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    The cinema spectator gazes, the TV viewer glances Essay

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    They appear small because of the medium in which they are presented. It is a safe medium and while it can sometimes be disjoined it is relaxing and unconfrontational. It is very rare that TV takes the viewer away from normality. The reasons why cinema audiences gaze is because they are there for that reason, they are there to be entertained, to be deceived into thinking they are somewhere else or in another time. The context of the cinema experience is why they are not distracted from the big screen where as in the case of the TV viewer there is nothing but distractions.

    With a few exceptions TV viewers glance unless there is something being shown of special interest. Cinema vs. Television: There are very different circumstances in which television and cinema are consumed but there is also a difference in the quality of the experiences. According to Bordwell and Thompson: (Film Art, An Introduction:2001 p9) 16mm film carries over twice as much information as a standard home television (425 scan lines for a TV Vs. 1100 scan lines for 16mm film). Because of this many feel that the original film, when transferred to video loses a lot of its original picture quality making the whole experience less enjoyable.

    It would be fair to suggest that a cinema goer is more inclined to gaze at a film being shown in its original 16mm format as the quality of the experience is superior to that of viewing the film at home on TV or video. Having said that the convenience and comparative safety of the home environment does have a bearing on how consumers react to the two mediums. TV though its history has become a habit, it is no longer an event or an item reserved for the social elite, rather it is an everyday appliance that has become a normal part of domestic life.

    Because of this broadcast TV is not under the same pressures that cinema is under to gain an audience, according to John Ellis (1982:160) “Broadcast TV does not have to solicit its audiences in the same way that cinema has to… Up to half the population can be counted upon to be watching TV at some point during most evenings”. Broadcast TV is there to be glanced at, by its very nature the more challenging the subject matter the lower the ratings, however TV will always have a larger audience than cinema due to its assess ability, content and place in peoples lives.

    TV is sometimes regarded as a relaxing experience, many people use TV as an aid to falling asleep in the evenings or to entertain them while they are involved in other domestic chores. A typical cinema audience doesn’t go to the cinema to watch an action film in order to relax after a hard days work, a visit to the cinema is a way of distancing yourself from reality, escaping from the domestic, mundane world for a short time. Ellis (1982:162) goes on to say, “The TV viewer is cast as someone who has the TV on, but is giving it very little attention: a casual viewer relaxing at home in the midst of the family group”.

    A question of power: The cinema audience is in a position of power, something they have little of with regard to TV. Ellis (1982:81) says that entertainment cinema offers the possibility of seeing events from a position of mastery and separation. Without the audience there would be no film. Ellis (1982:81) goes on to say: “The film is offered to the spectator, but the spectator does not have anything to offer to the film apart from the desire to see and hear”. This illustrates one of the key issues regarding the question, gaze vs. glance.

    The TV is there as a part of domestic life, the content of the programmes reflects this and reinforces the idea of being safe and secure from the outside world in the comfort of the home. The cinema offers a far different experience, where fantasy and escapism are important. Though real life events are dramatised in films they are a far cry from the docu-soaps which have become popular in the last few years. According to McLuhan (1994:267) “The social practise of sitting in a cinema effectively isolated from other members of the audience disallows audience forms of participation”.

    The cinema forces its audience to ‘gaze’ by its very nature, a dark auditorium with a large screen give little opportunity for distraction. Also, due to social conditioning, certain rules regarding disturbing other cinema goers are usually observed. Conclusions: The cinema spectator gazes because cinema exists for that reason. Before TV the cinema was a universal communicator and entertainer, reporting news, public information as well as showing films. Its audience was guaranteed due to a lack of other options. Now the cinema is seen as more of an escape, a fantasy world where everything is larger than life.

    “The medium of film is centralised and authoritarian, requiring the film maker to transform the audience into another world” (McLuhan, 1994:285). The latest film is always advertised as being bigger and better than the last, boasting new special effects and starring film icons. This is not the case for the latest home improvement docu-soap as the audiences are regarded differently because they react differently. TV audiences glance because TV is a part of domestic life, an everyday item that is not designed to excite, rather to relax and entertain. Ellis (1982:163) says:

    “It is not the TV viewer’s gaze that is engaged, but his or her glance”. There is no separation between TV and everyday life, there is with cinema as it is separate from the domestic sphere, an almost voyeuristic experience. The cinema hold its audience enthralled, playing on their desires and their need for escapism, where as TV holds its audiences attention for a brief time by using familiar music and canned laughter. The cinema is an experience, it is not an ordinary every day experience. The picture and sound quality are far beyond and domestic TV experience and the films shown are new.TV is familiar, showing repeats of repeats and entertaining without needing anything in return, it is there if it’s needed.

    References:  Bordwell, D and Thompson, K. (2001) Film Art: An Introduction. 6th ed.  Chambers, W and R. (1972) Chambers Standard Dictionary. Chambers.  Ellis, J. (1982) Visible fictions: Cinema/ Television/ Video. London, RKP.  McLuhan, M. (1994) Understanding Media: the extensions of man. London, Routeledge. Bibliography: (as above)  Gauntlett, D and Hill, A. (1999) TV Living: Television culture and everyday life. Routeledge and BFI.  Stevenson, N. (2002) Understanding Media Cultures. 2nd ed. Sage.

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