Reply to: Falling; in slow motion...
It seems to me that what we are watching, with respect to the compelling
nature of the live coverage of the O.J. Simpson preliminary hearing
proceedings, is life in real time. Life is slow, ponderous, hesitating,
and filled with silences where people are thinking about what they are
about to say.
Whenever television carries the hearing and testimony process for any high
profile legal and political institutions (as they have since the Watergate
investigations) the presentation of questions and replies is done without
editing or commentary until there is a natural break in the proceedings.
The effect of this is to make the audience feel as though there is a
suspense implied which comes from their inexperience with the nature of the
Coverage is restricted to the step-by-step actions of senators, lawyers,
and witnesses with no opportunity to reveal the inner dialogue of any
participant in the way that is common in fictional portrayals. Coverage is
bound by the pace of the presentation which is much slower and much more
specific than the pace within the environment that the viewers find
themselves in. The nature of this kind of real-time presentation allows
for viewers to construct their own inner dialogue and to create their own
commentary independent of the broadcast commentaries.
What is explicitly attractive about these kinds of "live" events is the
emerging celebrity of the principal participants. The audience grows
familiar with the people involved (lawyers, judge, defendant) very quickly
without having anything more to rely on than what they have "seen" for
themselves. Even the institutions for which the testimony is being
presented attracts some level of celebrity for the duration of the
What maintains the level of interest in such coverage (or the drama) is the
underlying issue which is a source of debate in the larger population.
Viewers may weigh in their minds, as they watch or between episodes, what
they would choose to accept and what they would choose to consider
pointless. Those underlying issues are not necessarily addressed in the
testimony, or by the news commentaries.
People commenting on the coverage often focus on the activities of the
people presenting the coverage. They examine the "sensationalism" or the
"exploitive" slant of the news reporting. They become over sensitive to
the mechanisms of television coverage often regarding the reporters as the
celebrities. They primarily regard the selection of shots, the close ups,
the graphics, and all the other quickly worked-up "style" of coverage.
These people are professional critics of the industry but very often fail
to address the compelling nature of the spectacle these events provide the
As much as the viewer is placed in the position of being a "jury" they are
also being manipulated by the non-stop image of the proceedings. Their
"jury" role extends beyond the specific event and out into society at
large. The projection of the process into the viewer's private environment
elevates their sense of importance in that larger social fabric. It gives
every single viewer a chance to take on the role of the decision-maker on a
significant social issue and settle their own mind about the state of their
Better than slow motion, real-time coverage allows time for reflection
without being led by the "story" (as is common in fictional portrayals).
It presents the pace of history at a speed more familiar to historians than
to the ordinary citizen more familiar with condensed and distilled
descriptions of events. Because we are constantly working to keep up with
the perceptions of life at break-neck speed we tend to forget that the pace
of our own lives is the same as those of the people coming to them through
television. What we are watching is a reflection of the illusion we are
living by. What is bizarre is that we cannot see the pace of our own lives
until we encounter it in someone else's.
July 8, 1994 4:00 pm.
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