Friday, September 30, 2011

Unseen Gods

Images from Arab Spring, 2011

Both a political revolution and pop-culture hysteria yield a number of images of people looking away from the axis of the camera at an undisclosed object. The subject of these images, often engrossed in hysterical (and when devoid of a context, seemingly unreasonable) gesticulation, seem to engage themselves in diverse sorts of relationships with the off-frame (or in the case of this blog post, off-screen) object: it is at times desperate, often Shamanistic appeasement of the off-screen deity; at times, a direct challenge to the spectral entity and some other times, casual frenzy at a single sight of the grand monolith. Regardless of the nature of this engagement with the off-frame (screen) object, the reaction documented in the images of both a political revolt and pop-hysteria is inevitably titling towards religious, hallucinatory and often times, absurd – it is as if the residents of the photograph (or screen grab) are a part of a giant energy-chain in  which they are passing on vast vigor to each other through Chinese Whispers. Ofcourse, it is not entirely unreasonable for a viewer of this image to find a moment of such agitation silly, or even baseless, because as they say, you would ‘have to be there’.

Screen-Grab(s) from Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Increasingly, however, and interestingly too, as the role of global media in the broadcast of the events of a political revolution (and more seldom, its tenets too) to the world has increased in the past half a century – the images that yield from a political revolution have started resembling those from pop-culture hysteria even more starkly – especially because pop-culture subsumes all and reduces everything to a set of identifiable icons. So when rampant broadcast (increasingly an instance of pop-culture) ‘shows’ a political revolt ‘live’, the one image you are sure to see is that of a sea of people – and much like pop-culture fandom – the large collective is only a ‘mass’, or at best, a ‘statistic’ – it does not represent anything meaningful or even discernible, because while television always shows us the gathering, it is impossible to spot the single object they have deposited themselves around. As always, the mysterious object of a revolution (or pop-hysteria) only looms large over the scene through its absence, but is never quite ‘there’. As a result, more and more images from a political revolt will look like a pop concert, and those from a pop concert will be mistaken for a revolution. A classic example of such a faux-pas: Woodstock, 1969.

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