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May 12, 2012

Racine’s Phaedra must die not because the flame of her incestuous love for her stepson burns so black, as she complains, but rather because after two hours the smoky candles in the Paris theaters had burned out.

In Optical Media, Kittler notes how the unavailability of durable light sources effected literary compositions, and as such dramas by Corneille or Racine, for instance, never exceeded 3,000 alexandrines. The lack of stage lighting technologies caused the early death of characters or their expedited their fall from grace. He also mentions how technologies similar to those used in theater were also used to summon apparitions and the eventual suicide of tricksters after their tricks were exposed. The ghosts and the protagonists’ lifespan was tied to the available technologies of perception. A similar imposed technological restraint is the ten minute maximum video time on youtube, due to bandwith limits.

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While these restrictions are now for the most part uplifted (the limit was raised to fifteen and now to unlimited for privileged users, the new fifteen minute restriction is more due to copyright rules), but the limits shaped the world of online video and set a standard that most outlets have taken, even though that technically they  no longer face those limitations. Thus, the Annoying Orange for instance, will seldom exceed even five minutes, and neither do most other web series. The ten minute limit set the tone for the duration of video files on youtube, just like the wax candles in the theaters set the limits of dramas.

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