Media @ McGill

Li Cornfield | Products in Production at International CES

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The Media@McGill Graduate Research Fellowship will support my study of International CES, historically known as the Consumer Electronics Show. As one of the world’s most elaborate showcases of new media and technology, CES attracts over a hundred and fifty thousand visitors to Las Vegas every January. A nexus of the consumer technology industry, venture capitalism, and global press, CES last year served as a launching pad for more than 20,000 newly developed products, and received coverage in 18,000 articles in major news outlets. Historically, the VCR, the camcorder, and the CD player all debuted at CES; in more recent years, CES unveiled notebook computers, plasma TV, and numerous smart appliances. Competing for industry attention, technology companies stage their CES exhibitions in accordance with Vegas’s modes of engagement: their displays attract visitors with promotional models dressed in erotic costumes. 

This research project, the second chapter of my dissertation, examines how the consumer technology industry articulates technological developments through the theatrical grammar of Las Vegas show business. Following research that I have recently conducted at CES Unveiled: New York, a fall preview of the Vegas main event, and research at International CES that I plan to conduct in Las Vegas this January, I will analyze how the theatrical spectacles of the trade show influence new media sensibilities that take shape both within industrial discourse and in the public imagination. With particular attention to performances of gender and sexuality, this study will address how spectacle informs the cultural meaning of new media technologies.

The entanglement of technology and spectacle at CES constitutes a key component of my dissertation, which examines the live presentation of media technologies. Investigating media as a rich interplay between material technology and ephemeral industrial practice, my working thesis argues that by introducing new products through live, theatrical events, technology industries produce cultural meanings of emerging media. The first chapter of this work, for example, will address Apple product launches, major media events that place products and designers on theatrically lit stages in front of a live audience. Where that chapter analyzes CEO star power, research enabled by the Media@McGill Graduate Research Fellowship will address what we might call ‘starlet power,’ that is, the use of promotional models at trade shows to attract industry attention to new products. Analyzing popular and professional media narratives as informed by a diverse convergence of actors, this research documents how new media technologies circulate through a contested complex of meaning-making as part of the process of their production.