After powering through the density and jargon of Margaret Morse’s “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall and Television,” I felt she really did have quite a lot of insights that are difficult to fully flesh out in a single blog post. So, I’ll narrow my focus to her use of the segment.
Morse, contrary to Raymond William’s concept of flow, utilizes John’s Ellis’ notion “that the segment is the basic unit of television (205-206). She writes, “The duality of passage and segmentation in physical as well as represented space is related in turn to the dual places of language, the engaged discourse of a subject in passage and the disengagement of stories from the here and now of the subject” (206).
On my first pass, I was wondering how the concept of a segment could entice a viewer, especially a distracted one, to keep watching. After all, Morse’ example of a traveler’s dismay of being trapped for a fixed period of when traveling by train sounded to me a lot like watching a single episode of a show: trapped (unhappily) for a fixed duration with the desire escape as soon as it is over.
However, upon closer inspection of her definition of a segment, the restrictiveness disappears. Morse refutes that segmentation be constructed linearly. Instead, Morse proposes that the segment is actually comprised of “multiple worlds condensed into one visual field” (206). Morse says, “Thus, television discourse typically consists of ‘stacks’ of recursive levels which are usually quite different in look and ‘flavor’” (206). Morse offers an example of a news anchor with a globe behind him or her as an example of these multiple worlds coming together in a single view (206). Indeed, Morse suspects that the shifting space along the z-axis in television reflects the changing distance of the distracted viewer to the screen (207).
Morse posits that “voices and images [on television] offer community to a disengaged and enclosed word world of the home, the automobile and the mall. A banished, paramount reality is recreated as a phantom within elsewhere” (208). Maybe TV too is a phantom of liberty that not only alienates us from our comrades, especially now since digital TV can be catered to individual tastes, but also from the world through its artificial reconstruction of the world with its own “multiple worlds.”