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Vol. 8, No. 6, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Don Dewey has published 25 books of fiction, non-fiction and drama, including Marcello Mastroianni: His Life and Art, James Stewart: a Biography and The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons.

We’ve been removed for a very long time now. Historians and other astrologers of the past could probably pinpoint a date, but that’s neither here nor there. One benefit of being removed is that you don’t worry much about when you started being removed from what you can’t conceive of ever having been closer to.

Once upon a time, when the picture of a factory on a paperback cover purported to mean something, the removal phenomenon was referred to negatively as 'alienation.' The basic thought was that workers didn’t feel a connection to the goods they were producing, that the only difference between them and the anonymous cogs they worked all day was that they had to have a specific name for punching in every morning and punching out every evening. The same alienation was discerned in stock brokers who lost track of millions of dollars before noon and in advertising executives who sold fantasies as raisin bran. To give you an idea of how long ago that primitive notion of alienation reigned, it was before Sigourney Weaver stripped down to her panties in outer space and before every kid on the block got some variation on an Invader Earth play station for his birthday.

Back in those days, alienation ran concurrently with a second perspective that said all problems at home, in Latvia, and in the cosmos could be resolved by 'communication.' The premise here was that individuals felt at a remove from one another because they didn’t have the opportunity to exchange their feelings in a compassionate, intelligible way. Although this outlook provided a nice living for psychotherapists, psychologists, and other psycho-s learned enough to fill out the applicable word, it ultimately stumbled over the hard truth that candor was not always its own best reward, that on the contrary some people (and nations and planets) bared such profound enmities that they were better off staying away from one another. In other words, the sense of removal denounced by the alienation principle perversely ended up winning endorsement from the communication principle that was supposed to have eased alienation’s strains. How could this have happened?

The short answer was removal’s favorite trope --- irony. The long answer appeared to be the human condition. Fortunately for getting on with it, there was also a medium answer captive to neither the glibness of tropes nor the cynicism of grand conclusions. Irony of ironies (what else was new?), that medium answer was the mass media.

Other attributes notwithstanding, the most indispensable element of the mass media is the screen --- in the composing room, in the movie house, on the television set. And the screen wouldn’t be a screen if it didn’t keep those watching removed from those promoted as worthy of being watched. So advanced did the technology of the screen become that it didn’t even have to be a visible, concrete barrier; space itself was found to serve the same role. But materially or virtually, the objective was to spread and confirm the screen’s separation qualities. One conspicuous example was channeling the screen’s entertainment functions into politics. Thus we witnessed (very literally) political protesters explicitly playing up to television coverage, actors playing political protesters who were serious about being political protesters as actors, and actor-protesters who didn’t know where their winks ended and their tics began. We also witnessed presidents preempting Mystery Theater to introduce live wars, generals sharing blurry rocket vapors with the bravado of having beaten the machines at Willie’s Action Arcade, and soldiers with helmet cameras trudging through rubble in military versions of The Blair Witch Project. It turned out that the only difference between the screen’s in-your-face entertainment and information was having to fret too much about the information part.

One question raised by such near-experiences was whether we weren’t better off in our state of removal. Had we evolved to the point that losing it would expose our weakened constitutions with fatal consequences? There was evidence to suggest so, not least the fiasco attached to all those hopes for the magic of communication. The public byways were filled with the corpses of the foolhardy who had braved the sun without sunglasses and baseball caps. Sponsored studies of the question generated only suspicion. The ones that urged us to be ourselves and think for ourselves sounded like the screen’s latest franchise schemes. The mere use of the word 'individual' mocked John Donne, dated Karl Marx, and turned quacks like Ayn Rand into neglected philosophers.

Which brings us to a live (not previously taped) update. The search is on for a new creation myth --- one in which removing a rib won’t be admired as both the natural and supernatural order of things. Near-experience has shown that only insentient things start to happen after that.

Also by Donald Dewey:
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Film Ratings Page of Sylvain Richard, film critic at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 10-21st, (514) 844-2172
Montreal World Film Festival
CINEMANIA(Montreal) - festival de films francophone 1-11 novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082: featuring Bernard Tavernier
Montreal Jazz Festival
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
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