n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Spectatorship of screen media; land of the zombies?

Volume 22, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1020-1491



This article investigates spectatorship of screen media. Early screen media is often thought to necessitate passive spectatorship, with thinkers such as Siegfried Kracauer (1987) and Walter Benjamin (2004) focusing on film. Such theories are later supported by critiques such as those by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (2003) on the mass media, and Laura Mulvey's (2004) text on the gaze in film, along with ideas around the flaws of the Cartesian position as spectatorship formulated in aesthetics. More recently, with the advent of digital media, spectatorship has been re-formulated as more active in terms of meaning making. Following earlier theorists, I argue here that screen spectatorship is not in fact as active as it now appears to be, and that spectators are often performing dialectical zombie-like spectatorship; appearing active when spectatorship is more distracted than before. Overwhelming spectacle catering to the 'eye lust' (Gunning 2004:871) and interactive elements convince spectators that they are acting with agency, but as I aim to show, also lead to an exacerbated collapse of contemplative distance, which paradoxically often renders spectatorship uncannily zombie-like. When spectatorship reveals itself as a strangely passive activity, it may be understood as uncanny in the manner that Freud (1955) formulated it.

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