fimmtudagur, október 20, 2005


The MARTA, the rapid transit in and around the city of Atlanta, has little television screens in each rail car. News and weather reports are transmitted for the entertainment and edification of the passengers. This surprised me.

Perhaps it is the influence of air travel (the pseudo-cinematic experience jammed into a jet-propelled sardine can) that makes people expect a lively screen full of talking heads to be part of their travel experience. And as air travel becomes ever more unpleasant, I am loathe to rail against any marginal comfort that might be found in such a thing.

All the same, I found it strange and ridiculous in the context of the little, rattling, local train. I understand (from the work of scholars more engaged with the birth of entertainments than I) the whole practice of resting the gaze on a framed, moving picture as one ultimately descended from the habit of gazing out the window of the traincar at the landscape moving past. Early film, after all, coincided with the rise of steam and rail travel.

But for me, the television screen set into the upper corner of the train window was a unwelcome doubling of the spectating experience. The eye was ever being caught and dragged up into that corner like an insect flown into a spider's web; the mind is almost powerless to override the hardwiring that makes bright color and shifting motion such a lure. But there was nothing in that little box full of Atlanta as performed, described, and represented by four-inch-high smiling faces near as interesting as the sight of the actual Atlanta just outside, and I was sorry to miss what I was too distracted to see.

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