In our present era of global media networks and ever more inclusive technologies of space contraction, visual culture seems to have gone far beyond the task Walter Benjamin envisaged as the Utopian charge of film and photography. In a famous and literally explosive passage of the artwork essay, Benjamin wrote in 1936: “Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling” (ill 236; gs 1:499-500). More than half a century later, film's once astonishing displacement of time and place has become the order of the day. What Benjamin analyzed in terms of the figure of shock namely, the image-based clash of different temporalities and incompatible social topographies - for contemporary couch potatoes constitutes a daily living-room routine. Individuals as much as nations today formulate their agendas, memories, and identities in response to values and passions that are increasingly formed through mechanically reproduced images: images from TV and advertising to cinema and the Internet.
Anne Friedberg has introduced the concept of a “mobilized virtual gaze” in order to theorize the effects of postmodern media and consumer culture on our modes of perception, our sense of history, our strategies of cultural consumption, and our construction of individual and collective identities. Rooted in precinematic cultural activities such as walking and traveling, on the one hand, and in all forms of visual representation - including cave painting - on the other, the compound term is meant to describe forms of scopic pleasure that travel “in an imaginary flânerie through an imaginary elsewhere and an imaginary 'elsewhen.'”1 According to Friedberg, virtual mobility today is inseparable from transnational commodity display and