Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Reflection on The aesthetics of flow and the aesthetics of catharsis

The thesis that today´s Media culture is a result of the tension between the aesthetics of catharsis and flow proposed by Jay D. Bolter initially makes sense to me, as I observe the effects of these two aesthetics in the users of Media, the deep involvement, the need of being connected and exposed to its contents above the rest, the emotions experimented through the stories, news and whatnot seen or heard in the Media. However, I believe that the relation between these two aesthetics is not as much a tension as a collaborative process where one of these two aesthetics is the one that seems to be leading the dance, the flow.
Nowadays Media brings together the “old” Mass Media, radio, TV, film, and the new technologies, such as personal computers, the omnipresent mobile devices and the Internet, where flow looks like the ideal pursued by the people who produces all the content and designs behind the Media, that is to say, unshared attention and engagement in all users. Catharsis on the other hand initially refers us to the effect brought by the work of art that builds a moment of emotional climax, which will continue resonating in the spectator’s mind after the end of it. In this sense, catharsis and the art pieces that built this effect were seen as an event in their own, that is to say, something that had a beginning and an ending, and interruption in the daily life of the person who witnessed such a piece. Oppositely, flow is not an interruption of any person’s life, but the flowing of life inside the Media, or along the Media.
While talking about flow, Bolter calls it the end of desire, which is from the beginning a problematic concept to define, and obviously I will not get into that, but instead I want to mention that for me flow would represent the continuous creation of inner comfort spaces, where other experiences are inserted and dosed, according to the needs of the users-viewers. Interactivity of new technologies allows the users to have a sense of control over the things he is going to be consuming or experiencing, about his own flow, dictating his/her “highs” and “lows”, that is to say, his/her moments of catharsis. We have arrived to the “help yourself” point in Media where it is possible to just stay in the flow, consuming everything that is out there, including domesticated versions of catharsis and other artistic aesthetics which initially intended to shock society and our minds. Everything has the way to be assimilated into the present Media culture if it is profitable and as long as does not represent a threat to the status quo.
I believe that Bolter’s paper took me in a different direction of addressing questions, not as a potential creator of meaning for today´s Media, but as a user-viewer of it.
Using these two aesthetics explored by Bolter as the key way to understand Media culture, is it possible to find more aesthetics inserted in the motivations and design of today’s Media culture?
Is there a place in today´s Media for the works of Art that represent a sort of disruption of reality, talking about comfort and status quo, in the way catharsis was in early stages of theater and narrative?
To what point flow ends being an aesthetic and becomes alienation in today´s Media culture?

Sun, January 20 2013 » futurecinema2_2012

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