Bollywood’s Media Contagions

I’ve been working on media contagion theory for a quiet a while now. After a number of journal articles published between 2004 and 2008, mainly looking at how computer viruses might help us to understand the new media, I wrote the contagion section intro to the Spam Book, co-edited with Jussi Parikka and published back in 2009. Unbeknown to me then another book was published that year by Duke University Press which similarly dealt with contagion through the lenses of assemblage theory. Amit Rai’s notion of a contagion theory also looks to distance itself from metaphorical viral theories (my aim in Virality). I’ve only just got round to taking a better look at this book, and it is a fascinating account of India’s new media assemblages. I also found out that Amit has some material posted to a blog! I thought it useful to make a link to it here. Media Assemblages.

I’ve been researching rasa theory in connection to neuroaesthetics. I’d been reading The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience by Ramachandran and Hirstein and was struck by their essentialist reading of rasa. Thanks Amit for offering a potentially different line of flight and making the link between rasa, assemblage and contagion theory (pp 223-224).

Here’s the synopsis for Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s New Media Assemblage, Duke University Press, 2009.

Known for its elaborate spectacle of music, dance, costumes, and fantastical story lines, Bollywood cinema is a genre that foregrounds narrative rupture, indeterminacy, and bodily sensation. In Untimely Bollywood, Amit S. Rai argues that the fast-paced, multivalent qualities of contemporary Bollywood cinema are emblematic of the changing conditions of media consumption in a globalizing India. Through analyses of contemporary media practices, Rai shifts the emphasis from a representational and linear understanding of the effects of audiovisual media to the multiple, contradictory, and evolving aspects of media events. He uses the Deleuzian concept of assemblage as a model for understanding the complex clustering of technological, historical, and physical processes that give rise to contemporary media practices. Exploring the ramifications of globalized media, he sheds light on how cinema and other popular media organize bodies, populations, and spaces in order to manage the risky excesses of power and sensation and to reinforce a liberalized postcolonial economy.

Rai recounts his experience of attending the first showing of a Bollywood film in a single-screen theater in Bhopal: the sensory experience of the exhibition space, the sound system, the visual style of the film, the crush of the crowd. From that event, he elicits an understanding of cinema as a historically contingent experience of pleasure, a place where the boundaries of identity and social spaces are dissolved and redrawn. He considers media as a form of contagion, endlessly mutating and spreading, connecting human bodies, organizational structures, and energies, thus creating an inextricable bond between affect and capital. Expanding on the notion of media contagion, Rai traces the emerging correlation between the postcolonial media assemblage and capitalist practices, such as viral marketing and the development of multiplexes and malls in India.

About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) and Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018). He is organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK. As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Sampson has developed a number of funded research projects and public events that aim to bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach a series of local challenges. These activities have included large conferences co-organized with local authorities looking at a range of policies relating to the revitalization of the Essex costal region, developments in the cultural industries as well as a series of community focused events on food cultures and policy, collaborations with arts groups and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres. Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL. He occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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