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The Urban Spectator
American Concept-Cities from Kodak to Google
Eric Gordon

Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture

2010 • 240 pp. 40 b & w illus. 8 1/2 x 9"
Media Studies / Social Science

$35.00 Paperback, 978-1-58465-803-0

In his new book, Eric Gordon adds an important new perspective to our understanding of the relationship between visual illustrations and urban landscapes. In The Urban Spectator: American Concept-Cities... [continued in Reviews below]”—Planning and Technology Today

How conceptions of the American city changed in response to new media technologies

The Urban Spectator is a lively and utterly fascinating exploration of the ways in which technologies have influenced our collective conception of the American city, as well as our relationship with urban space and architecture. Eric Gordon argues that the city, developing late and in conjunction with a range of modern media, produced a particular way of seeing—what he labels “possessive spectatorship.”
Lacking the historical rootedness of European cities, the American city was open to individual interpretation, definition, and ownership. Beginning with the White City of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the efforts to commodify the concept city through photography, Gordon shows how the American city has always been a product of the collision between the dominant conceptualization, shaped by contemporary media, and the spectator. From the viewfinder of the Kodak camera, to the public display of early cinema, to the speculative desire of network radio, all the way to machine-age utopianism, nostalgia, and America’s “rerun” culture, the city is an amalgam of practice and concept. All of this comes to a head in the “database city” where urban spectatorship takes on the characteristics of a Google search. In new urban developments, the spectator searches, retrieves, and combines urban references to construct each experience of the city.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“In his new book, Eric Gordon adds an important new perspective to our understanding of the relationship between visual illustrations and urban landscapes. In The Urban Spectator: American Concept-Cities from Kodak to Google, Gordon argues American cities have produced a new way of seeing, and catalogs the subtle ways visual illustrations mold our perceptions of the urban landscape, our expectations of the city, and ultimately the urban form itself. Gordon’s book successfully provides a historical and conceptual framework . . . to visualize the city and engage its residents to shaping its future."Planning and Technology Today

“Gordon contributes to an understanding of how over the last century people have distanced themselves from the actual city and their fellow citizens. As his book points out, one sees this in ever-changing ways through the mediation of screens . . .The author handles this form of seeing, called possessive spectatorship, with authority. Recommended.”Choice

“The premise of Gordon’s The Urban Spectator is that people have ‘a cultural impulse to possess, control, and assemble the experience of the city.’ The handheld camera of the late nineteenth century provided a powerful technology for satisfying this urge. Subsequent visual technologies (e.g., film and television) reinforced and extended a possessive spectatorship. Gordon further claims that once we began to represent the city cinematically or as a series of snapshots, the city itself is transformed. Technology mediates the city and, then, the city is brought into correspondence with its representations. [Gordon makes] it clear that electronic technology does not simply mediate, it also senses our presence; creates reactive, nonhuman worlds; and changes how cities are perceived, represented, and reimagined.”—Winterthur Portfolio

“This imaginative revisionist history of American urbanism starts from early traces of a city-dweller’s ‘possessive spectatorship,’ made possible by the hand-held camera, to the ‘digital possessive’ of our information age. Gordon’s quicksilver account moves easily though multi-city examples of architecture, film, advertising, world fairs, radio, and urban planning, eventually arriving at the Database City—a city with no content but which grants access to content. This may sound uninviting, but you can trust Gordon to take theorists and practitioners where they need to go.”—Michael Dear, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley

“In this brilliant cultural analysis of urbanism, Eric Gordon shows that one of the distinctive qualities of American cities is the way they have been shaped as ‘concept cities’ by the emergent media practices of their times. The persuasive power of Gordon’s innovative analysis lies in the way he reads these mediated urban spaces as texts: from the ‘White City’ at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and the handheld Kodak camera that was ideally suited to capture it, to Times Square and the cinematic spectacle that helped create an audience for its sensorial excesses, to Hollywood Boulevard’s modular redevelopment guided by the contemporary logic of database narratives found on mobile phones, electronic games, and Google maps. Through such examples, Gordon demonstrates not only how media practices give urban spectators a sense of mastery over the city, but also how the city as sensorium has been such a pivotal force in shaping mass media.”—Marsha Kinder, Director of The Labyrinth Project and Professor of Critical Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts


Winner of the AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show, scholarly illustrated category

ERIC GORDON is assistant professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College, Boston.

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 11:56:57 -0500