roberto1810

21 year old Film Studies & Publishing student writing about culture both low and highbrow.

Homepage: http://robertgould1810.wordpress.com

Censorship is Dead; Long Live Censorship.

2013 was a landmark year for television; the opus of Breaking Bad came to its much-lauded conclusion, Netflix triumphed with web-streamed series House of Cards, Orange is The New Black and Arrested Development, prompting Cards star Kevin Spacey to speak out in favour of ‘binge-watching’ and echo these sentiments about the so-called ‘watercooler moment’. Beyond this, many actors and actresses famed for movies gravitated towards television and even naysayers couldn’t fight the popular opinion that we had now entered the ‘third golden age of television‘. Finally it is not only acceptable but encouraged to consider television a hobby or interest without sounding like a brainless zombie.

Beyond that however, it was also the most controversial year to date: The Red Wedding aired on HBO and became officially the most shocking moment of the year, Orange is The New Black showed explicit representations of sexual identity and gender roles as well as putting women front and centre, and True Blood showed its first male full-frontal nudity. However, fan reactions to these, such as this and this, indicated that the result of what we were seeing was more important than what we were seeing. Take the True Blood example: for six solid years everyone has got used to regularly seeing female full-frontal nudity from both extras and the main cast members in the vampire-centric show, but the internet went into shock mode the second a main male cast member showed us his wooden stake (ahem.) This video perfectly illustrates the ‘dumb double standard’ that audience reaction backs up:

Beyond this, it is (somewhat cynically) arguable that rather than eschew previous standards of censorship to actually advance equality or promote discussion around tricky or unexplored issues, the TV companies showing us this unprecedented level of violence and sex are in fact doing it for their own gain. Of course, television is an industry just like any other, to assume that decisions would be made without profit in mind would be horribly naive, but to present shocking and thought-provoking content purely to garner a reaction, therefore buzz, therefore increased viewership, seems somewhat problematic.

Rather than furthering any discussion it does in fact simply shine a light on how prudish viewers actually are; indeed, violence has become somewhat passé, so Game of Thrones had to show an ugly, appalling and incredibly shocking act of violence to get people talking. Even that, however, didn’t seem to get people talking quite as much as a black transgender woman being a main character in Orange is The New Black.  Now of course, any promotion of discussion and furthered understanding around previously unexplored issues is positive, particularly in such an accessible medium, but the question remains: are networks doing it for the right reasons? Or are they simply trying to generate more tweets?

Sadly it seems censorship still has a long way to go before it’s broken down for the greater good, as opposed to greater profit.

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Everyone’s A Critic

Becoming a media journalist or culture critic is very, very difficult. It’s an incredibly competitive field that any number of degrees and qualification often doesn’t prepare you for, and it’s only getting harder. The graduate job market is saturated, with statistics showing that one in ten people with an undergraduate degree is unemployed, so apply those statistics to an already competitive industry and the reality strikes fear into the hearts of many a student (including myself.)

However, far and away the biggest threat to the budding critic is blogging and social media. Now clearly, for a budding writer, a blog presents an unmatched chance to showcase their writing and build up a portfolio, and with the right connections, tags, shares etc, can often attract the attention of relevant people and lead to some incredibly helpful connections. It is inarguable that ‘the best way to find a job is through networking‘; however, by the same token, the question remains that if seemingly everyone under the sun is blogging, tweeting, statusing, a range of reviews, discussions, analyses, how is it possible to stand out? More crucially, where is the line drawn between ‘respectable’ or ‘notable’ reviewers and someone sitting in bed at 3am writing a weakly crafted response to the latest episode of American Horror Story or their opinion on the BAFTA nominations?

If, like me, you follow a mix of personal and professional links on Twitter, when skimming it is often difficult to decipher which opinion comes from which outlet; is this tweet essaying American Hustle as a shoo-in at the Oscars from Total Film or that guy you met at that party once?  The evidence of audience power is all around: popular reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes places audience reviews next to and the same size as critical reviews, thereby giving it equal prominence, and IMDb’s rating system is based purely on user reviews. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, giving audiences the influence they arguably deserve as the people footing the bill, but the question remains: when everyone is talking, how do you decide who’s worth listening to?

Obviously, the barrier still remains between ‘trusted’ publications like Total Film and Empire, but the gap is closing fast. The definition of a journalist has also been updated and adapted to include a relationship with the public that wasn’t previously there, and beyond that it is now more than possible for Joe Everyman to respond to the critics’ opinions directly, whether to agree or disagree. The power is shifting to include the general population as a decision-making force to be reckoned with, but that in itself poses a problem: if everyone’s suddenly a critic, no one is.

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Twitter & TV: Symbiosis

Television viewership has skyrocketed in recent years. It might seem surprising, but on-demand availability and time-shifted programming (such as ‘+1’ channels), as well as the range of viewing platforms now available has meant that the public can now fit viewing into their schedule better than ever before. On top of this, television is no longer seen as the ‘low art’ it once was; film’s black-sheep baby cousin has grown up and started garnering the attention it deserves.

Shows like Game of Thrones are receiving Hollywood-sized budgets, and others such as Breaking Bad are gaining the kind of universal critical acclaim once reserved for great literature or theatre, and only the greatest of film (see also this article, comparing the show to the fabled Great American Novel.)

Beyond this, the way we talk about television has changed too; it is now impossible to go on Twitter without risking seeing spoilers for your favourite shows. I caught up with the infamous (and controversial) Game of Thrones episode featuring The Red Wedding about three days after it first aired and in that time I had to enter into complete social media lockdown, lest I accidentally stumbled upon a list of who had died…. [SPOILER ALERT] Turned out it was pretty much everyone, so it was almost a waste of time, but that’s beside the point. Twitter has now become the first point of contact for reactions, discussions, news  questions, so much so that shows are being rated not by how many views they receive (incredibly difficult to measure in the age of aforementioned technological advances) but by how much Twitter buzz they generate.

In fact, nowadays it is arguable that you cannot properly engage with television without having a Twitter account. Even some of my more tweet-phobic friends immediately search for trending reactions to certain televisual events: from the last few months the finales of Breaking Bad, Broadchurch and The X Factor spring to mind. Sure, TV events will no doubt receive press coverage, generate Facebook statuses, inspire blog posts, but for immediate, concise reaction and discussion, nobody does it better than Twitter.

The industry is savvy to this fact as well; TV Line founder and CEO Michael Ausiello has nearly 20,000 tweets to his name and over a million followers. Twitter is allowing audiences to engage with television in a way only previously dreamed of. Watching a show is no longer the final step of the experience, we are implored to involve ourselves further in the world of the episode by becoming immersed in the forum surrounding it, and it’s not even a big commitment, you don’t have to have tons of time or a burning passion, just fire off those speedy 140 characters with the right hashtag at the end, read your ‘Trending’ page and you’re done. Suddenly, since Twitter established itself, television viewing has become a richer experience, more social than ever before; where it used to bring the members of your household together, it now brings you together with every other fan of your favourite show who has a Twitter account… Which every true television fan now does.

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Screen Exposure: Advantageous or Abhorrent?

It doesn’t matter if you approve or don’t, screens are now inextricably woven into the fabric of everyday life, and they’re here to stay.

It happened the other night. We (a group of four students) settled in to watch a TV show together, the final of I’m A Celebrity… (no judgement please). Halfway through the show I looked at the room, which had gone silent beyond the odd chuckle. I quickly realised why; between the four of us we were simultaneously using four smartphones, two laptops and two tablets, whilst ‘watching TV and chilling with friends’, which of course would’ve been the official party line had anyone asked what we were doing. It was in that moment I truly realised how digitised my generation has become; I can genuinely only think of two situations in which I am not constantly dipping in and out of various apps on my iPhone: 1) when I’m driving and 2) when I’m asleep.

This isn’t even exclusive to our particularly digitised demographic (i.e. young adults); in 2012 Google produced a study stating that 90% of the population’s media consumption was now screen-based, and beyond that, multi-tasking was reaching its pinnacle… 77% of the time we spend watching television was also spent using another device, such as a tablet or smartphone. A mere six months later, this infographic showed that those figures had risen again. The tide hadn’t so much turned as unleashed a tsunami upon the coast of the first world.

As with any new cultural trend, a discussion immediately erupted; for every person essaying the positives of this shiny, new digital world, there were naysayers concerned about the potential longer term developmental issues. However, the fact of the matter is that arguments about how good or bad this new global addiction is are somewhat irrelevant now, it functions simply as a habit nowadays. It is no longer a case of discussing the potential positives (greater ease of communication, increased cross-platform media engagement) or negatives (falsity of online relationships, decreased attention span, lack of ‘in-the-moment’ enjoyment), that proverbial ship sailed long ago.

Like it or not, it is now just another facet of everyday life, bringing with it a new vernacular of words and activities that even within my short 22-year life span have been ascribed new meaning or created altogether (selfie, Instagram, tweeting, snapchatting, online booking, app, I could go on…)  Whether the thought of spending 90% of your time attached to a screen fills you with joy or an Orwellian chill, it’s irrelevant because it’s already happened. The revolution was televised, but you might’ve missed it… You were probably playing Temple Run.

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Is Advertising A Lost Industry?

Friday 13th of December 2013: unlucky for some? Yes. It was a dark day for the advertising industry, simply because of one woman: a certain Mrs. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. As the clock struck midnight (EST) and the 12th became the 13th, the superstar dropped her self-titled fifth album with no warning, no announcement and, crucially, no advertising.

What happened next was virtually unprecedented; Twitter naturally exploded, and the shockwave of a global superstar not so much breaking the mould as reinventing  it resonated with such force that a mere 13 (poetic) hours later, BuzzFeed were able to put together this hilarious post. Beyond the initial media storm however, the figures spoke for themselves, the ‘visual album’ smashing all previous iTunes records and garnering universal acclaim from critics.

 

Now, clearly, it was only quite that successful due to Beyoncé’s powerful extant media brand and her voracious fanbase; however, it raises questions that have been around for the better part of twenty years about how relevant traditional advertising is in the digital age. A quick google of the phrase ‘the death of the ad agency‘  returns millions upon millions of hits from several different, highly respected outlets. Since the advent of the smartphone many everyday facets of life have become outdated and unnecessary, illustrated here:

In a similar way, social media and online journalism have all but removed the need for traditional forms of advertising. Put into an exemplary everyday context, a billboard advertisement for the latest George Clooney blockbuster that someone sees on their drive to work is no longer the primary way of generating interest, as said person will likely have already seen five tweets, three Facebook statuses and an article on their Flipboard about it over their morning coffee.

The digitalisation of key areas of a person’s life (news, socialising, media consumption etc) that is inexorably and inarguably happening presently means that advertising is all around us all the time. Alongside this, digital journalism means that even a few hours to react to a breaking news story is too long; the population now wants and expects to know things as they happen, and everyone has to keep because if one media outlet isn’t reporting it, someone, anyone else will be. The sheer rapidity of the online world is exactly why Beyoncé didn’t have to advertise or even announce BEYONCÉ; the very second it dropped, the world did it for her.

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The Death of The Watercooler Moment

Nearly ten years ago, two lines of script became part of a shared vernacular for TV fans the world over. Before May 6th, 2004, you could say these sentences and no one would have given you a second glance; after that date, the words became synonymous with true love everlasting, eliciting sighs and squeaks of sentimental warmth from anyone you said them to. Soon after that, you could only get half way through the first line before everyone in the room joined in with you in a moment of joyful nostalgia…

‘No, NO. Did she get off the plane? Did she get off the plane?!’

‘I got off the plane.’

Yes, the final ever episode of beloved US sitcom Friends (spoiler alert, although if you need that I’m going to have to assume you’ve been living under a rock for several years) featured the denouement of the decade-long romantic arc between everyone’s favourite on again/off again TVcouple, Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston)… And it was a beautiful moment. Perfectly pitched, completely surprising, gorgeously emotive without being saccharine or cloying, it had fans blubbing into their giant coffee cups and got everyone talking. No one could wait until the next day at work to discuss the events, to deconstruct what had happened to the six best friends we had taken into our homes on a weekly basis for ten long years.

But we had to; it was 2004… Doesn’t seem all that long ago, but there was no Facebook, no Twitter, not even everybody had a phone (lovingly called ‘mobiles’) back then. I was 12 and the only way I could get in touch with my friends was via the landline, and only then if no one was using the dial-up internet. This left us with very few options, meaning the accepted method of discussion was to just see everyone and discuss it the next morning. Used commonly in the vernacular back then, the watercooler moment is now demonstrably a thing of the past. Picture Ross and Rachel’s reunion were it to happen in 2013:

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In fact, we don’t have to imagine it… this post sets up Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) of New Girl infamy as the Ross and Rachel of the digital decade. The fact is it’s no longer necessary to discuss…. well, virtually anything, in person anymore. A communal space in which to chat about television, books, films etc, has evolved from the well-worn industrial carpet surrounding the water dispenser into a massive online forum in which to exchange ideas digitally. No one needs to hear your mouth speak the words when you’ve already tweeted, statused and snapchatted about it. So called ‘social’ media actually means that although your opinion reaches many more people than it used to, no real connection is ever actually formed from it. This concept is demonstrated perfectly in this video:

In the digital age, the space our thoughts inhabit is no longer real, at least not physically and as a result the reactionary process our brains undergo is changing. Suddenly, in the space of a decade, reciprocal conversation is becoming a thing of the past; everyone’s talking but no one’s listening.

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