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The Pre-Recorded Audience in Two Dimensions Adam Parfrey "Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history, when the unreal is always of greater moment than the real. Crowds being only capable of thinking in images are only to be impressed by images. It is only images that terrify or attract them and become motives of action." [Or inaction.]*-Gustave LeBon, The Crowd. "Of the same order as the impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real, is the impossibility of staging an illusion. Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible."-Jean Baudrillard, Simulations. Written at the turn of the century, LeBon's monograph on crowd behavior was among the first sociological essays to grasp the importance of the image in shaping the landscape of mass desire. Nearly ninety years later, images have proliferated to such an extent that they no longer represent something "unreal"; to the contrary, their omnipresence is altogether too real. The bulk of mail received by soap opera stars, for example, are addressed not to the actor but to their character. My father, a familiar Hollywood character actor, was often mistaken by passersby for their plumber, doctor or distant relative. This breakdown in the ability of the crowd to differentiate between the real and the illusive has created a new level of belief, that of life-as-film-as-life: "It was just like the movies" is the oft-quoted phrase employed by journalists to emphasize the hyperreality of an event. *Author's note. 213 In the past, the popular thirst for images was slaked by theatrical representations in public arenas. The last greatest example of this was found in Nazi Germany's political rallies in which tens of thousands of men and women cheered their hero amidst monumental environmental sets which incorporated the crowd itself as an integral part of the mise-6n-scene. One doubts that Hitler could have whipped up such enthusiasm in a televisionoriented culture: it is much easier to appear the iconographic Obermensch at the head of 100,000 shouting supporters than on television, which is largely inhabited by avuncular personages who smoothly reassure the lone, lounging viewer. For better or for worse, the theatrical proscenium has for the past forty years been gradually shoehorned into the television set, which is programmed for a marshmallow plurality and ruled over by a fickle but undemanding individual who, in the privacy of his sanitarium, wields his technological "hooks"-the channel selector and VCR machine. This private communion between human and machine signals what Richard Sennett has called the "fall of public man." In its attempt to filter the onslaught of images, the walkmanized crowd patches itself into the Source, and in deconstructing its sense of identity as a crowd, transfigures itself into a mere agglutination of individuals. The crowd, no longer perceiving itself as a crowd, paranoiacally avoids intercourse with the surrounding riffraff , resenting possible intrusion into thermostatically-controlled prerecorded personal space. This profoundly anti-social development negatively affects those arts, sciences, and political orientations dependent upon social behavior. Theatre is bound to suffer major damage. Theatre, which can reach only hundreds or thousands of people at a time compared with television's millions, is an economic disaster area, propped up in its senescence by subsidies while on the whole remaining a highbrow dalliance or costly, gimmick-laden bourgeois recreation. At best, theatre is considered by most people as a splurge, a conscience-salving field trip to the hecatomb of American culture. Broadway is so expensive that only the comfortably well-off can justify dishing out fifty bucks a head to sit through some overproduced musical which must be enjoyed simply because of its outrageous tariff. (Vide Singin' In the Rain television commercial. Jersey housewife: "It was worth it. The singing. The dancing. The rain.") As with most underdeveloped economies, the theatre industry gears much of its efforts to the tourist trade. It never used to be that way; before radio, theatre was the popular medium, but today, even its most ardent apologists admit theatre's deficiency in reaching an audience. Theatre has no alternative but to reinvent new reasons for its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 213-218
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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