Purpose, New Media, and Avatar
These are some of my thoughts pertaining to my reading thus far in the Digital Media: A Critical Introduction book. I have used chapters instead of page numbers for citations, since I’m reading it on Kindle for PC, which uses a different page numbering system.
In chapter 1.4.2 in Digital Media: A Critical Introduction, Lister et al. outline many interesting points on new media and its use and potential uses or “affordances”. These points inspire us to ask ourselves what exactly a medium lends itself to and how can it best be put to use. Digital Art and animation are probably my favorites out of all the new media, so lets start there.
For me, the first answer that pops into my head is AVATAR (in very large, exciting letters). The possibilities for creating simulations of reality, or imagined realities, seems amazing. We are given this crazy, complex world around us, and for some reason one of our driving instincts is to figure out how it came to be, and to bisect it down to some mathematical formula. Obviously, this serves some great purposes. As a aspiring new media artist, however, I’m primarily interested in how I can transform this newly digitized reality, and make it more exciting than the one we see every day. I guess this is considered creating the Baudrilliard’s hyperreal, discussed by Lister et al. in chapter 1.2.6 of the book, though I do not fully understand that term, and he seems to use it in reference to even creations which are not stretched intentionally away from reality. Anyhow, digital art and animation seem to be perfectly suited for this purpose.
While it is important to ask ourselves what a new medium “affords” us, it is important to first ask ourselves the obvious question of what exactly we want this medium to do. In chapter 1.4.2, Lister et al. reference Raymond Williams: “Williams argues that there is nothing inherent in the nature of a media technology that it is responsible for the way society uses it.” While this makes sense, we can not dismiss the obvious fact that something was initially created to serve some specific purpose, and while we are not limited to that purpose, it is probably going to be our primary intent. If I can use something to make a bowl of soup, I do not really care, when what I want to be doing is making pancakes, which was why I originally created this random imaginary gizmo. Of course, beyond that, after we have had enough pancakes to eat, we must exercise our curiosity and ask ourselves, “ok, so what else besides make pancakes can I create with this cool new toy?” I suppose, if we were not so hungry for pancakes in the first place, we might have found out that it actually can make belgian waffles, which would have been way, way tastier than pancakes, but we did not think about it when we were making the contraption. This would be the importance of determining a new media’s “affordance” and in chapter 1.4.2, they discuss the need for experimentation to find out all these neat things we can do with each new media.
To be honest, in terms of animation and special effects, I think we have found the way to make a whole Krispy Kream doughnuts factory. At the moment, I can not really envision how it could be better, but then again, I have not actually talked to the people who worked on Avatar, and I am sure they would have a few ideas. I guess, on many levels, our own knowledge is really the only thing holding back from the possibilities of uses of computers. While the processor speed and other more material factors make a difference, in many cases making something happen is just a matter of someone sorting through the code to do so. In general, the main afforance of a new digital medium is based on what we make it to do. Their usefulness is primarily limited by what we have wanted to accomplish with them, and, what we can feed them with code. With most tools we might find added uses other than what they were created to do, however, in the days of computing, we could have probably achieved this new found purpose a different way by beginning with the purpose in mind.
On a slightly different note, Avatar is also interesting when you consider the fact that, while it was created utilizing new media, it is a movie relased for cinemas, which is more of an old medium. The authors note an interesting quote from Clement Greenburg, in which he discusses the new media of his time, photography, and how the function of paintings changes with the invention of it: “painting should utilize color and surface since photography was better for illustrative and narrative work. Painting could now realize its true nature.” If an old media is to survive, it has to take advantage of what makes it special from new media. Avatar does a great job of doing that with the old medium of cinematic movies. While the movie makes great use of computer effects, it also really seems to find the “true nature” of old medium of cinematic distribution in a world with rising new forms of distribution. As people are now frequently able to pirate movies before they even leave the theaters, the point in going out to watch movies is diminishing. I think that all movies are best on the big screen, but some movies really just have to be watched on one. It seems that movies without all these visuals could end up moving towards internet distribution, while more visual movies are left to shine on the big screen. One good example of how this is working already is in the comedy genre. Will Farell and other comedians are basically as funny on the small screen as on the big screen, and Funny or Die makes great use of their talents at a low budget for everyone to watch, which I am sure makes them quite a hefty sum in advertising revenue and affords them more creative opportunities. For the audience, it is definitely worth sacrificing seeing them on the big screen to get the opportunity to watch them at home for free and with more material being put out. While I have not heard of internet distribution of any full-length Hollywood features, I think that it could definitely be a possibility for smaller studios or films that are more plot and dialog based. There is still nothing like seeing any movie on the big screen, but I also think that many interesting opportunities could afford themselves to the medium of internet distribution.
In general, there is tons more to be said about the uses and affordance of digital effects and simulation and computing in general. These are just a few of my initial thoughts on the subject.
Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.