Comedy and Cultural Critique in American Film

By Ryan Bishop | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Constitution of the Real:
Documentary, Mockumentary and
the Status of the Image

There’s something about the nature of the tape, the grain of the image, the sputter
black-and-white tones, the starkness–you think this is more real, truer-to-life than
anything around you. The things around you have a rehearsed and layered and
cosmetic look. The tape is superreal, or maybe underreal is the way you want to put
it. It is what lies at the scraped bottom of all the layers you have added … The tape
has searing realness.

Don DeLillo, Underworld (157)

The ‘eyes’ made available by modern technological sciences shatter the possibility
of passive vision; these prosthetic devices show us that all eyes, including our own
organic ones, are active perceptual systems building in specific translations and
ways of seeing, that is, ways of life. There is no unmediated photograph or passive
camera obscura in scientific accounts of bodies and machines; there are only highly
specific visual possibilities, each with a wonderfully detailed, active, partial way of
organizing worlds.

Donna Haraway, ‘The Persistence of Vision’ (679)

In its present endeavors cinema increasingly approaches, with ever increasing per-
fection, absolute reality: in its banality, in its veracity, in its starkness, in its tedium,
and at the same time its pretentiousness, in its pretention to be the real, the immedi-
ate, the unsignified, which is the maddest of enterprises …

Jean Baudrillard, The Evil Demon of Images (30–1)

The Pan-American Exposition in 1901 intended to promote commerce between the Americas in a more profound manner than the nineteenth century had accorded and with an agenda suggesting that the US clearly would lead the technological way to a better and brighter future. Thus the exposition provided an extended advertisement for one of the US’s leading technological lights, literally. The many inventions by the Wizard of Menlo Park, including Edison’s kinetoscope camera and electric light bulb, contributed to the self-representation and presentation of the event as it became a site of motion pictures, phonograph recordings and electrical illumination. Vice-President Teddy Roosevelt attended and even

-58-

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