Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture

Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture

Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture

Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture

Synopsis

In Liveness Philip Auslander addresses what may be the single most important question facing all kinds of performance today: What is the status of live performance in a culture dominated by mass media? By looking at specific instances of live performance such as theatre, rock music, sport and courtroom testimony, Liveness offers penetrating insights into media culture. This provocative book tackles some of the enduring 'sacred truths' surrounding the high cultural status of the live event.

Excerpt

“An Orchid in the Land of Technology”

The prospectus for a conference entitled “Why Theatre: Choices for the New Century” posed a question that goes straight to the heart of the matter that concerns me here: “Theatre and the media: rivals or partners?” My own answer to this question is unequivocal: at the level of cultural economy, theatre (and live performance generally) and the mass media are rivals, not partners. Neither are they equal rivals: it is absolutely clear that our current cultural formation is saturated with, and dominated by, mass media representations in general, and television in particular.

In an essay on theatre and cinema, Herbert Blau (1982:121) quotes Marx’s Grundrisse:

In all forms of society, there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity. It is a particular ether which determines the specific gravity of every being which has materialized within it.

Although Marx is describing industrial production under bourgeois capitalism, for Blau, “he might as well be describing the cinema.” I would argue, pace Marx and Blau, that Marx might as well be describing

1 The title of this chapter is taken from Walter Benjamin’s celebrated essay “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” (1986 [1936]:40).

2 The conference, which took place in the fall of 1995 in Toronto, was sponsored by the University of Toronto and Humboldt University in Berlin.

3 I use the phrase “cultural economy” to describe a realm of inquiry that includes both the real economic relations among cultural forms, and the relative degrees of cultural prestige and power enjoyed by different forms.

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