Fantastic Journey, Emotional Journey: Mobile Media as Emotive Performance
by Elizabeth Evans — University of Nottingham
February 18, 2010 – 18:00
Curator's NoteMobile phones have long been the focus of discussions concerning their role in identity construction. Handsets are carefully chosen (are you an iPhone person or a Blackberry person?); wallpapers display loved ones or favourite celebrities; time and money is spent selecting the right ringtone. Our taste is visibly or audibly displayed via the small box carried around in our pocket. A similar identity display occurs when engaging with audio-visual content on a portable device. In the ‘Fantastic Journey’ Virgin mobile media advert on the left, a man’s multimedia mobile phone transforms the space around him into the space on screen. In reality, this leaking of screen text into physical space becomes a display of our cultural taste. Unlike with music, where headphones separate the individual’s engagement from those around them, when watching or playing visual media our taste in gaming, film or television is displayed to anyone in sight of the smartphone, iPod or laptop screen (even if the sound isn’t).
But engaging with narrative media is distinct from ringtones and wallpapers as it is not just our taste in audio-visual media that is displayed, it is also our emotional reactions to that media; we act out an ‘emotive performance’ whilst watching them. At one point, the advert’s protagonist reacts to the imagined woman sharing his carriage touching him, only for the advert to cut to his hand reaching towards the stranger who is actually sitting in front of him. It is not just his tastes that are displayed but his emotional reaction (his desire for the woman he is seeing on the screen) to them. Traditionally, audio visual fictional content has been watched at home or in the contained space of the cinema where engagement is shared with those around us. As such any unhappiness at a favourite character’s death, or laughter at a particularly funny sitcom, or outburst over the frustration of losing a level of a game, is either confined to the private spaces of the home or part of a communal experience where others are likely to be laughing or crying along with us. Portable, personal media devices take that emotional engagement out into a public space where we are the only ones involved in that engagement. Our emotive performances of audio-visual media engagement then become subject to the observation and judgement of others, something that is potentially discomforting. The question then becomes how these performances play out and how our relationship to both media and shared space may be changing because of them.
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