Eric Gordon


On his book The Urban Spectator: American Concept Cities from Kodak to Google

Cover Interview of March 07, 2010

In a nutshell

In The Urban Spectator, I look at how practices of media spectatorship, from the handheld camera to radio and television and the digital computer, have influenced the way Americans have experienced and ultimately designed their cities.

Taking photographs, viewing movies, listening to radio, using a computer, doing a Google search on a mobile phone, these are all methods of seeing the world by collecting artifacts of the world.  I call this possessive spectatorship.  And the American city, developing late in the 19th century and in parallel with new technologies such as hand held photography and cinema, has, from its beginning, been influenced by this spectatorship. The American city, I argue, is a product of possessive spectatorship such that its history is entangled with the history of media consumption.

The Urban Spectator is not meant to be a history of the American city.  Instead, it identifies moments of clarity where media practices and urban practices overlap, where seeing and possessing the city inform being in the city, and in some cases, the design of the city.  The Urban Spectator is a series of vignettes, assembled to produce the semblance of a whole, just as media representations possessed by the spectator are assembled to produce a legible experience of the city.  It is a poetic reflection on urbanism and spectatorship that seeks to make connections where before there were none.  Looking at the city and looking through media are intimately connected phenomena.