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What does understanding television mean?

      We are taught that communication, civil discourse in its common sense, is the two-way process of conveying meaning.  Communication comprises intention, composition, coding, transmission, reception and interpretation; but of course, these processes only scratch the surface.  Today, unlike any other time in history, the very essence of human communication has been turned on its head.  Moreover, it is being mechanized, politicized and weaponized beyond recourse.  Most of this change has happened in only the last few years, and in plain sight. 

      To aid my own understanding, over the last 14 years I have accumulated and contrasted much of this historical televisual change.  My aggregations trace the primary premise of contemporary media making: to perfectly hypnotize ourselves and others, like frogs floating in pots of slow-boiling water, until we are perfectly cooked.  And then in return, agreeably under its influence, we perfectly respond by demanding even more heat.  This hegemonic perversity should not be an overriding premise of any communicational medium.  But it is. 

      Indeed, my projects suggest that much of televisual communication today, particularly throughout journalism, must be theorized as an exhilarating rush for power, pleasure and death. 

  “We believe we understand media and media making, but we are ill-trained ... amateurs, professionals and academicians alike.

Indeed, I have posited over the last two decades that our cameras, along with other similar ubiquitous technologies, become weapons as easily as tools of communication.  This claim is not bombast.

    We believe we understand media and media making, but we are ill-trained -- amateurs, professionals and academicians alike.  We now find little reason to think about communication before we act.  Because of this we have rapidly transitioned, in just one human generation, from passive mass-spectating to complete and voluntary individualized media immersion.  This comes with great risk to both the idea and practice of historical human communication. 

      I have, over the course of this project, critiqued thorny Tower of Babel  talk like “We are the media!” (Even in its newest rendition: Je suis Charlie.)  I would counter expressions like these with my own, “We are not media, rather we are humans on Earth who communicate badly with many forms of media machines.”  But today, I am not so sure.  Maybe we are becoming our media.  At the very least, we eagerly encourage media-makers to make us into their media images.  And this mechanical mystification is where most of my Cultural Farming projects come into surreal focus.

     Best-practice farmers understand that growing good soil comes well before growing good plants.  And this is the challenge of Cultural Farming: to longitudinally compare, recontextualize, diversify, cultivate and harvest healthier media, which naturally requires heavy-lifting, tilling, planting, mulching, weeding, pruning, fertilizing.  Like any farmland, we need to work our mediascapes toward simpler and healthier production, and further away from genetic (technological) modification.  Why do this?  Because Form reforms Function exactly as Accuracy reforms Truth.  This, intellectually, is a much different premise than re-mix parody, or snapping smart-phone-selfies, or dumping video into YouTube, or grunting for celebrity in 140 characters, or even gaming the craft of Journalism for profit -- and it is radically different from much of so-called ‘documentary’.  For these mostly unreflexive methods foster little more than toxic vast wastelands.

      This experimental visual monograph may look odd to you at first, after all, we all feel like TV experts.  And since most everyone in North America has spent countless hours watching screen media, you may actually know more of it than I do.  But then, knowing is not understanding.   For, increasingly, it isn’t enough to simply claim understanding by saying “I watch TV” or “I worked in TV” or “I have studied TV for 30 years”. 

  “When artifice becomes natural no amount of description adds up to depiction.

Paradoxically, experiences like these do not get us much closer to TV understanding.  How can that be?  My 14 year experiment (Cultural Farming) attempts to sharpen this media question to a much finer point. 

      I do so by refracting historical televisual practices through the colored lenses of Critical Theory using ethnographically surreal methodologies.  My purpose here is to edit against the grain of too-familiar TV practice, and towards a higher form of media memory, understanding and response: reciprocal verisimilitude.  This is the true “work of art” in the age of its mechanical reproducibility: to identify and recover sacred boundaries.  For when artifice becomes Nature, no amount of description adds up to depiction.

      Thinking is not a performing art...it is why we need an Art for Thinking.

      Cultural Farming is wholly designed for personal intellectual profit.  And I do it all without ever touching a camera; in part because one of the very first lessons gleaned from applying Cultural Farming to media understanding is that pushing-a-button today is too often the same as pulling-a-trigger.  I mean this literally, not as metaphor.  Hence, in reply, I employ TV against itself through forms of symbolic exchange by critically collecting, reciting and contrasting the languages and techniques of contemporary communication in order to return its gifts.  This reciprocation is a necessary, sacred and liberating form of media potlatch. 

       We assume technology will solve every conceivable human want, and beyond.  But today’s technological weaponization of communication holds dire consequences for every living thing on our planet.  This new pornography, which can be likened to a righteous mechanical form of theocratic dominionism, is the false promise of a poisonous new fidelity mutually designed by the lords and vassals of these new communicating machines (read: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Amazon, Netflix, et al).  It heralds a violent informational Dark Age of more dead metaphors, false equivalency, flaccid journalism and mechanical sadism across the so-called Seven Mountains of Culture: media, government, religion, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment.  Beating plowshares into swords, however, must be rebuked with equal force.  Cultural Farming can help to repay.

      In order to redeem media understanding and help recover this communicational

  “Beating plowshares into swords, however, must be rebuked with equal force.

slippage from historical realms of ‘humanness’, my work posits that we are obliged to intervene and re-employ technological communication like television.  We must re-take it, re-make it, re-function it, and then re-play our findings back to their makers.  It intends to  re-fuse & re-gift (Mauss).  This kind of response attempts to complete the exchange of two-way meaning making.  For the way we are currently making “THE-media” is more than dangerous...it is lethal.  The obvious fakery we now so readily produce, may indeed be well-intentioned, but our responses to these lies are impotent.

      Technological lethality pervades two ways.  First, by converting any subject into object.  Second, through its binary alienation -- self/other, near/far, local/foreign.  Both help stoke growing tribal outrage over social beliefs.  Hence, humans living in a mediated world need critical methods for fulsome response.  Citizens need sharper methods for replying to today’s growing one-way interpellations.  We must craft these replies clearly and immediately, even when critical comparison demands an equal shaming usage of the very same  ‘doublespeak’ grammars (Orwellian Newspeak) mediamongers so perversely master


Preface Intro

What is going on here?

How should viewers watch these video essays?

Introduction to the research.

What does understanding television mean?

How do I understand television?

What does using theory mean?

Can you discuss one of your videos?

What was discovered in this research?

What if viewers still don’t ‘understand’ television?


An American

resident of Canada, experimenting with new forms of critical media ethnography in Cultural Farming

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