Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 18, No. 3, 2019
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Lynda Renée
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Donald Dewey has published some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction. His most recent are the series of memoir-essays Mosquitoes and Tortoises: Flights and Crawls on the Fringes of the Media and the thriller novel Red Herrings.

Who invented expectation? We know the Lumiere brothers and a small army of others assisted at the birth of motion pictures, Guglielmo Marconi and another brigade at radio’s development, and V.K. Zworykin and Philo Farnsworth in the diffusion of television, but why have we not heard a name connected to the super-mass medium of expectation?

One plausible answer would be someone connected to the advertising business, the industry that plays with public anticipation as its raison d’etre; whatever the product or brand name, advertising’s foremost commodity has always been the prospect, the promise, the hope. Or maybe the pioneer was some forgotten figure in cybernetics -- that field where what is delivered is all but redundant to the capacity for being so and where the most trivial of delays prompts computer rage. Then there are the candidates lurking in our cultural vanity, where pursuing happiness or anything else desirable is to be viewed as merely a warm-up lap to obtaining it. Whoever it is, I would like a name, a specific identification. That’s one of 'my' expectations.

I first acknowledged the super-medium of expectation a moment after it was too late, when I was already captive to it. Like somebody standing on an ATM line who is irritated that the person ahead of him requires 45 rather than 40 seconds to complete his transaction, it has been a post-contaminant epiphany. Understanding alleviates nothing; if anything, clarity is offensive for not having delivered the obvious previously.

For good reason. Expectation has been around a long time. One of its oldest manifestations, for example, came once upon a time when a television announcer for a CBS affiliate marked a mid-evening half-hour by bubbling: “Famous world statesman dead at 123! Details at 11!” Back when, this kind of non-information was considered a tease for assuring more viewers for the news at 11. But that was then. Human physiology has advanced rapidly to a stage in which a remote control is attached to every set of five fingers so that it has become instinctive upon such an announcement to zap immediately to CNN, CNN2, or CNN46 for the identity of this prematurely deceased knight of world affairs. By the time the CBS affiliate’s 11 o’clock news goes on the air, not only are most of us not in attendance, but we have learned far more than we want to know about this luminary’s meteoric rise from elementary school through Yale’s secret societies to the Trilateral Commission. (If there is any lingering interest in this primitive use of expectation, it is that some TV stations still resort to it despite mountains of evidence that most of their viewers long ago exhausted their patience when the “Killer Animal on the Loose!” turns out to be a polar bear roaming the outskirts of Dawson).

But if news show blurbs represent its most primitive exploitation by television, there are other viewing areas in which the expectation medium has continued to inform our anxieties without (yet) being outflanked by the latest technologies. For example, every January, commercial by commercial, television promotes the Super Bowl as expectantly as it would the Second -- or CCXII -- Coming. We are presumed to be only minimally irked by the fact that the games themselves are regularly decided before the first timeout for a spot for a riotous new sitcom about a pizza delivery boy mistaken for a nuclear scientist; the countdown to bathos is not just part of the event, it is often the only event. Then there are infomercials, second to no mirror for displaying fitful aims regarding (more) beachfront and (less) paunchfront acreage. Who needs even a psychic hotline to grasp that these lobotomously cheerful spiels are not pitching real estate and dieting ware as much as they are showcasing our secret little anticipations by selling us to ourselves?

But television is not the only mass outlet for the expectation medium. Long before cathode tubes were introduced into the home, the neighborhood movie house was consolidating its reach. Who has ever seen a full feature as entrancing as the coming attractions that had promoted it? Contrary to any instant conclusions, this is not only because the people patching together the trailers distilled the highlights of a given movie. Granted there is something exquisite about a picture that starts off by blowing up the Tower of London, moves on to naked lovers frolicking inside a guided missile about to land on Pluto, then shows an adorable, articulate dolphin being menaced by goons in the North Atlantic -- each sequence scored by Modest Mussorgsky at his most spine-tingling. And granted that this kind of montage eliminates all the chatter, plot and logic that probably wouldn’t have been all that coherent at full-length viewing. But beyond the exhilarations produced by the excerpted scenes as such, trailers have always seduced viewers by luring them to share in the excitement of the unabashedly elliptical, in not restricting them to the feature paid for back at the box office, and in letting them savor the freedom of imagining the suspenseful tensions, dramatics, and hilarities not available then and there (but soon enough -- for the price of another ticket!). To put it another way, trailers offer a lifeline to more than the immediately vicarious; they are a reminder that the spectator will always have more coming, that he need not measure off the last minutes of the film he has already paid to see as the end of his reverie.

But that said, motion pictures are still no more synonymous with the expectation medium than is television. Individually, they are not big enough; together, they are as much effect as cause. Although it is sometimes easy to forget, non-virtual reality, You and I exist outside these mob instruments. If television, movies and other screens have accelerated our expectations, even redefined them for better and worse and worst, we have still been the ones to give ourselves over to them. How we have, I believe, offers the telltale clue for identifying the inventor of the expectation medium.

In February we already know what to expect from television over the weeks leading up to the following year’s Super Bowl. On the popcorn line we already know we’re going to be intrigued enough by a trailer or two to feel ever so slightly disappointed that we have chosen to see what we have paid for, that, great reviews and personal recommendations notwithstanding, the picture for the evening lost some of its allure the moment our ticket was transformed into a stub. As we swagger through the turnstiles of a stadium or arena, we already discount the likelihood that any game can be as thrilling as the ballyhoo -- or even the statistical weight -- behind it would have us believe. Having expectations is not the same thing as being disarmed, has little in common with being an optimist. We are skeptics, some of us even cynics. Nothing can be that good, significant, or definitive. The coin with promising-more on one side has always circulated with delivering-less on the reverse side and we know it.

And yet we continue to shape up, to form lines. As mass producers, programmers and distributors learned to their financial benefit a long time ago, the public may be fickle, the box office can die, and the fan is liable to switch allegiances overnight, but there is still everybody to go around for plenty. It is upon this premise that our expectations outlast any individual opportunity to indulge them that the minion media of television, films and publishing feel free to worry primarily about keeping their specific shops in business. More than a mere market, we are the inventory. One programming executive after another aims for a mythical common denominator that would be frighteningly moronic even if divisible by one? Film producers have no qualms about spending national budgets on computer-animated epics that are little more than noisy postcards (“good thing you’re not here”)? Best-sellers have all the intellectual dynamics and ethical heft of an astrology guide for children? In the last analysis, none of that is here or there. Our availability precludes the urgency of quality, as it makes the sociology of quantity academic. The ultimate enthrallment is elsewhere, and that is in the romancing of our expectations for themselves.

The more of our expectations represents an open-ended warranty; it guarantees whatever we want guaranteed (adventurousness, censoriousness, moroseness) without the practical limitations of time and place. It endorses the mass industries of entertainment and information as projections of desire, injections of plasma, and objections to solipsism. Beyond that, it validates the prediction of the obstetrician in (what else?) the delivery room who slapped us on the ass and handed us to our mothers with the happy promise: “Here, here’s . . . . . Further identification was mere formality.


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Also by Donald Dewey:
Crisis in Critics
Words Not to Live By
Knowing the Killer
Racism to the Rescue
Punk Times
Not Playing It Safe
Meeting the Author
The Overwriting Syndrome
Writers As Ideas
Let Them Entertain Us
It's a Kindergarten Life
Being and Disconnectedness
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power


Paul Finley Mysteries Book Two
A newly arrived Bolivian seaman is found murdered in a Manhattan roach hotel. An address book on the body lists three American contacts, one of whom is private investigator Paul Finley. The trouble is, Finley has never heard of the man or, for that matter, of anybody in Bolivia. Another trouble is that the other two people in the address book are dispatched in quick order and Finley finds himself enmeshed in an assassination plot against a Bolivian diplomat.

Trade Paperback - 6 x 9 x .7
164 Pages
FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Private Investigators











Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
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