Myth and Audiovisual Creation

Preliminary Scientific Report


by José Manuel Losada


1. The Digital Revolution


Image and sound: two of our five external senses are called into play.

As far as our Conference is concerned, we reduce the immense variety of images to a typology: the more traditional ―the image that represents an expected reality― and the more innovative, the image represented by a series of unforeseen associations with no real previous referent. Both images coexist in our imaginary world, and both can replicate (for example in a drawing, a painting, a sculpture) in the real world. We call it visual creation when, in the latter case, an image is coupled with an artistic dimension1.

The same observation can be made about the immeasurable variety of sounds, with the peculiarity that sound only exists in the real world, save a few exceptions (some with a pathological origin). This “lack” of sound is compensated by the richness of the voice and by using utensils –or instruments, in the case of art– to generate noises. As with images, we call it audible creation when the generation of sounds is coupled with an artistic dimension.

As if led by the hand, this preliminary observation brings us to the Aristotelian principle of mimesis, that is, human creations (literature, visual, visual arts, and entertainment) as imitation, even when what is depicted does not seem to resemble the model. To a large extent, audiovisual creation is a re-creation of the world from images and sounds.

Audiovisual creation has undergone a spectacular change since the early 20th century: traditional forms (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) are now joined by cinema, whose exponential growth requires no explanation.

However, we have witnessed a new revolution since the turn of the century that entails an even greater change in terms of the standardization of content and the versatility of formats. Before, audiovisual creation had to adapt itself to the format: the drawing or the sound, crafted by hand, were retouched and put together later with digital resources. Since the digital revolution, the format easily adapts to the audiovisual creation: drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, theater, opera, cinema, video games, performances, installations and other genres are unthinkable without the support of digital resources.

Cinema –the Seventh Art– has always been intimately tied to technological advances. However, the digital revolution carries more weight than the historical incorporation of sound, color, and television, comparable only to the advance from writing on stone to writing on wood, from wood to paper and from the manuscript to the printing press. The obsolescence of traditional media demands a continuous reinvention of classic processes (production, distribution, and exhibition). It is changing the way films are produced, distributed and marketed. This profound transformation is clearly perceptible in the emergence of a new market for the exploitation of audiovisual content (internet and mobile devices), the emergence of a new consumer profile (digital natives), and the democratization of the means of production (cameras, digital editors, post-production software).

Digital technology’s impact on the process of “making” a film is obvious: it has made it possible to expand the boundaries of creativity and verisimilitude. The digitization of image and sound has created virtual characters that look irresistibly and plausibly real (Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2001-03; the Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar, 2009) on both the big screen and other forms of audiovisual consumption (home TV, smart TV, HD and 3D). These technological advances have also brought forward a paradigm shift in production and distribution: the massive corporations that used to control the entire sector have been forced to make way for the internet, a platform that dissolves boundaries in favor of independent film (Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, 2007)2. The versatility of digital media has clearly changed every aspect of audiovisual creation.

This transformation in cinema also affects video games. The reason lies, to a large extent, in the way in which computer communication works. Traditionally, when we produce a text, image or sound we use a traditional alphabetic, iconic or musical code. A second type of codification emerged during industrialization: with the typewriter, we could press a key with a finger to activate a mechanism that pressed a band impregnated with ink on paper. However, the computer age required a third code: the digital system processor (computer, game console, mobile, etc.) translates our keyed or tactile message into a programming language that is subsequently decoded into text, images or sounds. Thus, we use a keyboard or the screen to control the movements of characters in a video game: machine and programs are integrated in a single support. Since these numerical encryption and decryption processes are unperceivable, errors take us by surprise: we confuse the tool (the electronic apparatus) with the transmission of language (the programming code) and mistakenly think that we are the authors of the entire process3. Hence the fascination with computing and, consequently, its commercial success4.  The gamer is part of the “miracle”, until now only imagined, using a simple manual or tactile gesture to intervene in the adventures where until now he was merely a spectator.

* * *

However, we must not forget our main focus: the myth.

The Conference adopts, as a working hypothesis, the following definition of myth:

Explanatory, symbolic and dynamic account of one or various personal and extraordinary events with transcendent referent, that lacks in principle of historical testimony; is made up of a series of invariant elements reducible to themes submitted to crisis; that presents a conflictive, emotive and functional character, and always refers to a cosmogony or to an absolute, particular or universal eschatology5.

This definition will be matched with other less canonical definitions that result from the mythification of characters, places and historical events.

At the I International Conference on Mythcriticism (“Myth and Subversion in the Contemporary Novel”, UCM, 09-11/03/11) we established that “myths accuse [the] earthquake [of] the degeneration of classical epistemology”6. At the II Conference (“Myth and Interdisciplinarity”, UCM, 29-30/10/12), we saw that “myths relate well to interdisciplinary dynamism”7. At the III Conference (“Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth”, 21-24/10/14), we found that “the conditions of adapting” myths can lead to their distortion, subversion, transmutation or elimination8. At the IV Conference (“Myth and Emotions”, UCM, 24-28/10/16), we focused on how myths affect us, their recipients. At this V Conference, we turn our attention once again to the study of the transformations of myth in our time; more specifically, we want to determine how the digital revolution ― in particular, film, television series and video games9― affects mythical stories10.





[1] From a literary perspective, the image as evocation provoked by unforeseen (and, in certain cases, hallucinatory) associations ended with the nineteenth-century symbolist revolution and its twentieth-century avant-garde counterpoint; see Gabriel Germain, La Poésie, corps et âme, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1973, p. 217 et sq.

[2] See Alejandro Pardo, “Cómo la digitalización está transformando la industria cinematográfica (1)”, http://cine-hollywood-europa.blogspot.com.es/2014/06/como-la-digitalizacion-esta.html (10/06/2014).

[3] See Diego Levis, “Videojuegos y alfabetización digital”, Aula de Innovación Educativa (Barcelona), 147, Dec. 2005; http://aula.grao.com/revistas/aula/147-ensenar-lengua-oral-hoy/videojuegos-y-alfabetizacion-digital  (24/07/2017).

[4] Video games are the largest industry in audiovisual entertainment: $54 billion (2011), $75 billion (2016), $90 billion (estimates by Statista for 2020, https://www.statista.com (24/07/2017). 

[5] J.M. Losada, Mitos de hoy, Berlin, Logos Verlag, 2016.

[6] Myth and Subversion in the Contemporary Novel, J.M. Losada & A. Lipscomb (eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012, p. 21.

[7] “Interdisciplinary Dynamism”, in Mito e interdisciplinariedad. Los mitos antiguos, medievales y modernos en la literatura y las artes contemporáneas, José Manuel Losada and Antonella Lipscomb eds., Bari (Italia), Levante Editori, 2013, p. 12. On the myth and transference between traditional literary genres (painting, sculpture, visual arts in general), see “Transferencia de géneros artísticos y función de la imagen mítica”, 1er Certamen Asteria de Creación Artística-Fundación Pons, Pedro Terrón and Elena Blanch (eds.), Madrid, CERSA, 2014, p. 4-9, and El mito y las artes: una exposición mítica”, II Certamen Asteria 2016. Certamen Internacional de Creación Plástica y Mitología, Pedro Terrón y Elena Blanch (eds.), Madrid, Asteria. International Association of Mythcriticism, 2016, p. 13-40, both published by Asteria, International Association of Mythcriticism (http://asteriamyth.com/).

[8] Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth, J.M. Losada & A. Lipscomb (eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, p. 60.

[9] Of course, audiovisual creation also affects both traditional (theater, opera, ballet, etc.) and contemporary arts (installations, happenings, performances, etc.), which can also be subject to analysis in communications and Conference discussions.

[10] Of particular interest in the relationship between digitization and myth is issue 15.1 of Icono14 magazine, titled “Technopoïesis: Transmedia Mythologisation and the Unity of Knowledge”. The thorough and erudite introduction by Asunción López-Varela Azcárate and Henry Sussman (p. 1-34; DOI: ri14.v15i1.1056”, provides an overview of how “the development of mass media communication, and particularly the digital turn (the transformation of analogue into digital processes) has dramatically impacted the topographical and temporal aspects of representation at the individual and socio-cultural level”. http://www.icono14.net/ojs/index.php/icono14/issue/view/15-1-17 (01/08/17).