Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I love peeking behind the scenes.  Seeing the construction.    The studio visits in 804 were one recent opportunity.  Cynthia's re-re-presentation of "Avatar Nation" was another—although this might be less behind-the-scenes and more behind-the-process.  The revisions, for me, were the main attraction.  The most substantial remix involved the images, video, and machinimas.  They were much more integrated into the presentation and yet much more autonomous from the oral presentation.  What I mean is that they were not illustrations of written examples.  They were not iterations of talking points.  They were not set up.  They were not explained (at least not explicitly until the Q&A).  They were allowed to communicate as images.  Fluid ruptures, in a sense, from the spoken word.

In some of my work—my manifesto, papers for 801, blogging in 804—I've been a little obsessed with the relationship between word and image.  They're starting to seem like siblings now: sometimes at play together, sometimes punching each other in the eyes and the mouth.  Image would be the elder sibling.  Word the bigger sibling.  If I've become one of their countless parents, then I've been sending Word to his room a lot.  Word needs a time out.

As an academic, how do I give Word a time out at a conference?  Everyone expects a reading or, if image is at all considered, a Powerpoint (Image's recent best friend, popular with all the popular people, but starting to seem, on good days, like an underachiever, and, on bad days, like an abusive boyfriend).

Maybe the World of Warcraft virtual conference is the answer.  Here the image, and the game, will always keep the Word in line.  The drawback, though, is that for all its many wonders,WOW is terribly austere in the wonders it allows its players to create (here too is my major critique of claims that the game is anti-establishment; it may be if we define the establishment as everything except the world the game establishes; from that, the designers have made it very difficult to rebel; carnevale only occurs when Blizzard hangs the decorations and hands out the masks).

Considering another, more open world like Second Life reminds us of the allure of WOW and makes its loss almost intolerable.  In Second Life anything goes, so much so that nothing goes.  The world thrives on user-generated content, which flourishes outside any narrative.  There is no game.  There is no frame.  There is no structure to the aesthetic.

If we want to reground the conference presentation, virtual worlds may not necessarily be the new dirt, but they certainly offer a valuable vantage point.  If image and word are to cooperate, narrative, and therefore performance, must return to the stage.

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