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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Images for a Numbed Nation

28 Sep, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

For those engaged in making entertainment for the masses, testing the taste of the public is dicey in the best of times. Considering the circumstances resulting from the Sept. 11 annihilation of humanity, it might be wiser to ask, Where’s the line that separates testing the public’s taste from testing its patience?

We’re about to find out, as film studios, TV channels, video game publishers and others who put the pop in our culture scratch their heads and their spreadsheets to turn out properties that are sensible and solvent.

There’s risky business in calibrating plot devices or special effects narrowly to suit a perceived mood. Sony Pictures’ deleting visuals of the World Trade Center in its trailers for the upcoming Spider-Man movie underlines the anxiety studios are feeling. It’s not fair to second-guess that pressurized decision, but when something of a public value is summarily erased from our midst, don't we want even more for it to remain indelible in our public consciousness, and not also be erased from our collective memory bank, which is what movies provide?

The biggest win for television as a medium is that — as with the JFK assassination (sixties), the Vietnam “conflict” (seventies), the Iran hostage crisis (eighties), and the Gulf War (nineties) — once again it became abundantly, and dramatically, clear how televised images have no equal for immediacy and for triggering explicit emotional responses on a nationwide scale.

And the crawling ticker across the bottom of the news channel screen, along with other Web site-like graphic elements, are a welcome evolution of TV news imagery. But there’s a flipside to the compelling visuals TV’s image makers feed to us nonstop. Is there anything more desensitizing — more numbing — than being shown those airliners crash into the WTC towers ad nauseum? Until that image was replaced by waving American flags, in the days immediately following the carnage, it was used as a logo of the coverage, as if it was a computer generated image. Paradoxically, it is an image at once both sacred and obscene. It was exploited almost effortlessly, as if to say, “What else do you expect us to show when we have that kind of footage to post?” Sure, you can turn the TV off, what you can’t turn off is your mind’s eye as it replays the same haunting image, effortlessly.

Such is the profound power of television — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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