No One Sees the Barn

In my post the other day I mentioned the term white noise without really giving any explanation to it’s origin or meaning. The term white noise means a mixture of sound waves, constant noise, or meaningless commotion. When I think of the term I think of the novel of the White Noise by Don DeLillo. The novel itself touches on several themes found in postmodern literature such as consumerism, fear of death, the disconnect and decay of family, and media saturated culture. Consumerism and media saturation are important factors when it comes to the idea of white noise because they are largely the source of it all. In the fast-paced, consumer obsessed, and media driven society we live in today it makes it difficult to distinguish the true reality from the simulated representations, or the simulacra. Don DeLillo depicts a frightening example of this in his novel:

We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”

Another silence ensued.

“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.

He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.

“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here. We’re now.”

When I first read this passage several years ago it made me think of all the trips I took and shows I attended where I was more focused on taking pictures or videos of the events or places then actually being present and taking part in them. After reading the book, I have become overly aware of this and of people doing this that it has changed my experiences. I rarely take pictures or videos at shows anymore but then I instead find myself watching other people watching performances through the screen of their cameras. I guess it goes along with the idea of people today living their lives through their social networking sites and electronics and whatnot. Either way, I have become completely fascinated by the idea of white noise and simulacra, to say the least, and think it is definitely something to think about especially in today’s world.

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