On Thursday, Dec 2, 2010, Mark Williams (Dartmouth) presented a talk entitled “Closely Belated? Thoughts on Real-Time Media Publics and Minority Report” at the Chicago Film Seminar. James Lastra (University of Chicago) provided the response.
This talk considered the “relationship between issues of citizenship, temporality, and media culture through an address to particular configurations of the techno-future” in Steven Spielberg’s 2003 science fiction film, Minority Report. Set in a future in which crime is prevented before it happens, the film builds its premise around the issue of human choice, and how this important principle, and its technological mediation, can define the actions of the state. Building on previous work of his, in which he discussed how the significant relationship between what are termed televisual “liveness” and computer-mediated “real time” form an electronic culture dispositif.
The term “liveness”, Williams asserts, has shifted in meaning from a broadcast that is taking place simultaneous to its electronic transmission to any description of what an electronic medium is representing at this moment, what it is showing now. The transmission of electronic media become less “live” (in the original sense of the term) and as the temporality of its consumption grows more complex with the development of surfing, zipping and time-shifting devices (first VCR’s and now DVR’s). In this way, it is helpful to understand “liveness” as a mutable, historically situational effect. Computer-related electronic media, in contrast, are characterized by the properties and desires of “real time,” as evidenced by demand for ever-faster data processing and downloading capabilities.
Taken together, “liveness” and “real time” can be understood to possess the synergistic capacity for a frenzy of the temporal, such that reference to time as a traditional anchor for certainty achieves a fluidity that questions the relationship of the present to what might have and what will occur. Williams introduces the phrase “real-time subjunctive” to describe these creative dynamics within cyber-culture. The rise of digital culture, and its attendant pressure to render and actualize the near future, can thus be seen to have produced evidence of a pressure toward different states of belief as regards our relationships to media, typically taken for granted, and the complexities of which we disavow. Minority Report addresses subjectivity through these terms of mediated belief, temporality and disavowal. In particular, the film utilizes a DVR-like device that then allows the possibility not just of replay and pausing the image, but of representing what is to come in the near future. This premise of “subjunctive temporal fluidity” is situated within two temporalities in the film: the mobile, interactive consumerist public sphere in which each person is bombarded with a persistent “now” of advertisements responding to his individual history and movement, and the temporality of trauma, represented here through one protagonist grieving the loss of his child and another the murder of her mother. Traumatic traces, in the form of moving images of deceased loved ones, complicate a provocative possible relationship between the tropes of mediated temporal frenzy and those of the temporal dynamics of societal trauma, especially as regards the politics of media and public memory.