‘Essay-in-lieu-of-examination’ #Final Assignment 40%

13 Jun

When publishing changes, so does society. Investigate and compare the impact of two publication technologies, one pre-1900 and one post-2000, on a specific aspect of society (e.g. education, politics, creative industries, science, entertainment, social relationships). 


Over the years society has been visually entertained from the late 1800s development of the motion picture, to today’s cinematography, downloadable films and online videos. This essay will critically compare the publishing platform of the traditional motion picture camera with today’s online YouTube platform. Through this comparison, we will be able to see the different ways these publication technologies have impacted the content, consumers and creators within the entertainment industry. The concepts of ‘forms of expression’, the ‘actor-network’ theory and the ‘the creative commons’ will be explored in order to demonstrate that when publishing changes, inevitably society does too. In the case of entertainment, I believe YouTube has shifted the dynamics of the industry in a positive and refreshing manner. However, many take the view that YouTube has produced a network of mind-damaging entertainment that continues to contaminate the dynamics of the entertainment industry.

Forms of Expression

The invention of the motion picture camera provided society with a new expression of content. It opened the doors to an extended experience of entertainment by bringing static photographs to life. Eadweard Muybridge was known by many as the, ‘father of the motion picture’ after his creation of ‘the horse in motion’ (WildFilmHistory 2008). Muybridge was hired by Leland Stanford to photograph horses in order to prove the theory that for a split second, all four hooves of a racehorse are off the ground simultaneously (Harry Ransom Center 2007). He set up a row of twenty-four cameras with tripwires, which would each trigger a picture for a split second as the horse ran by (Harry Ransom Center 2007). His photographic results settled the debate as his motion picture (see the YouTube link and photo below), clearly illustrated that all four hooves do come off the ground at once.


The ‘horse in motion’


This motion picture is a prime example of how forms of content can create a whole new form of expression – an expression of movement. The content within these photos, and they way in which they were published, made what was previously invisible for the human eye visible. Muybridge’s ‘motion pictures’ became a form of expression that inspired others to capture moments in time. From Louis Le Prince’s 1888 experimental film, the Roundhay Garden Scene, to Thomas Edison’s development of the first motion picture system (Kinetoscope) in the early 1890s, the publishing of films was soon seen as a source of profit. At the cost of a nickel the public were entertained with fifty-foot film snippets including Fred Ott’s Sneeze, entertainment performances like acrobats, music performances and boxing demonstrations at Edison’s New York Kinetoscope Parlour (Musser 2013). At one end of the spectrum the motion picture can be seen as a source of entertainment that significantly broadened the cultural, historical, and political knowledge of the middle class. However, is can arguably be said to be the catalyst for creating lazy consumers as one could have their entertainment spoon-fed to them rather than actively entertaining themselves through reading, sewing, or playing a musical instrument.


Has the motion picture done this to us?

The creation of YouTube in 2005, like the motion picture, opened doors to whole new expressions of content within the entertainment industry (Wikipedia 2013). However, YouTube is arguably a much more diverse, individualistic expression of content. Unlike the publishing of motion pictures pre-1900, YouTube enables any individual (who owns a computer) to create their own videos instantly. Rather than being confined to a motion picture company’s middle-class choice of entertainment, YouTube offers endless types of entertainment on a global scale. If one was entertained by music, movies, TV shows, sport, comedy, opera (the list is endless) then it can be instantly accessed on YouTube. Although these infinite forms of expression could be perceived as widening society’s unhealthy consumer culture, this is arguably balanced out with the option of being able to create their own forms of expression. Guy Debord discusses the stars as a form or expression, “Stars — spectacular representations of living human beings — project this general banality into images of permitted roles… The function of these celebrities is to act out various lifestyles or sociopolitical viewpoints in a full, totally free manner (Debord 1987). Like stars, forms of expression created on YouTube gives society the ability to make anything entertainment, which in turn can be interpreted differently by the consumers around the world. YouTube has impacted society in a way that does not confine them to a position of consuming entertainment. It has enabled society to create, share and watch their own sources of entertainment, giving the word ‘entertainment’ a much more broad and productive meaning.


Each star has something to say…each YouTube clip does too.


The ‘Actor-Network’ Theory

The motion picture and YouTube publication platforms are examples of Bruno Latour’s ‘actor-network theory.’ They both have ‘humanistic’ and ‘non-humanistic’ ‘actants’ within their networks that are essential for the publication’s function as an entertainment source (Any-Space-Whatever 2013). The non-humanistic actants within the motion-picture network include the technological elements of the motion picture system, the location and the objects within the motion picture. The humanistic actants include the creators of the motion picture, the people being filmed and the spectators. Unlike YouTube, the motion-picture publication created a ‘top-down’ network, reflective of society’s strict separation of classes and feudalistic values. The spectators were ‘passive actants’ as they had no power to edit or critique the publication, and no form of direct communication with the actors or producers. Although the content of the entertainment may have been enjoyable, educational, and inspiring, the spectators were unable to balance out the creative forces within the network.


Pre-1900 ‘passive actants’ trapped in their consumer role.

In contrast, YouTube produces an inter-active network of entertainment. Every humanistic actant within the network has the option of watching, creating, sharing and even critiquing a video. Each actant has a relational tie and can aggregate different forms of entertainment through discussion, critical comments and the sharing of videos. The publication platform of YouTube demonstrates the complex ‘actor-networks’ the digital age has created, and how society expects to be entertained in a way that involves them interactively. Although YouTube’s actor-network reflects a democratic and refreshing network of entertainment, the breadth of actants arguably has a damaging effect on the quality of the entertainment produced and consumed.  McKenzie and Wark discuss the issue of ‘hackers’ in their article ‘Abstraction’, stating, “Hackers create the possibility of new things entertaining the world. Not always great things, or even good things, but new things…there are hackers hacking the new out of the old.” (Wark and McKenzie 2004). Looking at the term hackers broadly, the question must be asked whether the humanistic actants of YouTube are in fact ‘hackers’. Are we just re-producing a source of low-quality contemporary entertainment that already exists? It is inevitable that there will always be ‘hackers’ within the network of YouTube. There will be people who will entertain others and themselves by singing a song that has already been created, or carrying out a prank that has already been played. However, these are still forms of entertainment that may cater to a certain individual’s taste. One may love the tales of Shakespeare but find it difficult to understand Shakespearian language. The humanistic actants within the YouTube publication network can provide tales of Shakespeare that are performed in many different languages, enabling multi-ethnic societies to consume and enjoy the entertainment (see the Chinese adaptation of Richard III below). YouTube ‘hackers’ can be interpreted in a positive sense as they can reproduce entertainment that crosses temporal, spacious and cultural boundaries. As stated by McKenzie and Wark, “the greatest hacks of our time may turn out to be forms of organizing free collective expression, so that from this time on, abstraction serves the people” (Wark and McKenzie 2004).


The Creative Commons

The motion picture and YouTube are publishing platforms that have created and developed the concept of ‘the creative commons’ over time. Consumers of entertainment have experienced the shift of once meeting on a ‘physical’ common ground to a ‘cyber’ common ground. The motion picture was a form of publication that enabled people to physically meet and mingle on a common ground. Society was not only entertained by the content within the motion pictures, but also by the experience of dressing up and socialising with others. However, it was a common ground that was passive rather than active. Society could not push the boundaries of entertainment within society like it can today. The ‘physical’ and potentially ‘creative commons’ that the motion picture produced was essentially cut off when the motion picture ended. There was no continuing flow of distribution that enabled society to share the entertainment with others locally and globally.


Physical interaction on a common ground

In contrast, YouTube has produced an ongoing and ever expanding ‘cyber commons’ that has enabled consumers to create, archive, and share their own entertainment. Sociologist, Danah Boyd, discussed the metaphor of “flow”, and how society today lives in a “world of flow… you’re living in the stream: adding to it, consuming it, redirecting it” (Guillard 2010). We are living in an ever-evolving cyber commons has arguably produced a whole new flow of entertainment that has opened doors for any average person to make it big in the industry. The Canadian pop-musician, Justin Bieber, has YouTube to thank for his fame (see the YouTube clip below). His videos were discovered by accident on YouTube by an American talent manager in 2007 (Wikipedia 2013). Psy’s YouTube hit “Gangam Style” was recognised by Guinness World Records 2013 as the most viewed and “liked” video in YouTube history (Wikipedia 2013). Arguably, YouTube’s ‘cyber commons’ has diminished any type of physical interaction and enables individuals to coop themselves up for hours. Many people (including young children) may choose to watch mind-damaging videos such as war killings and other types of provocative material. As Boyd pointed out, “People consume the content that stimulates their mind and their senses. Consequently, it is not always ‘the best’ or the most informative content that holds their attention, but that which triggers a reaction. Which is not inherently a good thing”(Guillard 2010). Although there is potential for consumers to cut themselves off from the outside world and watch limitless videos, I believe this is outweighed by the relationships, careers and educational value YouTube as a  ‘creative commons’ has produced.  “…we now have more than a million creators from over 30 countries around the world earning money from their YouTube video… Subscriptions allow you to connect with someone you’re interested in — whether it’s a friend, or the NBA — and keep up with their activity on the site.” (YouTube 2005). From personal experience, I know that whenever I watch an enjoyable YouTube clip I instantly share it with my friends, or show it to them in person. It’s a source of entertainment that can be continuously shared an appreciated by anyone from around the globe.


YouTube transformed this little lad’s life when his musical talent was spotted on the ‘cyber commons’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28VmUxTDU5Q&feature=player_embedded#!



Through the exploration of forms of expression, the actor-network theory and the creative commons, it is evident that when publishing changes society does too. The impacts of the motion picture and YouTube publication platforms have provided society a whole new extended experience of entertainment. Society has shifted from the position of consumers of a narrow source of content to creators, designers, editors and critics. YouTube has redefined the meaning of entertainment on a global scale, giving those of any demographic a chance to watch, produce and share their own entertainment. Although YouTube has arguably enabled people to create mind-numbing and damaging entertainment, it cannot be assumed that all motion pictures were meaningful too. Entertainment is something that is personal, and YouTube is a publication platform that caters to all tastes. Whether it is scientific dissecting, karaoke, or surfing, these endless diverse forms of expression can entertain anybody at any time.

Word Count: 1986  



Any-Space-Whatever 2013, Actor-Network Rochambeau, accessed 1 June 2013, <http://www.anyspacewhatever.com/actor-network-rochambeau/&gt;

Debord, G 1987, Unity and Division Within Appearances’, The Society of the Spectacle, accessed 1 June 2013, <http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/3.htm&gt;

Guillard, H 2010, ‘What Is Implied by Living in a World of Flow’, Truthout, 6 June, accessed 1 June 2013, <http://archive.truthout.org/what-implied-living-a-world-flow56203>

Harry Ransom Center 2007, Horse in Motion, Eadweard Muybridge, ca. 1886, accessed 30 May 2013, <http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/windows/southeast/eadweard_muybridge.html>

Musser, C 2013, ‘Edison: The Invention of the Movies’, ElizabethK Studio, accessed 5 June 2013, <http://www.kinolorber.com/edison/d1.html&gt;

Photopin 2013, Creative Commons and Flickr, accessed 5 June 2013, <http://photopin.com/>

Wark and McKenzie 2004, ‘Abstraction’, A Hacker Manifesto, Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, paragraph: 004 and 023

WildFilmHistory 2008, Eadweard Muybridge, Wildscreen, accessed 29 May 2013, <http://www.wildfilmhistory.org/person/180/Eadweard+Muybridge.html>

Wikipedia 2013,History of film, Wikimedia Foundation, accessed 30 May 2013, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_film>

Wikipedia 2013, Justin Bieber, Wikimedia Foundation, accessed 3 June 2013, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Bieber&gt;

Wikipedia 2013, List of YouTube Personalities, Wikimedia Foundation, accessed 3 June 2013, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_YouTube_personalities&gt;

Wikipedia 2013, YouTube, Wikimedia Foundation, accessed 30 May 2013, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouTube>

YouTube 2005, Statistics, accessed 1 June 2013, <http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html&gt;



One Response to “‘Essay-in-lieu-of-examination’ #Final Assignment 40%”

  1. james ryrie July 13, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Fantastic essay!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: