Multiple Media Temporalities in a Time of Economic Crisis
by Richard Grusin — Wayne State University
March 21, 2009 – 00:31
In the midst of the worst US economic crisis since the Great Depression, the trailer for Adventureland strikes exactly the wrong note. Directed by Superbad’s Greg Mottola, and set in 1987, the teen comedy tells the story of a young college graduate who, unable to find suitable employment, takes a job at Adventureland, an amusement park. The film’s tagline, "The Worst Job Ever—The Best Time of His Life," seems anachronistic at a moment in US history when real unemployment is well over 10% and when people are lining up by the hundreds and thousands for jobs just like the one that is disparaged in the film. When you can’t find a job, it’s hard to be amused at a film that makes fun of "the worst job ever."
My point here is not to criticize the Superbad gang for their social insensitivity. Rather it’s to notice the multiple temporalities of our media everyday, the varying speeds at which different media are able to respond to major social, political, and affective changes like those that accompany our current economic crisis. Where print, televisual, and networked news are able to adjust to such changes quickly and comprehensively, the much longer production timetables of entertainment media like television series, films, or music videos make rapid response more difficult.
We find ourselves, then, at a particularly interesting moment in terms of media temporality, when previews and coming attractions attempt to create anticipation for forthcoming films and television shows that belong to a moment that is already past. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that what we are witnessing today is the persistence of older affective media formations into the individual and collective affect of the present. The conflation of media times is in many ways always the case. But it is made dramatically evident in times of rapid and significant changes like the ones we find ourselves in today.
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