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Inside the Mind of the Influencing Machine: Set Design in the Age of Cold War Television

Weihong Bao, UC-Berkeley

April 26, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 100 Jones Hall

Committee for Film Studies

Join the Committee for Film Studies for the third and final lecture in our spring 2023 series that brings prominent film scholars into conversation with members of the Princeton community. This event features Weihong Bao, Associate Professor of Film and Media at the University of California-Berkeley.

Talk title
“Inside the Mind of the Influencing Machine: Set Design in the Age of Cold War Television”

This talks considers “influence” as an atmospheric notion of media that binds mind and society at the onset of the cold war and rise of television. Influence, in this context, does not entail a one-way traffic but a structure of interdependence, relying on a new notion of set design that orchestrates a system of responses and reactions that produces resonances and dissonances, signal and noise. Situated at the early era of the People’s Republic (1949-) in the decade between the ideological campaign of Thought Reform (1951-1952) and Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) movement, I examine how the “cool media” of television (McLuhan) reconfigures set design through a new set of technological and human assembly. With this framework, I return to the site of television production, not as the origin of signal dissemination, but the node where issues of transmission, amplification, and reception informs and shapes the very production process. This understanding of television as wireless and human infrastructure reveals how the celebrated liveness and immediacy of television involved intricate task of coordination and synchronization, putting a new demand on human attention and labor with implications on acting, directing, and editing. Probing the influencing machinery and aesthetics of television in connection with other media, my talk highlights the tension intrinsic to influence caught between a climatic regime of power and aesthetic operations of resonances, between spatial-temporal axes of enclosure and porosity, stasis and motion.

Weihong Bao is Associate Professor of Film and Media at UC-Berkeley. She is the author of Fiery Films: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945 (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), honored by the Modernist Studies Association Best Book Prize in 2016. She has co-edited two special issues Media/Climates (Representations 2022) and Medium/Environment (Critical Inquiry 2023). She is currently completing a book, “Background Matters: Set Design and The Art of Environment.” The book examines the co-emergence of environmental thinking and set design from early to mid-twentieth century China, across film, theater, architecture, and television. She is the editor-in-chief for The Journal of Chinese Cinemas and co-edits the “film theory in media history” book series published by Amsterdam University Press.

This event is free and open to the public.

The spring 2023 lecture series is sponsored by the Humanities Council’s Committee for Film Studies.

Please email program manager Margo Bresnen at mbresnen@princeton.edu with any questions.

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