5CollDH Undergraduate Fellow and Amherst College student Carl “Ott” Lindstrom has audience on the brain. His fellowship project is a multimedia Scalar exhibition tracking the changing relationship of the spectator with the media object from classic film to interactive video games to the immersive future of virtual reality. This is Ott’s third post of three; you can click through to read the first and second installments, or read an interview with Ott conducted by Jeffrey Moro.
I never took the advice “follow your passion” seriously. The people who told me that (guidance counselors, mentors, teachers and all them) always seemed to be referring to “serious” or obviously lucrative passions…human rights, climate change, investment banking, social justice, law. Y’know, important stuff. Though I of course cared deeply about those big picture issues, my true passions, that is to say the sort of topics I could see myself devoting my entire life to the pursuit of, have always seemed so frivolous in comparison: creative writing, video games, movies and pop culture writ large. There was a stigma that followed my interests, from parents, from peers, from everyone. So, as a result, this was something I largely suppressed throughout high school and my first year of college, going through the motions of caring about student government and economics and all in all presenting the normalized view of what a promising young adult should be caring about. It was What I Was Supposed To Do and I did it, with about as much heart as that guy who gets sacrificed to Sheva in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Something of a paradigm shift occurred sophomore year of college, when I had the great pleasure of taking Amelie Hastie’s “Knowing Television” course at Amherst. Yes, this was a course about television. But it was also a course about philosophy and semiotics, about feminism and terrorism. If it wasn’t necessarily a complete revelation to me that entertainment could be an important tool with which to view the world (in a word, “duh”), Professor Hastie’s course showed me how precise and awe-inspiring that lens could be. Thus it was that I abandoned economics, law and all other “practical” ambitions in pursuit of a Film and Media Studies degree, a degree which has culminated here, with this extremely longwinded and complicated exploration of the relationship between the spectator and the media object.
My thesis, this project, “The Watcher and the Watched: The Shifting Semiotics of Spectatorship,” is an embodiment of this fundamental change in ethos. Really, this project was more than just a thesis. It was a passionate capstone of the reorganization of my life philosophy. It is proof-positive that it is, in fact, possible and viable for someone to throw themselves into superficially frivolous passions and create something of value and substance, something that matters and transcends its superficial topics. In truth, my project really isn’t about film, games and virtual reality very much at all. Rather, it uses media as an excuse not to talk about media, instead discussing power relations, patriarchal expectations, the implications of the masculine gaze, the liminal nature of femininity and the anxieties of free will and subjectivity.
Ultimately, I find it to be quite an ironic turnaround. By diving into entertainment, wholeheartedly embracing my true passions, I’ve managed to come full circle; I’ve found the macro in the micro, the human in the digital, the world reflected in a pop-culture mirror. I could not be prouder of what I’ve produced.