me” (for what am I in this system? time-traveler? avatar? ghost? god?) are reminiscent of those stopped watches recovered from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, infinitely recording the split-second at which one reality ended while another, harsher and hotter, exploded into existence.

It remains to be seen what will come of this particular Flashpoint. For the moment — a moment which will last forever — you can explore the bubble to your heart’s content.