12.08.2013

Beautiful Accidents and Contemporary Aesthetics

This is another capture from my camera-phone and the fortuitous moment of coming upon a fleet of buses WHILE one is poised enough to snap a photo seems, well, something akin to newsworthy.

It's funny how the television news has come to be, for many, the definitive mode of staying connected to the ideas and places and issues of our time.  Postman's argument that television is a terrible place to get news goes as unheeded as most of the other great prophets of history -- but that doesn't diminish the viability of his claims.

Television is a terrible place to get news for many reasons - the first is that news worth knowing is not easily articulated in pictures.  There's two reasons why that idea is true: the first is that articulating the connections between important ISSUES and current EVENTS in ways that are EVEN-HANDED is terribly hard to do with pictures.  Words and abstractions much more quickly make these kinds of connections for us. It's not impossible to do this, just very difficult and very unlikely.

And that brings me to the second reason that idea is true -- it's very rare that anyone takes the right picture at the right time.  Even if you're a whiz and crafting story from pictures and videos (which you'd need to be in order to make those important connections), who *ever* has the right pictures from the right moment?  As much as the news is well-served by photographic and video documentation, it is equally ill-served by second hand reports of the events.  The result is that television news is primarily made up of images from stock photo files, video news reels provided by those who have money to make video news reels (government bureaus, public relations wings of corporations), after-the-event footage from "the scene of the crime," and loads of polished anchors and reporters with carefully crafted lights, audio, wardrobe, makeup and hair.  The news becomes an advertisement for a number of things that remain unstated and over-articulated; and barely about the issues & events in even-handed, concrete, immediate terms.

So I found it "newsworthy" that I happened upon these buses emerging the school simply because my quick phone-snap gave voice to the dreariness of overly bureaucratized, institutionalized, homogenizing contemporary school.  The buses are so even and uniform and predictable in their decline across the face of the photograph. Their continuity and the way they grow as they tumble toward us and our point of view?  Seems vaguely ominous to me.  They're COMING!  (For you?)  The weather provides tonal detail too.  The melting snow, the falling rain, the bleak grey sky.  Even the stop sign (another bit of evidence of our highly routenized daily grind) doesn't offer us a patch of red; governing the emergence of the buses, it shows us only it's backside.  It too is grey.   Finally the photo offers some incipient sense of tragedy.  Since the front bus has already stopped and may be turning toward us, there may be a collision about to happen.  The lens flare at the bottom of the frame only heightens the imminence of a flame, an explosion, or a collision.

Of course the crash didn't happen.  Yet.  It's only a metaphor.  But the point of this metaphor is prophetic now that we've read the photo in such detail.  Contemporary education cannot continue to be shaped by the industrial and bureaucratic concerns that currently shape the culture of testing, assessment, standards and interventions.  It's true that with a fleet of buses this effective, no child will be left behind.  But do we really want any of these children to arrive at the destination they're being borne away toward?

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