Saturday, October 22, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 9)

René Magritte, The Lovers (1928)

Whoops. A couple of days ago I accidently hit "publish" on the draft that I'd been using as a repository for notes and stuff cut out of other pieces. I never said I was any good at this.


The development of media technology in the West was from the beginning a movement toward individuation and estrangement. It's right there in the Latin meaning of the word. Medium. A middle; something that stands between.

Information in a nonliterate society cannot remain inert. It must be enacted, it must circulate. The externalization of speech as written language denuded human interdependence in its original, direct forms. The more one can learn from a book, the less one requires a teacher, guide, or knowledgeable companion. When news of community affairs is delivered through a paper, one no longer needs to hear it from her neighbors. Stories and poetry taken in through the eye instead of the ear become matters of private leisure instead of communal occasions.

In a primary oral culture, the transmission of verbal information necessitates a direct interaction between speakers and listeners. Communication here is immediate and interactive; feedback from the listeners influence what the speaker says and how he says it, and the exchange of information most often occurs under circumstances which are conterminous for both speaker and listener. In other words, the contexts of the acts of speaking and listening overlap. But this is obvious: the speaker wouldn't be speaking if a listener weren't nearby, and vice versa. A social environment such as this can't be expected to breed many introverts or loners. "Primary orality fosters personality structures that in certain ways are more communal and externalized, and less introspective than those common among literates," Walter Ong writes in his 1982 classic Orality and Literacy. "Oral communication unites people in groups."

Conversely, between the novelist and the reader of her book is interposed a labyrinthine social complex that confronts each of them in a different aspect.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 8)

YouTube screencap ganked from

Just kidding. There's still one more to go after this. I'm just having too much fun.


I would like to submit two provisional definitions.

First: the celebrity. He or she is a media entity whose content—those artifacts bearing some aspect of their likeness and/or their name—passes some arbitrary threshold of circulation such that it alters the behavior of some arbitrary number of viewing and/or listening persons along similar lines. We can set the bar as high or as low as we please, though it is generally understood that a proper celebrity commands the attention of some tens of thousands of people or more.

This is not a rigorous definition—surely some more thoughtful person can do better—but it designates the celebrity status as function of media "presence" (which we put in quotation makes because the template for the artifact is very seldom present where the majority of spectators are concerned), and also of the artifacts' effects on those who engage with them. The second part is more slippery than the first, since it doesn't differentiate between something as simple as hovering over a recognized name on a film's IMDB page and something as drastic as recording a sobbing excoriation of the press' calloused treatment of a troubled pop star and uploading it to YouTube. But in either case, the act is elicited by a history of engagement with content, not with the human beings to which is its attributed.

Second definition—tentatively, and far less rigorously—content is stimuli administered by a device. That device might be a film projector, a television screen, a smartphone, a Kindle, a car's stereo system, or whatever. Note that "content" wasn't the vernacular term which encompassed written material, television programming, film, music, etc. until the internet age.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 7)

Via Insider


With a little shopping, the photo above could easily pass as a scene from an outdoor Harry Styles concert. This is a scene from a parade, not a judicial occasion.

Some people buy a ticket for a stadium seat so they can shout themselves hoarse encouraging and cursing their favorite football team; others visit the courthouse where a celebrity trial is being held so they can cheer on the dreamy litigant they've been stanning since high school. It's all the same: modern variations on the theme of the Great Dionysia.

Depp v. Heard played out like an ancient Greek drama in which the attentive public comprised the chorus. Two private persons, whom we all seemed to know, or felt we knew on the basis of our having so often seen and heard their likenesses in films, read interviews with them in glossy magazines, parsed and hit the Like button on their social media updates, etc., entered a courtroom in Fairfax, Virginia to settle a civil dispute. 

There was no possibility that the trial would ensue like a mundane legal process for determining whether the defendant's article in the Washington Post actually constituted defamation, as the plantiff alleged. The entire proceeding was livestreamed, and we viewed it as though it were a protracted film in which Depp and Heard were co-stars—that is to say that it was entertainment, witnessed, contemplated, and discussed by members of society in which entertainment is a profoundly serious matter.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

On Return to Monkey Island

In spite of all the admonitions of my reason (and though I've got something else I really ought to be finishing), I'm compelled to offer my paltry observations of Return to Monkey Island and its reception. I know I will be saying nothing that hasn't already been promulgated throughout the message boards and social networks of people who play games, or been the subject of a thousand YouTube monologues. Yet I apparently can't help myself. Like Ron Gilbert's previous game, 2017's Thimbleweed Park, Return to Monkey Island reminded me why I don't play video games much anymore—and maybe that's a good thing [question mark].

There will be spoilers. Also, most of the screenshots were captured by other people.