- Screen Traffic:Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture
In Screen Traffic Charles R. Acland undertakes a detailed investigation of the manner in which the film industry has developed a particular understanding of the worldwide cinemagoing audience and the distinctive effect this conception has had on film distribution and, more importantly, exhibition.Scrutinizing trade publications as well as a wide array of theorists covering film spectatorship, popular culture, and social behavior, Acland mounts a persuasive and illuminating argument regarding the development of filmgoing as a specific "practice," one that has been distinctly reconfigured with the advent of video and the rise of multiplexing. With this idea providing the backbone of his inquiry, Acland interrogates the specific time period extending from 1986 to 1998 in an effort to "expose some of the recent historical traces that have formed an episteme of popular entertainment and the global audience" and understand how these general ideas led to specific transformations in sites of film exhibition (14).
In the book's first section, "Theorizing Contemporary Cinemagoing," Acland covers a considerable amount of theoretical ground. Chapter 1, "Global Audiences and the Current Cinema," provides an overview of the broad issues with which Acland will concern himself for the remainder of the study. He notes that industrial and popular discourses have become increasingly imbricated, forming a surfeit of "common sense" knowledge regarding the film industry. Acland claims he is primarily interested in developing "an inventory of contexts, sites, dispositions, and knowledge that make up the everyday life of popular film culture in our historical situation" (17), chiefly, "the modes of popular experience proffered, enforced, and regulated at the cinema [and] their relation to streams of national and global cultural life" (18).
Here Acland also defines the historical parameters for his study, noting that 1986–98 began with "the recognition of problems with existing film exhibition spaces and practices, during which there was rising agreement about the changes needed, and [ended] with a growing sense that this phase of exhibition had its own limitations" (18). The starting point for the study was also chosen because it marks the return of the major film distributors to theatrical exhibition and because it acknowledges the increasing importance of global film markets in the 1980s.
Chapter 2, "Traveling Cultures, Mutating Commodities," features discussions of the limitless flux of contemporary film commodities across both media platforms and international borders. This chapter is perhaps most noteworthy for its renegotiation of the terms normally used in discussing globalization and for Acland's challenge of the conventional wisdom regarding those film commodities that travel well across national borders. Although discussions of globalization related to the film industry have long identified those texts that are most successful abroad as those bearing the least cultural specificity (the cultural discount theory) and as those transparent enough to allow audiences to project their own cultural particularity onto the text, Acland argues that this line of thinking operates based on a few mistaken assumptions about audience, namely, that audiences are not "actively involved in cultural consumption" and that international audiences would not actually prize "signs of cultural specificity" (34). This argument leads to what is perhaps Acland's most controversial theoretical point, [End Page 65] but one that is nonetheless well supported throughout the book. Acland states that his work stands "explicitly in contradistinction to work that takes international culture, popular or otherwise, as a sign of the failure of nation, of particularity, and of meaning" (37). He also takes aim at the binary argument that has long pitted global against national culture, advocating instead that "a global cultural analysis should examine the micro-politics of culture, that is, the diverse and provisional nature of ideology and power as it appears in and has effects on the structure of social life" (39). In addition, Acland proposes that cultural analysis should take as its point of departure "the traces left by intercontextual and intermedia cultural relations" (44).
To this end, Acland devotes the second section of his book to an investigation of contemporary cinematic culture through the lens of industry discourse regarding...