Russell DMS 259
This section of the website contains the essays I've written for DMS 259, Basic Digital Arts.
Representation of the telephone in various media
Since the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell it has spread so quickly that it is now considered strange not to have one on your person at all times. The telephone has also evolved so much past what it once was, it went from the wall phone, to the cordless phone, to the cell phone, to the smart phone in a relatively short amount of time. In many modern essays and other forms of media the telephone is represented poorly. Many theorists like to argue that the telephone separates people, and discourages physical interactions, especially with strangers. However, the truth is that telephones are a blessing, with each iteration and evolution they benefit more people in ways that would never have even been thought about a hundred and fifty years ago. Telephones do not separate people, they bring people together, cell phones do not discourage interactions, they improve them.
The short video “I Forgot My Phone” represents cell phones in a very negative light. The video opens with a girl and presumably her boyfriend waking up, and the boy is already staring at his phone. The video proceeds to go through a day showing clips of people using their phones in scenarios in which it would be more appropriate for them to be an active participant in the events around them, a girl on a swingset, people at a comedy club, people at a concert, bowling with friends, it goes on showing many different scenes and finally ending with the couple turning of the lights and the man pulling out his phone again. “The Lonely VIlla” represents the telephone in a more positive light. The plot of the movie is that thieves wait until a wealthy man leaves the house, break in while the man is gone and threaten his wife and daughters. The wife and daughters manage to barricade themselves in a room and the man manages to contact them over the telephone and returns back home in time to save them. Both the essays “Heard Over the Phone” by Gunning and “The Mobile Phone” by Fortunati both display cell phones in a negative light, arguing that telephones increase distance, and decrease the amount of interaction with random strangers.
The way the cellphone is represented in “I Forgot My Phone” is ridiculous. The way people are portrayed to be on their phone one hundred percent of the time they are doing things is unrealistic. Nobody would argue that it is better for people to be on their phone at all times, however that is simply just not how it really is. One of the scenes in “I Forgot My Phone” has a girl bowling and she throws one she is especially proud of, but all of her friends are too engrossed in their phones to have noticed, while it is possible that this situation has occurred the truth is that it is not what normally happens. Friends go out to interact with one another, and if you have a normal group of friends you would tell your friends to stop using their phones while you are trying to interact with them. Fortunati writes “The consequence [of the spread of mobile phones] is that the public space is no longer covered in full, lived in all aspects, stimuli and prospects, but is kept in the background of an itinerant cellular ‘intimacy’” (The Mobile Phone). Fortunati ignores the fact that no one ever wanted to meet strangers in “the public space”. It has simply never been the reality that strangers would make friends while randomly walking down the street. Before the cell phone was ubiquitous people would sit and read the paper to ignore those around them, before the newspaper people were in such small towns that the interactions Fortunati is describing could not exist. Nobody would make the argument that it is better to be filming a concert or comedy show than it is to be an active participant but again, this is simply not what happens. The vast majority of people who go to a concert will not be on their phones, they will be present. The argument made by “I Forgot My Phone” is just unrealistic, from a shallow level of thought people may jump to the conclusions that people spend too much time engrossed in their phones, but the truth is the vast majority of people do prefer to be present and active participants in the world around them.
“The Lonely Villa” presents telephones in a much better and more realistic light, and demonstrates many of the positive things phones can do for people. The phone plays a pivotal role in allowing the man to contact his wife and daughters to find out they need help. The film does actually present one of the true negatives of phones, they can be broken, blocked, or otherwise interfered with in a way that would stop the phone from performing its function. But, the truth is that what is portrayed in “The Lonely Villa”, the use of the phone to call for help, is something that has been repeated thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of times in real life, the fact that anyone, at any time now has access to a phone from which they can call the police, their friends, or the families for help is an amazing benefit to society. Gunning mentions Freud’s argument that, while telephones enable people to contact one another from across the country, it alo encourages people to spread apart, so while it may seem to decrease distance, it actually leads to an increase in physical distance. The problem is that the only evidence Freud provides on this is anecdotal, because his son left, phones allow everyone to leave all the time. The truth is that people have always moved. Before the phone, before the railway people were already exploring the world, but now that people have phones those exploring the world have the ability to remain in contact with their loved ones. Gunning says “In The Lonely VIlla, parallel cutting portrays a telephone conversation, visually conveying an aural experience”(Heard Over the Phone). Many would argue that this is a lesser benefit to telephones but Gunning is pointing out that telephones have allowed for advancements in film editing, allowing for the developments of parallel cutting. So while Gunning and Freud would argue that telephones actually increase distance, “The Lonely Villa” and reality demonstrate otherwise, phones have allowed people to be emotionally closer with friends and family, and be safer with access to a device that can call for help.
From a base level observation of the current state of society, it may seem like a given that people spend too much time on the phone. However, if any actual critical thought is put into why people are spending time on their phone, and why people have their phones on them the real truth comes out, phones are an amazing benefit to humankind. Phones allow for intimate connections between people, even allowing for people across the world, who have never met in person, to be friends. Maybe phones do allow people to ignore the world around them, but maybe they also allow people to be researching a topic they find fascinating, or do work, in a time and place that would never have been possible before, it is unfair to judge a person for using their phone, it is unfair to make the assumption that they are doing something mindless on their phones.
Analysis of "old Spice | The Man Your Man Could Smell Like"
The Old Spice commercial “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” opens with an attractive man, in a towel, addressing “ladies”. He tells the ladies to look at their “man” and then back to him and states it is sad that they are not him, implying that it is clear that he is better than any man any lady he is addressing could be with. Next, the man gets to the point, he says that if the man stopped using “lady scented body wash” he could at least smell like the man in the commercial. The commercial goes on to use several humorous techniques such as switching the scene to be on a boat, switching an oyster into diamonds and ending with the man being unexpectedly on a horse. This commercial, in essence, is selling women to men. It uses the illusion of addressing women to truly address men. The whole idea of the commercial is to convince men that by using Old Spice body wash they could be even slightly more like the man in the commercial. The true point of the commercial is to sell a product to men, with a clever technique that may convince some women to buy the body was for their boyfriend or husband. This commercial uses a mix of different rhetorical tropes, most notably identification, the statement of fact, and privation of history to deliver its message. Its message being that, if a man buys and uses Old Spice body wash, he will become more attractive, and be able to obtain, or in the case that they already have one, make their girlfriend or wife happier.
It seems that the commercial opens with a reversal of Barthes’ idea of “identification”. Barthes has the idea that one can not be sold something by the “other”, or, can not be sold something by someone they do not identify with. “The petit-bourgeois is a man unable to imagine the Other. 28 If he comes face to face with him, he blinds himself, ignores and denies him, or else transforms him into himself.” So in the “The Man Your Man Could Smell LIke” this gorgeous, extremely in-shape man, is almost impossible to identify with, and the commercial brings attention to this. “... Now back to your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me” The commercial is calling attention to the fact that the average viewer will not identify with the actor. Then, the commercial goes on to say “...and switched to Old Spice he could smell like he’s me.” This again, is the commercial pretending to be speaking to women to truly address men. The commercial is actually saying “hey man who is watching this commercial, you clearly are not as attractive as I am, but if you use this product you could at least smell like me, and smelling like me might help you to get someone to have sex with you.” The beginning of the commercial is using the tactic of knowing that the average person will not identify with the actor in this commercial, and is trying to convince them, that by buying this product they will be able to identify with the actor.
Another aspect of mythic speech used in this commercial is what Barthes refers to as “The privation of history”. Barthes says “Myth deprives the object of which it speaks of all History. In it, history evaporates. It is a kind of ideal servant: it prepares all things, brings them, lays them out, the master arrives, it silently disappears: all that is left for one to do is to enjoy this beautiful object without wondering where it comes from.” Again, this commercial does not use this technique exactly as described by Barthes, but it does use it fairly closely. Due to the fact that the commercial appears to use the idea of “identification” as its main mythic idea to sell the product, the product actually does not appear to be the actual focal point of the commercial. However, the product is shown in the commercial, and when it is they use the idea of privation of history to display it. The first time one watches the commercial, and the first time they see the product, it appears to come out of nowhere, upon rewatching it becomes obvious that the man was holding it the whole time, but the distracting nature of the commercial exists to hide this fact. The second time the product appears in the commercial, it literally comes out of nowhere, they used clever editing or camera techniques to make the product appear to be rising out of the actors hand. So, in relation to the privation of history, the commercial makes it appear that the product has always existed, that the actor always has it on him to be displayed at a moment's notice. It completely ignores the fact that obviously this product was created in a lab somewhere, tons of testing was done to make sure that the product would smell good, and more importantly to the creators, sell well. None of that is important in the context of the commercial, in this commercial the product has always existed, and all that the viewer has to do it purchase it, and use it, in order to gain the benefits from it.
“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” also uses the rhetorical trope of “statement of fact” in order to better sell their product. “Sadly, he [your man] isn’t me” this is a statement of fact, obviously only one person is him, so no matter who is watching the commercial at the moment this will be true, but again, the commercial is feigning being directed towards women to really sell a product to men. The commercial is really saying “sadly you aren’t me” but “[you] could smell like me”. Barthes notes “The foundation of the bourgeois statement of fact is common sense, that is, truth when it stops on the arbitrary order of him who speaks it.” this relates to the commercial because no matter who is saying these statements “your man isn’t me” “but he could smell like me” they would be true. But it matters in the context of the commercial because of the person who is saying it. The actor, who is stating these facts is also, in a way, trying to convince the viewers that it may not be fact, he is trying to convince them that although the viewers are not him, they could be much closer to him, they could become more attractive simply by using this product.
Ultimately, the role of commercials is to sell products, in order to make everyone involved more money. This commercial, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” is trying to sell old spice, but looking more closely one could argue that it is trying to sell women to men, and taking to an even farther extreme, it could be argued that it is trying to sell the actor, the handsome man in the commercial, to men. It could be argued that this narrator is trying to sell himself, or at least his image, he is trying to tell men that by using this product you could become even infinitesimally more like me, and that would be a good thing. Adorno states “Amusement free of all restraint, would be not only the opposite of art, but its complementary extreme”. This commercial in no way pretends to be art, it is purely meant to be amusement, and in amusement sell the product. The entire point of commercials anywhere, radio, television, billboards, is to sell products in whatever manner they can, and this particular commercial uses amusement to achieve this goal.