Monday, February 16, 2015

CORE RESPONSE #3 I Only Have Eyes for View


I Only Have Eyes for View

            On Valentine’s Day, at Messhall Kitchen in Los Feliz, the lighting is dim, the music is retro and televisions are ever-present.  Whether at the bar or a surrounding table, it is almost impossible to find an inside seat where you are not facing a screen featuring this evening’s basketball, baseball, football or game show program.  This space is quite different from the “apparent safe confines of the home” written about by Beatriz Colomina (Colomina 3).  The restaurant is open, relatively public, even as individuals not seated at the bar huddle in couples and couples of couples around their tables.  This space differs slightly from Morse’s argument: that “the duration of a program or sports game” sets the length of time for which people remained seated (Morse 195).  The televisions were indeed “ambient,” the brightness of the screens contrasted with the low-key illumination of the restaurant, making it hard to miss the programming, even if one is not consciously paying attention to what is being featured. 
This ambient stimuli reminded me of visual Musak with ads.  I wonder if the programming commands a viewer’s attention similarly to but opposite from the way a driver experiences a billboard as he or she speeds by.  When someone passes a billboard, the driver is moving quickly and the billboard is still.  The exposure to the ad is brief; the awareness might be subliminal. Conversely, at Messhall, the images on screen move while the observer, for the most part, remains stationary.  I observed that, when someone walked into the restaurant, some people looked up, or when someone walked by their table, some interrupted their conversations.  As images change, I believe people notice, either consciously or unconsciously, a change in their visual field, even if that change occurs peripherally.    
Sitting at this locale this past weekend, I experienced this kind of distracted viewing – the programs would cycle from sports to advertisements in a regular and regulated fashion (the station featured that night was the mixed-format experience of TNT).  The sound was turned off, allowing the 1950s Valentine’s Day-themed music to cycle through and form an asynchronous relationship with the images onscreen.  The matching of soft rock with shaving cream advertisements, promotions for Rizzoli & Isles, and interrupted segments of the Bulls game, generated a sense of an omnipresent television experience at once unobtrusive and unavoidable.  Though most couples on this Valentine’s evening seemed far more intent on each other than Andrew Wiggins’ latest jump shot, everyone was surrounded by these images.
            This television advertising by osmosis raises an interesting question for me.  Since this viewing experience was truly ambient, I wondered how much of it was absorbed?  What was the effect of this absent-present watching?  How did it impact the viewer?  If television is experienced in this way, by osmosis, what does that imply about our habituation to screen culture?  The implication would seem to be we are so used being surrounded by televisions in public spaces that we do not consciously notice they are there and take their presence for granted, the way advertising has become pervasive on shopping carts, the sides of buses, everywhere we turn and look.  This would enforce Morse’s and Thompson’s ideas of screen culture and the regulation of the external and internal environment through what is promoted on the screen.  The experience of non-viewing these screens at Messhall enforced the sense that perpetually present programming is not only unavoidable but is an integral part of many everyday experiences.

-Allison Ross 

No comments:

Post a Comment