Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sean Cubitt's "Anecdotal Evidence"

Sean Cubitt is Professor of Screen Studies at the University of Melbourne. His publications include The Cinema Effect (2004), EcoMedia (2005), The Practice of Light (2014), and Finite Media: Environmental Implications of Digital Technologies (2017). He is a co-editor of The Ecocinema Reader: Theory and Practice (2012) and of Ecomedia: Key Issues (2015).

Cubitt applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Anecdotal Evidence: Ecocritiqe from Hollywood to the Mass Image, and reported the following:
There is one way page 99 of Anecdotal Evidence is unusual: it has a picture, in this case a screen-grab form Iron Man 2 of Tony Stark at work in his laboratory. The page is one of a good few that explains some of the narrative in the films I look at in the central part of the book. All the films were chosen because they did not have obvious ecological themes. Iron Man 2 is about a man who lives in a suit completely cut off from his environment. It seemed like a good challenge: can the eco-critical approach say anything relevant and illuminating about a man in an iron suit?

This page is specifically about the heads-up display (HUD) in Iron Man’s helmet. There are two overlaid systems of vision in the sequences we see from his point of view: the familiar perspectival image of photography, and data visualisations. There’s a familiar argument that perspective sets up the renaissance Man, the individual spectator, as the ‘subject’, the privileged viewer of the image. But who or what is the subject of data visualisation? Obviously that’s Tony Stark, the man inside the suit. Except that Stark is a weird combination of egotist (an extreme form of individuality) and a corporation. Ultimately the argument goes: the conflicting interests of ecologies and humans can only be worked out through technologies, but not as long as technologies are shaped and controlled by corporations. This film, like so many others, weaves its narratives along a Faultline in contemporary culture. Here it is between corporate tech and the natural man.

In retrospect, I wish I had written more clearly and with less jargon. I had to write in technical prose because I was working my way through complicated ideas. But by the end of the book, those ideas were in place, and (like a mathematician hiding her workings) I could have hidden the laborious task of producing the ideas. Except that thinking in real time, rather than what has been thought in the past, is a major part of the job of criticism I was trying to describe. There will have to be another, slimmer, better written book in the future.
Learn more about Anecdotal Evidence at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue