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Hip to be Pixelated

May 28, 2010

You may be familiar with an excellent semi-animated short that was released direct to YouTube not too long ago, entitled “Pixels,” wherein New York City gets thoroughly “bricked” by high-definition, NES-era pixelations. Well, “Pixel” is a wonderful and concise documentary that provides the exposition behind what I believe “Pixels” is really getting at (or at least ought to be).

To wit, the abstraction achieved by the reductive representation of a pixel can invoke and stir our emotions in a way that over-narrated, over-produced, over-rendered video games of the modern era ignore to their detriment. Indie YouTube releases like these poetically underscore that point by being produced with sheer sweat of the brow and modest budgets and directly distributed through a free medium (YouTube) in order to say something to the audience, not create some money-generating blockbuster composed purely of production values and no creativity. Even the lowest of low-tech can still evoke powerful feelings (even if they are essentially referential and nostalgic) without resort to independent funding. See, e.g.,

How can we really find ourselves identifying with a protagonist and share in their destiny when so much digital ink has already been spilled recounting that particular protagonist’s highly specific and detailed exploits? We can better see ourselves and whatever else we would want to see in 64 non-specific pixels than the all-too-real heroes of CGI that usually fail to evoke anything worthy of communicating. The point is that the technologies used by Indie/pixelated videos and games are perfectly apt to advance the purpose behind each. And that’s really the point: so much of art has lost that intention of communicating or advancing a thesis, as opposed to merely advancing a technology. Look at Avatar, Alice in Wonderland (in Disney 3D™), the Star Wars prequels, anything by Michael Bay, or whatever other overproduced piece of schlock you want. These are only, at best, worthwhile exercises in technological achievement rather than communication. These over-productions are explicitly organized with the goal being the money and the means being the art, rather than the other way around. Isn’t that profoundly backwards sounding? That model certainly wasn’t how the art world operated throughout history until the middle of the Twentieth Century.

After all, why do we bother going out to the cinema? What is art about? Is it to simply inundate ourselves with colorful imagery as we sit in our lulled stupor, happily munching away in a theater without talking to one another for vast periods of our precious non-working hours? Wait, I don’t think I want to know the answer to that.

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