Prime time trauma - historia och television

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A full century ago, H. G. Wells said that a hand seemed to have descended from the sky and turned man’s face towards the future. Wells wrote in an era which saw a new world appear through the progress of technology. Today we may be just as attracted to new technology, but that great hand seems to have come down again and turned man’s head back towards the past.
Our own time is characterized by an urge to experience the past. From school journeys to Auschwitz, to reconstructed Viking villages and medieval role-playing, to the History Channel and historical docusoap series, the past is reconstructed to offer intensified experiences of authenticity.

This essay relates the contemporary desire to experience the past to the medium of television and video. Television – meaning “distant viewing “, implicating a vision unbound by geographical horizons – is particularly associated with the dimension of time and temporality. As much as by its capacity to reach geographically separate receivers, television has been determined by real-time transmission – it has been the medium of the present, of “now”. With the ability of video technology to liberate the televised “now” from the flow of time and replay it, TV provides the experience of seeing other people’s suffering live or in constant repeats – as with the collapsing WTC towers or the tsunami in Southeast Asia – and the feeling of witness history in its making. Thus, History Channel can promote its coming program about the French revolution in the future tense: “The Revolution Will Be Televised!”
Television progressively dominates as source for our knowledge and experience of the world. The implications for our understanding of the past is explored through a juxtaposition of two TV/video reconstructions of history: the popular scientific documentary Virtual History (2003) and the video artwork The Eternal Frame (1975) by the artists’ collectives T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm. The former is an attempt to create through computer animation a “virtual documentary” of the attempted assassination against Hitler in 1944. The latter is a reconstruction of the murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Whereas the problem that the creators of Virtual History had to solve was that “nobody actually filmed the attack against Hitler”, T.R.Uthco’s and Ant Farm’s problem was rather the opposite – the Kennedy assassination was filmed and subsequently televised innumerable times.
Original languageSwedish
Title of host publicationHedendomen i historiens spegel - bilder av det förkristna Norden
EditorsCatharina Raudvere, Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert
PublisherNordic Academic Press
ISBN (Print)91-89116-80-1
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Art History

Free keywords

  • History
  • postmodernism
  • video art
  • visual culture
  • visual studies
  • television studies

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