This is the first entry in an ongoing, continuous reflection on this topic. We may get into the hundred’s here. I’m working these thoughts out in REAL-TIME for you. I want to keep you involved, show you where my head’s at, where the research is leading the reflection.
My 12-year-old-son is on Spring Break, and he and his friend spent the bulk of the day streaming Twitch, via YouTube, onto our television screen (that cordless wonder going through a golden age — or NOT). For everyone wondering what Twitch is, here we go:
It has the primary aesthetics of FaceTime, wherein the caller’s HEAD is in the corner, and the rest of the screen is filled with the foreground. Now imagine a version of that, but dedicated entirely to people commenting on video games, as they play them. It’s almost like a Director’s Commentary for video games, but happening in REAL-TIME, and INTERACTIVE (not in the sense that the viewer does anything, or it’s a personal address, but you’re WATCHING SOMEONE ELSE INTERACT with the game).
This was fascinating to watch, because it upends and mutates certain things we’ve been told about the viewing/psychological characteristics of the up-and-coming generation:
1.) They have no attention span: To certain things surely not. Reading NOVELS for one. But I think our attention for TOMES OF PRINT has been in a steady decline even back when McLuhan was diagnosing mass mutations in the age of TV. And it’s not as if they don’t read anymore: They DO. They’ll read ANYTHING in fact. But INFORMATION enclosed in a tight spine isn’t necessarily how they want it.
It’s not a shorter attention span: it’s that they want the information in different modes and not measured in HOURS (DURATION WISE). They have a magpie attitude towards print, every text is like the I Ching, dip in and out, a little here and there. In fact, I think there’s an interactivity and a multi-media aspect in LITERATURE that isn’t being properly exploited, which is why I’m curious to check out Dennis Cooper’s new novel “Zac’s Haunted House”, a short story composed entirely of GIF’S.
2.) The image has had to be sped-up to get their ATTENTION: This is where something like TWITCH really blows my mind. I’m beginning to think the image had to speed up in CONTEMPORARY CINEMA (media theorists and cineaste’s have defined this as CHAOS CINEMA), because the NARRATIVE PARADIGM CINEMA USES (especially in GENRE) is so dangerously OBSOLETE in this generation.
This generation doesn’t NEED THE IMAGE TO GO FASTER (my son sat there for 4 hours watching someone play video games in a literal STATIC SHOT, the ultimate in DIY AESTHETIC), it’s that the NARRATIVE doesn’t conform to some bastard three-act fusion set down in tablet-form by guru’s and agents. The “SHAKY-CAM” aesthetic is a desperate move to ENGAGE THE AUDIENCE in a narrative register in it’s death throes. This generation doesn’t need a VISUAL ORGY to keep it riveted, they just don’t want three-acts. Now I’m not sure yet what they DO WANT, but it’s definitely not a LINEAR NARRATIVE with clear character arc’s, and lessons on humanity.
3.) And I’m not sure how much they care about CHARACTERS EITHER.
For some reason, HOLLYWOOD (and novels to a lesser extent) besides providing a riot of UGLY IMAGERY, also decided this generation needed fully-dimensional characters with REAMS and REAMS of utterly useless BACKSTORY, at the sacrifice on PLOT MOTION and MECHANICS.
Why is every commercial movie inaugurating a franchise over TWO AND A HALF HOURS? Because they want us to CARE about the CHARACTERS. I don’t THINK this generation does at ALL. RELATABILITY is a marketing term, not a NEED. This generation doesn’t have the sacred relationship with CHARACTER and CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION that comes out of LITERATURE — specifically the bourgeois psychological novel leading into the 20th century. This may be a statement on empathy in their generation, I’m not sure yet.
Remember, this a generation of GAMERS, they are addicted to NARRATIVE, but not CHARACTER. And I think in some cases: THANK GOD. Because our current expression of the character thing is awfully MUSTY. Beckett and Robbe-Grillet tried to stick a fork in him decades ago, but good lord, it’s a resilient concept…