What popularity of the BP live feed 'spillcam' says about us
The BP live feed of the Gulf oil spill is proving to be mesmerizing to millions of Web viewers.
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Mr. Thompson says the popularity of the BP live feed points to a new kind of cultural transfixion on reality, which can, in a case like this, be more bizarre and mesmerizing than anything Hollywood can invent.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, Huffington Post's David Kronke reviewed the BP live feed as though it were an endless movie: "BP's Oil Spill Live Feed offers something unprecedented in the history of cinema …," he writes. "It audaciously challenges audiences by offering none of the draws big-budget disaster movies generally employ to lure viewers – no A-list movie stars, no eye-popping special effects … no pithy (or even wooden) dialogue, no comforting resolutions."
The action changed Thursday when, at the behest of Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts, BP put all of its 12 video feeds up simultaneously. Now viewers can watch the plume, dispersant operations, and even ROVs with names like "Neptune Skandi ROV 2" and "Enterprise ROV 1" eye each other as their faraway operators attempt to fit a "top cap" on the well to siphon off, it is hoped, up to 90 percent of the geyser.
Before the spill cam, of course, there was the panda cam at Washington's National Zoo and a number of other live feed sensations on the Internet. An early example of public fascination with instant images from a disaster zone was the coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, where TV news shows like CNN turned into "war channels," says Thompson.
"What's so fascinating about the oil spillcam is that you see it in an unmediated way. It's not being narrated. It's not being cut to somebody's comment," he says. "You're just simply watching America bleed."
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IN PICTURES: Sticky mess: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature