Devices of Loneliness: Dysfunctional Communities in the Smartphone Drama Film Genre

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Denis NEWIAK, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, Germany
Since the beginning of the 21st century, new mass media systems and technologies like ‘social networks’, serial videos on demand, and intelligent virtual assistants provide increasing communicative possibilities, making our world a ‘global village’ of growing virtual communities, producing new concepts of complex collectivities. But at the same time, those connecting screens, phones, and speakers generate a sense of being abandoned in front of the medial surfaces, the feeling of a ‘nihilistic solitude’ which Nietzsche predicted for our postmodern ‘demoralized’ era when he declared “God’s Death” 130 years ago.

It is not surprising that lonely characters and their individual strategies of forming meaningful communities are ‘standard repertoire’ of almost every successful filmic dramaturgy: Movies as collaborative art works always refer to societal developments of their surroundings—and at the same time, they are actively involved in changing the way we live together, providing compensational communities in an era of increasing segregation. Whole film history can be read as a history of mediations between torturous solitudes and positively connoted (pair and group) communities.

With this in mind, film genres appear to be separable groups of films with similar approaches to procedures of communitization through their narratives and enactments: While Western and Super-hero movies create images of solitude as ‘necessary tribute’ to the ‘just cause’, Comedies live on their characters’ inadequate methods to form romantic communities. In contrast, the contemporary genre of Smartphone Drama screens the loss of such communities in a highly individualized and urbanized world, focusing on omnipresent technologies and devices as acting protagonists. On the basis of latest film theory and selected film excerpts from Disconnected (2012), Men, Women & Children (2014), and Nerve (2016), I want to demonstrate the similarities of such genre movies regarding their approaches to questions of loneliness and investigate their comments on current societal trends.