chapter  4
22 Pages

Social forms

In considering the new media in society, we need to bear in mind the whole set of new principles which they introduce into western culture: not only their impact on business and commerce, but also the fundamental changes they have caused to the existing definition of the relationships between art, entertainment, and society. The capitalist economic system has a structure whereby the producer is separate from the consumer, but the two are brought together through a transaction by means of which a commodity created by human labour is bought and sold:

producer – commodity – consumer

This finds its echo in the dominant system of western art, at least up to the middle of the twentieth century. The artist is separated off from the community at large (reduced to a ‘public’, or simply ‘spectators’ and ‘listeners’), just as the artwork produced is clearly differentiated from natural phenomena. In this way a new but parallel relationship is formed:

artist – artwork – public

Even before the birth of the new recording media a kind of bastardized variant had developed linking commerce and art, for example in the music hall. This variant is modern entertainment, in which a specialist

professional entertainer produces a performance designed for – and marketed to – an audience which pays for its pleasure:

entertainer – performance – paying audience

The new media reproducing sounds and images were of necessity contained within this three-part structure: we date the birth of cinema as 28 December 1895 because this was the first day on which moving pictures were shown to a paying audience (there had been several earlier projections). But the new media did not simply record the artist’s or entertainer’s performance and so turn it into a commodity able to be mass produced and marketed more widely. It is a measure of their fundamental novelty that they brought all aspects of the three-part structure into question.