Inspired by her difficulty selecting a film as the subject for her column, Film Quarterly regular Caetlin Benson-Allott explores the concept of the “paradox of choice” in relation to contemporary film culture. A common feature of late-stage capitalism with its characteristic consumer abundance, the paradox of choice afflicts people with too many options, decreasing their happiness and increasing anxiety. In her column, Benson-Allott explores the paradox of choice as a condition of the current streaming era, while also historicizing television culture’s ideology of plenty. She traces this notion of superabundance, which undergirds digital cable and streaming culture today, back to the 1950s when print media such as TV Guide pioneered a print-heavy layout that stupefied the eye into an impression of excess. Arguing that browsing print program guides and its more recent corollary, channel surfing, are numbing experiences that discourage risk-taking, Benson-Allott ultimately finds relief from the ennui of the scroll in the pleasures—both expected and unexpected—of the genre film.
The Ennui of the Scroll
Caetlin Benson-Allott is Professor of English and Film & Media Studies at Georgetown University and editor of JCMS. She is also the author of The Stuff of Spectatorship: Material Cultures of Film and Television (University of California Press, 2021), Remote Control (Bloomsbury, 2015), and Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing (University of California Press, 2013).
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Caetlin Benson-Allott; The Ennui of the Scroll. Film Quarterly 1 December 2021; 75 (2): 84–88. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2021.75.2.84
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