Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Popular & Celebrity Culture Writing task

With the birth of modern media platforms such as cinema, game and photography, some have noticed a significant change in the function of art dictated by social change. With the technology to reproduce and distribute a piece of media to a mass audience, we could argue there has been a noticeable shift from tradition, and potentially a decay of what is known as the 'aura' surrounding a singular piece of art work.

Elaborating on this idea of aura, It has been argued that media becomes the subject of awe and fascination aided by 'its presence in time and space, it's unique existence at the place where it happens' (Benjamin 1936). Like a celebrity, a traditional painting is viewed as one of a kind; It cannot be truly replicated, it exists as an exclusive physical spectacle. It exists only in one place at any given time, and it is this concept that creates the 'aura'. (Benjamin 1936) Also can be quoted raising the point that a tradition piece of media includes 'changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as the various changes in its ownership'. This all ties with authenticity. When a film is screened, the same product will be being reproduced in various different cinemas, all displaying the exact same product. The original components which have created the feature are forgotten, and this branded piece of media is finalised at that moment. Benjamin, in this same text, discusses that a painting will age and bear traces of its existence over time, whereas a reproduced piece of media will always share the characteristics of many replications: 'The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.' In his fourth text on the subject of tradition art versus the age of mechanical reproduction, Benjamin talks about traditional art revolving around 'ritual'. By this Benjamin could be referring to the role of religious art, with the simple function of inspiring and upholding this sense aura which revolves around faith and spirituality. He goes on to talk of modern media's purpose of reproduction, and that 'instead of being based on ritual' (media) 'begins to be based on another practice - politics'. On reflection, if it is true that this sense of aura is lost with mass produced media, it must not be forgotten that the ability to reproduce media is a significant tool in reaching out to the masses. In this sense, should it deemed as a negative approach that art should digress to a more political standpoint? It is likely that the use of art as a tool to communicating ideas with social relevance, could be assumed more productive than placing tractional works on pedestals to then demand admiration and worship.

Taking an alternative approach, could it be argued that this idea of aura is not lost in mass media? By looking at the iconic multimedia character 'Lara Croft', perhaps we can counter the ideas raised by Benjamin. Cassel and Jenkins are quoted raising the point: 'the untouchable is always the most desirable' (Rehak 2000). In this sense, the dispersible character becomes illusive and unobtainable, a sensation that could be coined as 'aura'. With this same text in which Rehak discusses the iconic media figure, we can re-visit the idea of authenticity that comes with traditional art: 'concieved in 3D software, rendered and animated on high-speed graphics displays - to be copied and permutated into whatever form a given media demands.' Here the point is raised that although some could argue the transmedia product discussed is fragmented and unauthentic, there are still traces of the original computer generated model that ring true wherever Lara appears. This sense of identity perhaps does not differ too far from the characteristic brush strokes of a physical painting. Like a painting, Lara stays removed from reality. Rehak explains: 'Is she were to look photo-realistic, too much like an actual individual woman, what seductiveness she posses would thereby be destroyed'. Again this ties with the sensation of unattainability and illusiveness. Yet interestingly, Lara has been portrayed in photographs by models. This tells us that perhaps it is Lara's signature look, her hair and clothing and the props she possesses that define her character. Perhaps these characteristics are the unique brushstrokes present in a singular painting. Although overtime the character my be portrayed by various different models, or as gaming progresses she may gain more photo-realistic qualities (these changes could possibly be seen as the markings and weathering that tell of a paintings gradual change and ageing overtime), it is the traces of her origin that create this sense of awe we are referring to as aura. Another interesting point Rahak raises is the relevance of new media which helps the transmedia character maintain this loyalty and familiarity established with fans. Rahak refers to the term 'mapping', which he summarises as: 'a more complex, cooperative, circulatory model.' I believe that Rahank could be referring to the fan-based media ( fanart, fanfiction) mentioned earlier in his text. 

Perhaps the reason that Lara Croft has been escalated to such and iconic status is because the developer's intention was for her to transcend the conventions of traditional media. It is this involvement with the consumer, this enablement for the character to adapt and be distributed across various platforms that has allowed the character to achieve such presence. Is aura simply the idea that there is only one product in existence, or is there a more broader sense of familiarity and fascination with a piece of media?


Benjamin, W. (1936), 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', in Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (eds.) (2003), Art in Theory 1900 - 2000, Oxford: Blackwell, pages 520 - 527

Rehank, B. 'Mapping the Bit Girl: Lara Croft and the new media fandom', in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B.M (eds.) (2000) The Cybercultures Reader, London and New York, Routledge, pages 159 - 173

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