Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Core Response #3: Marking Time in Little Galen

Lunchtime in the Little Galen dining facility.

The TV streams run unrelentingly: three main projector screens, several smaller LCDs. The facility represents a partnership between USC Hospitality office and the Athletics division, so the televisions host a constant drone of ESPN. Two channels of it: ESPN and ESPN News. One of them has the audio up. The other is muted, reduced to a hyper-visual news ticker. In any event, the emphasis seems less a matter of specific content and more of the effect of the background visual noise. No one in the room seems to be watching. That is, until the USC logo appears on the chyron. Someone applauds.

Boosterism. Little Galen is a hive of USC pride: sports pendants; murals of the national champion swimming team; the school colors everywhere. Fight on. The overall effect is martial. This is a war room. ESPN is a perfect complement to the spirit of the space.

Beatriz Colomina writes about the war of the domestic space, the rhetoric of violence entering the private sphere. Could anything be as militaristic than football game analysis? We've discussed other qualities of sports broadcasting in previous weeks, but one of the most striking aspects of contemporary televised sports is the minutiae. Strategic choices by coach/generals are given infinite airing and rehashing. Minute tactical decisions by men in the trenches are praise or lamented in precisely diagrammed replays. Then follows the off-season dissection of the political economy of free agency and front office intrigue that will shape future campaigns. Watching sports analysis on ESPN is like reading John Keegan on Normandy. In as much as the TV stream in Little Galen is intended first for the audience of USC athletes, it seems intent on inculcating in them the ideology of home team warcraft.

And then there are the rest of us. We can dine in Little Galen only between the hours of 11:30 and 1:30. Then the civilians are hustled out. Time is always ticking away. In "Television While You Wait," Anna McCarthy observes the way in which television structures time both within the home and in public space. With the sound down or unintelligible under the lunchtime din, the screens surrounding the dining space in Little Galen serve a curious ambient function, something precisely like McCarthy's notion of deadness.

A news ticker flits by at the bottom of either channel's image. The lefthand edge of the picture contains a second standard, this one an agenda for the next fifteen minutes of broadcast time. A series of talking heads and replay images fills the balance of the screen. Men run and leap, tackle and pass in slo-mo. Chattering analysts, pundits, and journalists cycle through. The overall effect is of a constant flow of information that overlaps our brief visit to the dining room but has no direct relation to it. We are dipping in on an infinite stream. The feeling is of a sort of temporal smudge. One never quite feels how long one's been sitting in Little Galen. That is, until the helpful staff comes through to make sure we're on our way out.

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