Lens Flare vs. Film Scratches

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So Eric Meyer posted an interesting response to my Instagram rant the other day:

I have a theory that the popularity of their faux-aging filtration is that it triggers our often unconscious assumption that age increases worth. It makes that picture of you and your bros doing beer shots at the bar seem more important and special because only the best, most special pictures are kept long enough to age. You must’ve been one special crew, to have that picture still around and looking like that.
And when you combine that with the arty framing and subject matter of half of Instagram, where you have a tilted washed-out sepia shot of a beer glass on a table in a garden, man, it’s like you just produced one of the lost works of Ansel Adams.
This is why I’m not so sure that people will look back and laugh the way we do at, say, synthdrums or autotuning. Those were brand-new things that captured our shiny receptors for a while, then wore them out with overuse. The veneration of aged artifacts runs a lot wider and deeper.

The thing is, I’m not sure this will turn out to be true.  The reason the Polaroid look is so popular now is because this generation associates it with faded Polaroids, which is what signified “old” when they were children.  But the upcoming generation of five- and six-year-olds will not see Polaroids a lot – we’ve shifted into the era of disposable camera photos, which don’t look all that different.  To them, this Polaroid look will most likely be interpreted as “Why did everyone in the 2010s bleach their photos out of color?”, in much the same way that we look at the 1960s as a riot of clashing colors (ignoring the African roots) and the 1970s as a bunch of horrible disco suits.
But it could also be that this technical limitation becomes the shorthand notation for “age,” and they absorb that into their psyche.  I mean, lens flare was basically defeated in the 1970s, but it had been ingrained in people’s consciousnesses so much that movies started putting it in because “lens flare” signified “hot, unbearable sun.”  It’s gotten to the point where they artificially insert this effect, at more cost than it would take to leave it out, into videogames.
You see these sorts of technical glitches making their way into the modern consciousness.  I was watching a Disney trailer where everything came to a sudden halt, and they used the “needle scratching across the record” noise to indicate that the music had shut down.  But this was a movie for eleven-year-olds.  They barely know what a CD is, let alone an album.  Yet that noise will outlive the technology, having become a shorthand to a generation that won’t even know what it was originally for.
Whereas other glitches don’t make it.  Oh, you’ll see the “scratchy film” look occasionally in videogames to indicate old film, but you’ll also see stuttering DVDs and hand-held cameras to use that.  I doubt the scratchy look will become a universal.
So there are two paths for the Instagram look: it becomes a cliche, and thus laughable, or it becomes shorthand for “aged” and retains its veneration.  And I’m not sure which path it will go.  The future still holds many fascinating mysteries, and that’s why I’d like to be alive to see it.

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