Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ways of Seeing -- An Old BBC Documentary

Click Opera found and posted all four episodes of this old BBC documentary. More than that, Imomus offers a good commentary on the series.
It would be easy to say that Ways of Seeing is hopelessly dated -- made in 1972, the films come across as a puritan-groovy mix of Monty Python, the Open University and the Look Around You spoofs. And yet what's so remarkable about this series is that it seems more apposite, subversive and thought-provoking than ever. The Britain we glimpse in the films, already alienated by spooky BBC Radiophonic Workshop music by Delia Derbyshire, is alienated even more by the passing of time. Alienated usefully, in the Brechtian sense; we look at a capitalist society which is like, and unlike, our own.

One way our own society is unlike 1972 is in the fact that, despite the enormous plethora of TV and internet TV we have now, nobody has made anything quite like this. In art history, the treatment of women's bodies, in our relationship with objects and property and in advertising (the themes of the four films) the same mystifications and objectifications and manipulations carry on. What doesn't carry on is analysis of them on this level.

Sure, there are a thousand media studies courses out there. But several things have happened since Ways of Seeing was made. Firstly, Western societies have swung right; they're much less resisting of the capitalist beast -- much more infused with its values -- than they were in 1972. There's very little actually-existing socialism now, and perhaps globalisation has also eroded national differences quite a bit in the thirty-six years since the series was made. Secondly, postmodernism has made it much more difficult to critique popular culture now. PoMo collapsed high and low, then and now, author and writer, and as a result it became much more difficult to attack authority; in PoMo there was no more them-and-us, no more there there. Everything was just scales on the ouroboral snake. Ways of Seeing is not just a Marxist take on representation, but a late Modernist one, informed by Benjamin, Barthes, Brecht. There are no TV Modernists left; people who believe in the avant garde, and believe that the mandarins -- in the form of a radical intelligentsia -- can help the masses to shed their ideological chains.
Read the whole post.

Here are the first two parts of the first episode, followed by links to all the rest.

Episode One, Part 1:

Episode One, Part 2:

Episode 1 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Episode 2 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Episode 3 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Episode 4 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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