Monday, September 22, 2008


In 1936 Walter Benjamin wrote the second version of what has become his most well-known essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Reproducibility" (some versions use "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"). In a footnote for a section considering how film alienates the actor from his own image by taking his image to another site "in front of the masses," Benjamin begins to apply this same idea to the politician. The "mode of exhibition" that film offers, he argues, affects politicians by replacing their traditional "public," the parliament, with the masses. The politician no longer knows exactly to whom he is speaking, and it could be an infinite number of people. He goes on:
This means that priority is given to presenting the politician before the recording equipment [...] Radio and film are changing not only the function of the professional actor, but, equally, the function of those who, like the politician, present themselves before the media. The direction of this change is the same for the film actor and the politician, regardless of their different tasks. It tends toward the exhibition of controllable, transferable skills under certain social conditions, just as sports first called for such exhibition under certain natural conditions. This results in a new form of selection--selection before an apparatus--from which the champion, the star, and the dictator emerge as victors.

(Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Reproducibility." p.128 Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Vol. 3, 1935-1938. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002.)

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