Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Liveness Not Dead

Setting aside the first-order reasons for enjoying watching the inauguration, to me there's an interesting second-order issue that many people seemed to experience television in a public and communal manner that's not been the norm in the US. Or maybe because I'm not generally a viewer of sporting telecasts in public venues. Something about the Obama inauguration does seem on different level of public televisual culture - it is the disruption of daily routine to aggregate into makeshift audiences around available television sets. It's an unusual sight to me because a) this country has a proliferation of TV sets - probably more than one for every individual ; b) as a culture we tend to associate television with the domestic setting; and c) technology and social practice alike mean people often watch television well after its moment of broadcast.

Yet here is a moment in which liveness matters. It is not alone in this, of course (think September 11 as one prominent example), but it is remarkable to see both the liveness and a communal viewing create a televisual experience not too different, from say that in the 1960s - only without any trace of nostalgic reworking.

3 comments:

Bob Rehak said...

Chris, I think you're right on the money with this -- in fact, I coordinated the first meeting of my TV & New Media class to discuss the concept of the Media Event, basically a moment (scripted, as in presidential inaugurations, or unscripted, as in 9/11) when every screen lights up with the same shared experience. MEs have a long lineage, predating even television (though TV is what we most associate them with). More on this in Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz, Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992)

Chris Cagle said...

Thanks for the reminder on the Dayan/Katz book. I read that many years ago and clearly forgot much of its argument.

Chuck said...

There are also a couple of good essays on this topic in the collection Logics of Television. I believe that one is "Information, Crisis, Catastrophe," by Mary Anne Doane. But I think that television itself has changed in the interim in that far fewer of us watch TV "live" today than in the 1980s when these texts were written.

So what does this return to liveness signify? What are the events that can revive the desire for liveness or presentness? Interesting questions.