The Value of an Experience


I love movies; I love watching them, I love reading about them, I love discussing them with my movie-loving friends. The only thing I really don’t like about movies is how much you’re expected to pay to see them. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that if a lot of money, time, and effort is being put into making these stories come to life in creative ways so that we can be entertained for a few hours on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, the least I can do is fork over $13 (+ $5 for the giant pack of Twizzlers I’ll probably regret eating). But recognizing this doesn’t mean I’m going to act on it. Living in NYC on a student budget is far from being ideal and there are certainly more important things I can be spending that $13 on, like the new pair of underwear I’ll probably have to buy after I inevitably put off doing my laundry for the 4th week straight. Toss in the fact that you can find almost any movie online shortly after its release and, all morals aside, you have to wonder where the incentive is.

For me, it ends up being in the experience. Just a few gloomy Sunday afternoons ago, some friends and I went to see Werner Herzog’s new doc, Lo and Behold, which, appropriately enough, is all about the internet. It was screening at Syndicated in Bushwick, a trendy cinema/bar/restaurant hybrid in the hip-kid hideaway that is the few blocks surrounding Morgan Avenue. Like Nighthawk in Williamsburg, Syndicated allows its patrons to do “dinner and a movie” in one convenient sitting, with theater staff taking food and drink orders before the start of the film, discretely serving meals throughout, and closing out tabs before its over. While the surprisingly good food and cocktails with clever film-inspired names can be a bit pricey, the actual movie ticket only sets you back $5 (you’ll pay twice that at Nitehawk). What they probably hope you’ll do/what you’ll probably end up doing is use the money you saved on the ticket to indulge in more concessions, which I wholeheartedly endorse. It might seem strange to consider the addition of intricate foods or alcoholic beverages into the moviegoing experience as anything but a distraction from the content being projected on screen, but I believe it creates a kind of casualness that can enable one to be more receptive to the interactions and reactions of one’s fellow audience members, which may ultimately influence the way one interprets and understands the media at hand.

In Teresa Brennan’s book The Transmission of Affect, she describes the process as being “social in origin, but biological and physical in effect,” saying that “the origin of transmitted affects is social in that these affects do not only arise within a particular person, but come from without. They come via an interaction with other people and an environment, and have a physiological impact” (3). The transmission of affect can be used in part to understand why it is we feed of of each others energies in a crowded setting, such as a movie theater. When you walk into an empty theater, the atmosphere has a palpable vibe, different than the one you would get were there to have been a couple already sitting there. The more people arrive, the more matter there is to interact with and be influenced by on both a conscious and subconscious level. Similarly, if you were to walk into a film that had already been playing for 45 minutes, you may get a sense of what’s already happened just by tuning into the energies that encapsulate the room – if someone just gave birth on screen, the room may appear to feel lighter. Conversely, if someone in the film died, the atmosphere may feel a lot heavier. Either way, you’ll probably end up using these clues to direct your perspective on the events that you’ll soon witness.

Most of that analysis is me trying to understand affect theory through a relatable, real-world example. I don’t necessarily believe that my line of thought is wrong, but as Brennan states, while there have been studies done on the transmission of affect between crowds, gatherings, and relationships, the “theory is not rich” (3). But she does go on to say that the key to why people in groups can be thought of as being “of one mind” is in the idea that on the level of physical and biological exchange, “the energetic affects of others enter the person, and the person’s affects, in turn, are transmitted to the environment,” which displays an artificiality in the separation between the individual and his or her surroundings (8). In this way, the transmission of affect uncovers a constant and fluid reciprocity between the self and the living and non-living things that make up ones environment.

While this exchange is inherently present, according to Brennan, as westerners, we’ve become more concerned with setting up personal boundaries to shield ourselves against the “unsolicited emotional intrusion of others” (15). This is why I enjoy the idea of food and drink as a distraction in a movie theater setting – because we’re focused on the immediate satisfaction that comes from eating, we’re likely less hostile towards the disturbances that would otherwise be interrupting our interaction with the film (people checking their phones, opening candy wrappers, etc.), creating a more relaxed environment, one that encourages this unrestricted flow of affect and emotion.


A group viewing also enables us to separate ourselves from the media at hand. Unless we’re watching a documentary, what we’re seeing when we watch a movie is a fictional account of an event that can sometimes trigger certain emotions within us based on our own experiences. I don’t know how much affect theory influences how we interpret the fantasy surrounding the films that we watch (fantasy in that the filmmakers have constructed a world that is probably more idealistic and romanticized than our own realities), especially with the physical separation of the screen, but films certainly have the power to spark emotions inside of us that we may otherwise try to keep hidden. As an example, if I’m watching a film on my laptop alone in my room, I feel more immersed in the media than I would if I were watching with others. I don’t react well to awkward situations, whether I’m the one in it or I’m just witnessing one pan out. If I can sense a character is going to be embarrassed, rejected, or have an uncomfortable encounter, I become so overwhelmed that I have to pause the film to collect myself before I can move on. If I were watching such a scene with a group, the intensity I feel would probably manifest itself in laughter, as it probably would with most of the audience, because the interaction has become less intimate.

What helps me in trying to explain the way I react to the awkward situations in films, as some might similarly react to romantic or violent scenes, is Brennan’s idea of the foundational fantasy which, among other things, accounts for how we are willing to “project certain affects on the other” and “see the other as the origin of negative affects which we would rather disown in ourselves” (14). Perhaps then, the reason I react so strongly to this type of scene is because the emotions that are supposed to accompany a similar situation in real life are ones that I don’t want to deal with or acknowledge that I have dealt with, so I project the affects outward which in turn tricks me into thinking that the action on screen is more impacted by my reaction than it actually, and obviously, is.

If you’re still with me, I want to briefly talk about the idea of “thing-power” in relation to the subject matter of Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter and Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold, which I mentioned so long ago that you probably forgot. I won’t get too far into the doc because I really do think that if you should see it if you have any interest in the internet beyond your personal use, but Herzog manages to shed light on a variety of thought provoking topics, ranging from the creation of the internet, cybersecurity, internet addiction, and the future of the technology. One of the most interesting and unsettling conversations was regarding whether or not the internet dreams of itself at night and if its possible that, in the future, it can become a sentient being, eliminating the need for human interaction. If this was to happen, it certainly highlight’s Bennett’s idea of the vitality of nonhuman things – “their capacity to impede or block the will and designs of humans, but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own” (viii). Bennet also discusses that we have to possess a non-narcissistic approach to things; we must realize that we don’t hold all of the power and agency when it comes to the interactions that take place inside of the world’s ecologies, so that we can eventually to create new things in a thoughtful and sustainable manner. In other words, if we recognize the potential of the internet and respect its power, we can probably prevent our world from becoming a real-life sequel to The Terminator, at least for a while longer. That’s one movie I’d pay $13 not to experience.

Kristen Cordero

~ by knc238 on September 20, 2016.

8 Responses to “The Value of an Experience”

  1. In my opinion, this fits my bill of a comment that is “best-in-style”.

    The reason why is simple, citations aside, I never felt like this blog post read like a school assignment. Kristen was able to connect her personal experience together with the information she learned, and after reading this post, I felt like I learned more about how Kristen was as a person. It also helps that I have a very soft spot for Werner Herzog, and anybody else that references Herzog always gets a few brownie points from me.

    But rest assured, I still think that this post is “best-in-style”.


  2. “Best in learning” — I think that you did a really good job of communicating the idea of affect. I had a hard time grasping the term but I think the way you used the movie-going experience to explain the transmission of affect was effective. I also found the paragraph where you wrote about Brennan’s idea of the foundational fantasy very interesting. After reading it, it allowed me to think more about my own movie-viewing experiences and how my reactions differ based on different viewing settings. — Jenny Sze

  3. And the best-style award goes to you! In my opinion, this post was an excellent mix of keeping the reader engaged and informed.

    I was really captivated by your explanation of affect by using the example of a movie theatre- particularly the role played by the audience’s reactions to a film’s plot in “affecting” the room’s vibe. Great job!

  4. This is def the best in learning…

    the content is very packed and neat. When I first browsed the post I thought it was too long, but after reading it I didn’t feel heavy on reading it at all! I like you the way that you start with your love for watching movies, and the talk about your personal experience, and then talk about the reading, and then relate the reading back to the movie industry.

  5. I love the way your voice mixes with the voice of theory in the way you weave through personal experience and academic texts. It was a great way to engage the audience of readers and I felt like you were still able to personally narrate your own experiences without being blanche or superficial. — Seth Loftis

  6. Best in learning: The piece is certainly well written, and was quite engaging, yet I did find myself getting bogged down in the explanations of terms. You articulated the ideas of the pieces incorporated well, and helped me to understand the concepts in Brennan’s piece better. Certainly not a difficult or disjointed piece to read, although it could have been smoother toward the middle and end.

  7. Best in learning: your post is basically a very throughout, experience-based, sophisticated interpretation of the theory of Affect, which really takes us through your thinking journey based on the movie-viewing agency. – Abby

  8. I think your post is the “best in learning”. You combined writers’ ideas perfectly with the cinema experience example. And you give deep thought about the thing power and what it will affect humans positively and negatively. Good job.

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