If you watch this and don’t understand its significance, you are illiterate.
At least, according to Stephen Apkon you are. In The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens, he argues that a student graduating high school without being able to analyze and construct a visual narrative should be considered just as illiterate as a student who cannot read or write. The book’s best passages involve close-readings/defenses of You Tube phenomena—some serious, some dumb. Like a good soldier of cultural theory, Apkon makes no value judgments: Literacy is his aim, not good aesthetic taste, and all visual texts are culturally significant.
Sometimes, Apkon addresses basics, like the journey from cave paintings to Transformers (which journey he abbreviates considerably here) and also visual grammar (I smile, imagining this book’s foreword-writer Martin Scorsese reading definitions of ‘close-up’ and ‘wide shot’). Other times, Apkon addresses complexities, such as “neurocinematics” (great for me, since I know jackshit about neuro-anything). Sometimes, the book feels written for a teenager—other times, for a middle-aged schoolteacher stuck in his/her ways. Apkon never really settles on an audience. That’s not totally a bad thing, and the book feels remarkably coherent in spite of this. But to be clear, you get breadth here—not depth.
So, for whom is The Age of the Image meant?
I'm reminded of my experiences with intro lit and English classes, in which, eventually, we always get to the subject of film. “Isn’t it just a movie? Why do we have to analyze it?” The answer is, it comes down to narrative; we make sense of our world through stories—especially visual ones.
Basic stuff, I know—but maybe Apkon’s book is meant for those students. That he makes such “basic stuff” seem remarkable is his great accomplishment.
The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens with a Foreword by Martin Scorsese (FSG) is available April 16