Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Core Response - Floating Screens and Waiting Room Torture - by Myah Williams 

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to watch Christina Aguilera perform for the the pre-show to the NBA All Star Game at a local Hollywood restaurant/bar. This bar was equipped with large HD screens, five of them facing out toward the outdoor patio where I sat with a friend. Next door, a New Orleans themed bar had a live band in tribute to Mardis Gras. The music sounds bled into our patio space and accompanied the All Stars. It was a bit jarring. McCarthy observes that at a bar, "sports spectatorship allows fans a sense of virtual copresence on national and international scales" (196). Whereas the NBA All Star game was not even on my radar before seeing it broadcast on that patio, it did give me a sense of copresence with a national live event. I was however, more struck by the visual aspect of the screens.    

These massive flat HD screens resemble the "20th century apertures" -- like picture windows -- spoken of in Colomina's writing (12). They are something I've become accustomed to seeing in airport lounges, doctor's waiting rooms, and retail/restaurant spaces. Similar to windows, these ceiling suspended screens are like floating orbs of light reflecting back at us, yet not the view outside but designed/mediated messages (such as in the case of the window artwork in Swayze's underground bomb shelters). In my photo below, three such screens can be seen in on the patio of the restaurant we visited. There were at least two more just out of the frame. Three of the screens broadcast the NBA All Star Game and two screens were showing a soccer match. Normally they would be on mute and closed captioned, however Aguilera's pre show was in full sound. Because this was an outdoor social leisurely setting, I did not find the presence of the screens to be obtrusive but rather complimentary. However in other cases -- such as doctor's waiting rooms as examined by McCarthy -- the atmosphere is quite different.    

McCarthy examines "televisual waiting" in the form of television sets in public spaces that "accompany and commodify the act of waiting". McCarthy also positions this component as an "instrument of public address" p 201 for many doctor's office waiting rooms. In reference to certain "at risk" clientele -- such as HIV test takers or planned parenthood patients -- McCarthy sites a study that suggests many doctors would prefer medical informational programs be shown in their lobby's as opposed to the likes of steamy soap operas (these and talk shows are the only types of programs I've really witnessed in waiting rooms). These serve as a means of public service rather than entertainment or mental occupation while you wait. "Place based" cyclical programming (such as with the referenced AH programs) in medical waiting rooms, for McCarthy, can actually be counter productive to the cause. Rather than neutralizing the wait period, the repetition of programming can work to over-emphasize the extended wait time (sort of like a torture chamber with an annoying pop song on repeated loop).  

I have often found myself annoyed by televisions in waiting rooms. The sense of being forced to watch a news program such as Fox News or a talk show such as Rachel Ray -- all programs I would not watch of my own volition -- has made me feel more anxious than simply waiting in silence ever could have. The choice of consumption was not my own in these situations. I could choose to surf the web on my phone or read a book, but the grating sound of the ultra-conservative news caster or gibbering talk show host would always penetrate my attempts to engage in media of my own choice (as the programs are hardly ever on mute and closed captioned). The TV in these cases, was inescapable during my often protracted waiting period. 

In such situations, my attitude often vacillates on a scale from agitated to neutral. However there have been a few times in which I have found myself really engaged during "televisual waiting". A particular instance in the waiting room of my Physical Therapist's office during the holidays drew my attention to the mounted TV which was tuned to the Queen Latifah Show. Queen Latifah had her family on as guests and planned a whole surprise tribute to her mother by having her favorite gospel duo perform. I remember feeling momentarily swept up in the emotions conveyed on screen. Perhaps it was the holiday spirit but I figured, if you can't beat them you might as well join them.    

All in all I'm struck by this week's readings and their analysis as they have caused me to consider the various screens in the public and private spaces I have grown accustomed to and the ways in which they function to accompany, distract, market to or inform me.  

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