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The 'Aeroplane Gaze': looking up in 1909

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In 1909, aeroplanes first began to be seen with some frequency above cities. Citizens correspondingly looked heavenward, tracking this novel technology with a special fanaticism: an unblinking stare, which, so the press claimed, produced chaos on the ground. This was the ‘Aeroplane Gaze’. Often framed within the language of pathology (file next to the ‘Balloonatic’) the Aeroplane Gaze was an obsessed, distracted, and impromptu form of distributed spectatorship. In the long history of heavenly spectacles ā€“ from meteorological events to fireworks ā€“ the Aeroplane Gaze was relatively short lived. My talk zooms in on the moment during which this mode of looking was identified in the broader culture. Working from several collections of aeronautica, as well as newspaper accounts, I pay particular attention to the representation of the Aeroplane Gaze as it was figured in early film and animation. These still-new media were perhaps uniquely capable of simulating this outlook, of rendering the strange physics of aviation, and of envisaging crowded skyways of the future.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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