Screen Culture – Week 04


Digital Cinema was the focus for Screen Culture this week. Obviously, the term itself immediately connects with an image of contemporary cinema: theatres showing Hollywood-style, narrative film. However, as we stepped warily down the path of Lev Manovich‘s The Language of New Media, it was suggested that perhaps in this age, ‘cinema’ should embrace far broader concepts.


Lev Manovich; his entertainment system is better than yours.

Manovich’s book is one that I really should pick up on day, as it’s highly regarded as a seminal work in the world of new [cough] media. Not having read it did not dissuade me from passing judgement on the concepts we were presented in the lecture though. My issue with Manovich is that he seems determined to repackage a number of different technologies and force them under the umbrella of ‘cinema’. To do this, he argues that cinema isn’t a narrative form at all, and in fact what we think of as cinema now is actually an anomaly within the evolution of a form that began long before the age of Hollywood.

If you define cinema purely as the moving image, Manovich does have a point. However, with his focus on ‘new media’ and technology, I feel like Manovich is merely attempting to insert himself as an addition to the cinematic canon. For instance, in his own work, Soft Cinema, Manovich puts forward the idea of the database as cinematic driver, yet by using a narrative voiceover as the common thread amongst the evolving visuals, Manovich has put his own argument against narrative cinema into question.

I personally believe that cinema attempts to increase the sense of immediacy in its form. Whether this is through the expression of reality or hyperreality within film, or even a connection to the medium in forms before film, it strives for an engagement between the image and audience. Manovich’s cinema drifts too far into the realm of hypermediacy for me. The fact that he draws attention to the technology, the surface and media, I would argue that his form is something removed from ‘cinema’.


The first reading we were supposed to take a look at was Transmission: Toward a Post-Television Culture (Peter d’Agostino (ed.), 1994). Frustratingly, it seems near impossible to get a hold of. UNSW Library won’t give me any results, and even the generally useful Google Scholar isn’t giving up any bikkies. It does seem that the readings for Screen Culture haven’t really been put together with a student population of around 100 in mind. Our textbook, New Media: A Critical Introduction (Dovey, Giddings, Grant, Kelly and Lister, 2009) was only released in its current edition this year, making a low-cost copy impossible to find. I’ll just keep this in mind when we’re doing those UNSW feedback reports at the end of semester.

The second reading was taken from the (thankfully)  freely available Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube (Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer (eds.), 2008). The chapter we were asked to read was written by Jean Burgess, hilariously titled All Your Chocolate Rain Belong To Us’?: Viral Video, YouTube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture. As an aside, can someone please explain to me why academics feel the need to always have a subtitle for their work? If your main title has used language too obscure for the common person to understand, thus needing an explanatory paragraph in addition, IT FAILS AS A TITLE. Stop flaunting your smarts around – you’re just pissing everyone off. And now we step away from the ranting, hairy man…

Burgess’ primary point in this paper was that the viral/meme culture around video sites like YouTube is inert without the participation of and resulting connection between its users. In effect, this makes YouTube a social networking site:

…those participants who actively contribute content and engage in cultural conversation around online video, YouTube is in itself a social network site, one in which videos (rather than ‘friending’) are the primary medium of social connection between participants. (p. 102)

Chocolate Rain (above) is one of the examples of a YouTube meme that Burgess puts forward. This video supports her argument by providing an excellent example of work that garners popularity through its reconstitution. Obviously Zonday didn’t create this clip with the resulting internet stardom in mind – it was the community around the video which turned it viral.

…there is much more going on in viral video than ‘information’ about a video being communicated throughout a population. Successful ‘viral’ videos have textural ‘hooks’ or key signifiers, which cannot be identified in advance (even, or especially, by their authors) but only after the fact, when they have become prominent via being selected a number of times for repetition. (p. 105)

I think Burgess makes an important point surrounding the engagement and fascination around video communities like YouTube. But this also hold true for participation on the internet in a far broader way. We often find ourselves communicating with people through the internet that we have never met physically, and often this communication takes forms that can be separate from regular speech or text. It is now generally accepted that through participation and involvement in a medium like video on YouTube, that we are communicating ideas, thoughts and expressions, simply by taking part:

…an act of iterative vernacular creativity that has emerged out of the conversational dynamics of YouTube as a social network as much as out of any desire for self-expression. The video captures the ways in which small contributions from a large number of participants collectively add up to much more than the sum of their parts; the value of the video as an element in participatory culture cannot be attributed back to an original producer. (p. 107)

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