Thursday, June 18, 2009
This graphic world
Zoe in the madding crowd, San Francisco, April 2007.
These are my favorite images from Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi masterpiece. The movie is set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, a mere 10 years from today. In Ridley Scott's vision of the future, Los Angeles has become a Babel-like city of foreign noises, more East Asian than American, a city on the verge of sensory overload. Talking electronic billboards loom like IMAX screens against the night sky, their advertising relentless like the rain and the darkness.
Eliminate the shuttle crafts from Blade Runner's hypergraphic world, and you're in present-day Times Square on a rainy night. Or Mumbai with its wall-to-wall Bollywood posters plastered all over the city. Or Causeway Bay, Hong Kong's maddening shopping district. Along Manila's highways, mammoth billboards of models in their underwear create havoc on the road by obstructing the views of drivers and distracting their libidos.
Cities have become canvases; and like a Jackson Pollock painting, every square inch of space is taken. High above skyscrapers, down on the street, further down subway stations, on walls, buses, and lampposts, cities inundate us with graphics and light, competing for our ADD-addled attention.
The images plead to us: to look, to read, to buy, to swoon, to vote, to enlist, to engage, to enrage, to copy, to care, to believe.
They belong to our reality but transport us out of it. A mad hour dash to the commuter train becomes a confrontation with armed men and a lost child in war-ravaged Darfur. A bus blocks the crosswalk, and six larger-than-life marines in parade dress appear and disappear. In that flashing moment, the martial image transports us into the realm of patriotic duty and an unpopular war. Without a doubt, the daily barrage of graphic images can be unsettling, but we can't escape from them. We see them everywhere, we step on them, they even invade our dreams.
Still it is not enough that we must plaster an entire city -- and everything that moves in it -- with graphics and messages. People themselves are compelled to put messages on their clothing. This, to me, is just silly behavior. Like satirist Fran Lebowitz said: "If people don’t want to listen to you, what makes you think they want to hear from your sweater?"