by Barb on April 4, 2012
In considering the theories that have been proposed with regards to the concept of the media event, there have been contentions, revisions, and additions made to the idea since its initial proposal by social scientist Daniel Dayan and sociologist Elihu Katz. What remains at the core is the bedazzling and captivating of an audience by some means of a disturbance in everyday life. The questions that one is quick to raise are one that asks what and how has the notion of the “media event” been transformed, and what complications have arisen since its inception?
Through investigating the initial postulation of what constitutes as the media event, followed by the considerations of the media spectacle, pseudo-events, and the “myth,” one becomes wary of the media event and the multiplicity that has trailed the term in subsequent years. Where does one manage to draw parallels with the present day is, perhaps, through the lens of fashion. Although tension can be found when lending the status of art to this particular discipline, one must recognize that the act of creation is nevertheless involved. The act of creating and “artistic exploration” varies from designer to designer, and brand to brand, which is the reason as to why this paper will not make sweeping generalizations about the industry itself, but rather, focus on one designer in particular – Dai Fujiwara, former creative director of Issey Miyake. Granted, some of the discussion will draw upon other designers and brands, as well as developments within the industry so as to illustrate the changing landscape of media event and spectacle as a whole.
Before broaching on the intertwined relationship of Fujiwara and the media event, one must define the term “media event.” And to do so, one can turn to Katz and Dayan who, in their 1985 article titled “Media Events: On The Experience of Not Being There,” consider the media event to be an interruption of the daily routine of life and broadcast schedule (308). To add a semantic layer to the term, the media event is also considered a means of telling a story of voluntarism and/or celebrating the heroic deed (308). The ways in which these “celebrations” take place are made discernable by the distinction of three specific forms: contest, conquest, and coronation. Each of these forms carry a set of values; however, despite fixed characteristics, such as periodicity, odds, and roles of audience and presenter (307), one finds that the distinctions are not as clear, and are in fact much more flexible than the definition suggests. To draw upon common examples of media events, one could say that the Oscars demonstrates features that are both contest- and coronation-worthy. The label of contest is evident, as actors and movies “compete” with one another for the coveted golden statue, but the label of coronation is a little more nuances and micro. When an actor receives an Oscar, he or she is almost catapulted, in a sense, to an honorary status, which becomes evident in future productions and promotion with headlines such as “Award-winning actor/actress.”
With that said, there are certainly characteristics that are common to all three categories, and thus, are also common to media events in general. According to Katz and Dayan, they are as follows: live broadcasting, high drama/ritual, pre-planned/scheduled, are framed in time and space, and incorporation of personality. Thus, the media event is a live and constructed happening that holds to exaggeration as its means of signalling for attention to the audience. But by stating that the event must be framed in time and space, it is made clear that the media event is by no means “spontaneous” or “outside of the vernacular.”
Critical theorist Douglas Kellner, however, goes beyond Katz and Dayan’s “media event,” and instead elaborates on his own term, “media spectacle.” He considers this idea to refer to technologically mediated events, whether it is in the form of broadcasting, print media, or the Internet. Important to consider is that the media spectacle can also include media events that are often found in culture, as well as include that of “terror.” (78) In effect, one finds him or her reconciling the argument of the possibility of current events becoming a part of the “vernacular” and possibility of it being transitioned into a spectacle for the masses. That aside, the key element to the distinction between media spectacle and event is the consideration of scale and quality. Media spectacles, as Kellner asserts, are far more unpredictable, variable, and contestable to its media event counterpart. It would be fair to say that the media event is far more controlled and regulated, whereas the media spectacle, perhaps with intention of being controlled, has the potential to alter itself depending on its reception. In addition, the spectacle finds itself on a global scale, whereas the event finds itself entertaining the national scale, at best (80).
If the grouping of terms has led us thus far to cast “media event” under the umbrella of “media spectacle,” under what branch does the entity of spectacle fall? Rather, is there a specific category or word to describe what the spectacle truly is or is not?
It can be contested that to some degree, there most certainly is one. The pseudo-event, defined by Daniel J. Boorstein in his 1952 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, is an event or activity that exists for the sole purpose of media publicity. Such an event is only considered “real” after being viewed through a technological medium, such as a broadcast, advertising, and television. The instances of pseudo-events that immediately come to mind include press conferences and entertainment news shows. Because the pseudo-event is otherwise noted as being hyper-sensualized, pre-planned, repeatable, and dramatic, it almost seems appropriate to ask if the pseudo-event is the desirable term to explain both the media event and spectacle. The contention that can be made against it being an umbrella term is the third stipulation that Boorstein makes, which states it has the characteristic of ambiguity in relation to the underlying reality and thus asks, “whether it really happened.” (11) In the case of the Olympics, for example, the individual competitions most certainly did happen, and the subsequent question is the appropriate “what does it mean for x country?” The affirmation that the event has happened and the lack of questioning behind its falsity lies in the fact of the present audience that can be seen in the bleachers, as well as the live broadcasted coverage. Therefore, although the pseudo-event may come close to bridging itself as an umbrella term, it misses the act of being “real” by means of being “live.” However, it is not to say that the pseudo-event serves no purpose, as we will see in continuing the discussion on Fujiwara.
In considering the media event and spectacle, and pseudo-event, one can discuss the ways in which they situate themselves with the artistic work of Dai Fujiwara. Working from the most micro of scales in this perspective, one examines the interaction of the creative designer’s work and the media event. The premise for the media event in this regard is the bi-annual presentation of collections during Paris Fashion Week (i.e. fashion shows). To categorize the event, one realizes Dayan and Katz’s firm distinctions to be problematic as the event falls into a mélange of the contest and conquest categories. In order to explicate the reasoning behind this mixed categorization, one looks to the terms of periodicity, participants, and odds, which seem to pose the most problems.
The contest regards the “frequency” of the media event to be fixed, which is most appropriate for this fashion show, given that “tradition” dictates that the Issey Miyake brand presents on the last Friday of Paris Fashion Week at 11AM each season. However, the “participants” are more vague in this scenario, since the question is asked to whom exactly is the presentation shown. From an industry standpoint (and it remains so for Fujiwara’s work, which has never been broadcast live), the participants are “designer versus critics” (man versus society), which reveals an attempt to win or woo the critics over. Of course, the contention can also be made that the media event is a contest, man versus man, in which designers throughout this entire week of collection showcases are trying to win over the critics for “best of show.” This particular viewpoint of man versus man, however, seems to be more so a compilation of media events, pitted against one another. In which case, it can be said that the sole media event may interact with others, so as to create a larger “event” in and of itself. At which point, one may be pose the question as to whether or not one can consider this “conglomeration” to be a spectacle, on account of its mass (if one were to consider the other “fashion weeks,” including those of New York, Milan, and London) and increased volatility due to the amount of variables (i.e. increased number of critics and designers) that have now been included. The consideration of the transition of media event to spectacle in this particular frame is one that is worth contemplating, but cannot be answered at this point in time without investigation of the participants and networks at play.
Apart from the “slotting into” categories, Fujiwara’s fashion shows are characteristic of the elements of media events presented by Katz and Dayan. The high energy and drama of the event is evoked with bright lighting, long rows of bleachers, and anxious anticipation from the audience, who often find themselves waiting more than a half hour before show begins, only to find that it quickly ends fifteen minutes after. And while the event does not create disturbance in everyone’s ritual, it most certainly does create a ripple in those within the industry, what with editors putting their schedules on pause to capture this one particular moment in time. Although the aforementioned seems to run clichés for most shows, the following is most certainly unique to Fujiwara. The consideration of the media event being subservient to the act of voluntarism and “heroic deeds,” Fujiwara constructs a story that is told. In essence, the story puts the collection’s/designs’ inspiration in the placeholder of “hero,” and carries the audience through the transitions by means of a rotation of models and creations. What becomes apparent is that there is not only the hero of the brand (i.e. the creative director), but also the hero of the show (i.e. inspiration), which renews itself time and time again each season. This multiplicity goes beyond the initial thoughts of Katz and Dayan, but most certainly is appropriate in considering the application of media event characteristics.
Considering that the Fujiwara’s work on display has been established as a media event, can one entertain the notion that it, too, is a spectacle? The elements of variability and unpredictability simply do not exist, on account of the purported myths behind the brand and designer.
With such a particularly visual work (as is the case for fashion), the encoding and decoding of symbols are especially present. French theorist Roland Barthes’ work on myths in “Myth Today” (from the book Mythologies) examines the use of myth as speech and its influence in politics. Barthes applies the notions of the “signifier” and “signified” to the simplest means of communication – linguistics. The more important takeaway from this text, however, is the highlighting of understanding that mythologies are formed and disseminated as a means to perpetuate the ideas of the ruling class and its media.
Reconciling this idea of Barthes’, one considers the meaning behind the collections designed by Fujiwara. Although it can be said the designs are his own, they are still representative of a brand at large; in other words, the clothing presented is simply a perpetuation of the myth of both the man and the brand Issey Miyake. That said, there is the possibility to present some extension oneself, however, one must realize that the constraints of the myth are in place and do not permit for great exploration.
Coming back to the question of Fujiwara’s work being a spectacle, one can say that with the given constraints of defending the perpetuated myth of what Issey Miyake represents, the work cannot be considered a spectacle by any means. However, the work may very well be considered to be a pseudo-event. Recalling that Boorstein’s pseudo-event makes use of similar elements as that of Katz’s and Dayan’s media event, such as the high level of drama, pre-planned event, and publicity generator, one notes that the showcasing of the collection also generates an air of the ambiguity, which Boorstein mandates for the pseudo-event. Considering that Fujiwara is perpetuating the myth of the brand, a person that is not in the complete context very well believe that the brand and designer are still heavily intertwined. It is to say that to the common audience, the question of “was it really Issey Miyake” is quite literal, as opposed to representative, which critics may ask in relation to work presented and identity sought to be maintained. Nevertheless, the pseudo-event can be seen in relation to the Barthes’ myth as the preservation of an ideology leads to questions of ambiguity.
The discussion thus far on media event and spectacle has led us to question the definition and the capacity to which the words envelope; however, we have to also interrogate the physical space that the event embodies in its viewing and experience before broaching the involvement of artists and culture, and their involvement with the media event.
In a 2007 article, New Yorker writer David Denby questions the loss of value in the spectacle what with the shift in media, and subsequently context. In spite of the fact that he speaks more so to the changed experience of movie viewing, such can be re-appropriated to fit the discussion of artists and their interaction with the media event.
The example that Denby highlights is that of “Brokeback Mountain” in which he notes the great differences between cinematic and home viewing. Watching the movie on a laptop, he explains, creates a skewed perception of what is “important” and “authentic.” To explicate, Denby discusses the example of the mountains in the movie, which when viewed in the theater are the foreground with their immensity in comparison to the characters; however, when viewed at home, the mountains’ presence is far diminished and the focus shifts solely to the characters. It is to say that the interpretation and experience have changed, in Denby’s opinion, due to the re-appropriation of media to fit the home context. Denby notes that this constant “modified” viewing of what “has been” proves to be problematic for future generations who are not aware of what was supposed to be and instead accept this “altered” version as the norm. Although he relegates the conversation back to cinema, one can see how behavioural change, such as this, can pose a problem for the media event.
It is at this point that one examines the recent surge of Internet platforms and technologies and reflects on how it has generated a sense of democratization of the runway. One has to deviate away from Fujiawara’s work and consider the more “commercial” designers, such as Christopher Baily of Burberry and Jill Stuart of her eponymous line, who stream their runway shows live for all to watch. The show itself is stripped of context, when viewed on a laptop or on a mobile device, in the sense of its meaning to the industry, as well as the reduction and alteration in focus, since the view is now dependent on the camera’s gaze, as opposed to a present audience member’s free gaze. To answer the question as to how people find themselves entertained with a media event that offers such “constraints,” one refers back to Katz and Dayan who recognize that the media event’s broadcasting renders everyone equal – present and distant audience. It is to say that the average person may find empowerment in being able to “see” what those in “prestigious” roles observe in an otherwise secretive and closed-door industry. Coming back to the issue on-hand, the effect of a stripped context in new technologies, one has to acknowledge that while the streaming brand receives publicity, the show becomes more of a spectacle than an event; in which case, there becomes a lack of control over the identity myth. The transition in to spectacle stems from the more global reach, afforded by the technological medium, as well as the unpredictability of reception and reaction by the now mass audience. In turn, the fashion show – in general – becomes a cyclical hybrid of spectacle and event; in spite of having discussed the transition to the spectacle, the show still remains an event on some fronts, including the periodicity and aspects of control in the physical sense. What one can perhaps offer as middle ground is that the digital space offers the opportunity for media spectacle, while the physical space clings onto what once was with the media event.
While the terms of media event, media spectacle, and pseudo-event seem so interchangeable, the subtle nuances give each term their own distinction, while still permitting for overlap. The examination of the interaction of media events and Fujiwara offer a complexity that is not usually apparent. The consideration that a designer hides behind a brand that is not his or her own gives way to the theoretical notion that the fashion show is a pseudo-event, on account of purporting myth and ambiguity. Fujiwara aside, the media event finds itself at odds with new media. In spite of the fact that the media event has been subjected to broadcasting and the Internet in the past, the surge in the use of online platforms, such as YouTube and Hulu, has created a culture that believes in shared general experiences, as opposed to specific and contextualized moments. Such change in behaviour may prove to be problematic as the new generation grows up to think that they are entitled to see, access, and absorb everything, despite having no expertise or context as to what is actually happening.
 Dai Fujiwara served as creative director at Issey Miyake from 2006 to 2011.
 Contests are defined as live broadcasts of a ceremonial competition between matched individuals or teams with a set of predetermined rules, often with a referee and a live audience. Such can include the Olympics, presidential elections, and the Super Bowl (Katz and Dayan 306).
 Conquests are live broadcasts of “great steps for mankind” where the hero is considered to have crossed a forbidden frontier. Examples include the presidential inauguration and the Oscars (Katz and Dayan 306).
 Coronations are the rites of passage that honour the hero from one status to the next, thus confirming authority. For example, the funeral is considered a coronation (Katz and Dayan 306).
 Boorstein notes that the three characteristics of the pseudo-event are: 1) it is pre-planned; 2) it is planted for the purpose of being reported or reproduced; 3) its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. (11)
 Some designers are known to have shows that may be more flexible with regards to scheduling, but this specificity makes the brand more recognizable as a ritual.
 The use of the term “critic” refers to those in positions of press, whether they are editors, columnists, or bloggers.
 As of 1999, Issey Miayke officially turned over both men’s and women’s collection design so that he could return to research full-time.
Image courtesy of Girl à la Mode