Common Criticisms Addressed to Images


This text is a summary of a series of lectures given at the University San Pablo CEU in Madrid the 7th, 8th and 9th of March 2023 as part of its International Week.


In the last 15 years, digital communication, as well as cultural consumerism increasingly involve video media. People can now watch hundreds of TV channels, use s-VOD platforms or illegal systems to watch films and series. They learn how to do things using video tutorials. They watch video news online. They communicate with video social networks. They have unlimited opportunities to discover moving images from all around the world. Images that represent more than 90% of the Internet traffic today and the amount of video data going through IP networks every three minutes is equal to the whole film heritage of the 20th century. So we cannot ignore the place occupied by video media, but we cannot also ignore fears and criticisms that are being expressed about these online images. We can spot three common criticisms, which are as old as the rise of the screens.
The first criticism consists in saying that some commercial movies, TV screened images or online video are stupid or make you stupid. There would be a dumbing-down effect due to a so-called low-quality of these content proposed by the major popular media. The second criticism that is addressed to the screens is about alienation which occurs when media or platforms are considered as governed by politicians and powerful people: a criticism that is addressed to capitalism. The thirdly criticism concerned the supposed potential of certain films, series, television shows or online videos to lead to deviant behaviors (moral deviance, behavioral deviance, sexual deviance, etc.).
This lecture went back over the history of these three criticisms and show that today we must go beyond them. We saw that the book, in its time, was sometimes considered as dangerous because it contains knowledge, and it exalts feelings. Today, it would seem highly doubtful that someone would forbid access to books to children or teenagers (except in very rare cases of intense social isolation). In the same way, the overflow of screens time can generate social isolation, and marginally eye problems. But what is the most to be feared is that people will laugh in a few years at the fear of screens that some people have today, just as we laugh today at the fear of books that some people had during the 18th et 19th centuries.
The way out is, of course, education, in a broadest sense: formal and non-formal education that both will allow us to enter a dynamic of empowerment. It is therefore urgent to support largely the viewing of films, news, or advertisings in schools and universities and to support their analysis. The authorities obviously have a role to play in this process (in France, it is written into the law). But organizations, associations or cinemas theaters also have a key role to play alongside schools and universities. The goal is to train young people to become enlightened citizens, capable of deciphering images and having a critical relationship with them. It is by this work of empowering the youngest that we can hope to be able to fight against the potential drifts of the images and the criticisms which are addressed to them.

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Michael Bourgatte (2023, 12 mars). Common Criticisms Addressed to Images. Consortium Huma-Num CANEVAS. Consulté le 16 avril 2024, à l’adresse

Par Michael Bourgatte

Michael Bourgatte est Professeur à l'Institut Catholique de Paris. Ses recherches portent sur les cultures audiovisuelles et la vidéo numérique.

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