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Occasionally Asked Questions



1.  Why is there nothing about farming in this website?

       Oh but there is, and you can find it in every video.  My metaphor of farming our culture refers to the urgent need for critical responses (mediaturgy) to reckless public forms of TV/media production.  In short, now that we have acquired free and simple tools to grow, build and cultivate media varietals, it is no longer logical to sponsor exploit-and-move-on communication.  We must closely watch and challenge those who produce (and teach) TV/media... and the first step is through learning to respond differently.  After seventy years of “one-way-street” non-reciprocal TV, you might think we could see through obfuscating forms of exploitive mediamongering.  But we haven’t yet.  It is why we see such utter despoiling of public TV/media environments.  No true ‘public’ can effectively subsist through corporate ‘hunting-media’ practices alone.  The time for critical farming is long over due.  After all, techniques of media production are expressions of (political) power by other means, right? 



2.  Who works at Cultural Farming, and who is your target audience?

       Me.  You.



3. What do you want viewers to take away from Cultural Farming?

      “Take away” is an odd choice of words since this entire project is about re-gifting (Mauss) rather than taking.  Cultural Faming completes itself when viewers recognize that all media production, including their own, must help to bridge many problematic voids growing between media consumer, media intellectual, media critic, and media maker.  Mediaturgy’s promise depends upon new, collective, historical, experimental approaches to critical investigation and response that propagate ethical, balanced mixtures of these traditionally separated “specialized” domains.  These new approaches can be grown by almost anyone with persistence, courage and curiosity, right in the comfort of their own home.



4.  What kind of equipment do you use to make your videos?

       An old Macintosh with several huge external hard drives, an even older 9” Sony TV, a beat-up digital video recorder, a free ten year old version of iMovie editing software (HD 6.0.3), and very little else.  Why?...because it is enough.  For over two decades now, we have witnessed most all digital media (regardless of size, medium or device) evolving into a kind of TV.  So I practice Cultural Farming here at the easiest entry point possible where anyone can join in, even with the simplest tools available.  That said, I do sense an end-point to my projects coming soon.  The tools I use are essentially obsolete now considering the historic realities of recent news and information production.  My tools are increasingly incompatible with these newer means of communication technology, continually being introduced, which have monumentally altered every historic notion of being “informed”.



5.  How long does it take you to collect all these clips?

       It’s hard to answer that.  I am never not working.  I’m continuously and simultaneously surfing, watching, ripping, reading, writing, editing, building.  It’s just how I spend my days... and my nights.  I’ve been doing it since 2003.  I’m doing it now even as I answer this.



6.  Can I follow you with RSS, or on Facebook or Twitter?

       You cannot.  The idea of compulsory huckstering for “subscribers”, “friends” or “followers” with just a click of a button is anathema to my modus operandi.  You can, however, click “comment” buttons throughout to contact me at any time... I’ll reply... even though email is now also practically obsolete in a world where “presence” demands an “always on” virtual omnipresence.  Hell, I haven’t even owned a cell phone since 2009... it’s just another surveillance device.



7.  How do you make money with Cultural Farming?

       I don’t, nor have I ever.  I accept no subsidization.  This non-commodity approach to content creation and dissemination affords very real (ethical) freedoms unavailable to most other forms of monied scholarship.  I sleep very well at night knowing every project under my umbrella-term Cultural Farming was made by me alone, with my hands, on my nickel, exactly as I see fit, and then given away freely to anyone interested.  It is my gift to television, offered in the respectful form of potlatch, which is very hard to repay via one-upmanship. 



8.  How much does it cost to make and maintain this website?

       Very little.  Only a few hundred dollars to start up, and less to sustain it.  The real cost is in time.  But, time is an essential expenditure for any longitudinal, ethnographic project.  And I have all the time in the world to spend.  How else could one person archive almost 25 terabytes of broadcast content?  I do it one crappy TV program at a time.



9.  How does Cultural Farming differ from typical media literacy projects?

       Well, media literacy is a complex wide-ranging and oft-debated term, but broadly conceived ML concerns itself with notions of deeper viewing and content analysis.  Cultural Farming, however, concerns itself with Critical Theory.   Critical literacy is but the tip of a very big media-iceberg that demands ‘below the surface’ examination.  Employing theory, for Cultural Farming, involves not just close reading, but also writing, reflexivity and craftsmanship shone through various test-lenses.  In most all literature regarding media analysis, you will quickly discover a dearth of investigation into how one produces critical-ethical media content.  Until media literacy embodies a full-monty approach, media educational efforts fall dangerously short.  One simply cannot gain “literacy” without fulsome longitudinal competencies.

   


10.  What exactly do you mean by “production practices”?

       I am referring to how we intentionally make our media communicate, rather than simply interpreting what the content ‘says’, because the practice of ‘production creation’ is always the first step in meaning-making.  Put another way, consider Larry Lessig’s popular maxim: Code is Law.  Now extrude that notion to a logical conclusion:  Law is code.  Code is architecture.  Architecture is design.  Design is a kind of critical behavior.  Purposeful thought should always be behind how a hammer hits a nail, or which line is drawn in CAD, or why we choose between crossfade, dissolve, or collision.  In short, it matters how we build/code/present media.   Enacting our production techniques and having these techniques reciprocally enact our communication conditions what can be socially embodied, performed and received.  The mere act of examining these “usages and conditionings” allows vital insight into both communication and culture.


       Thought is to action as theory is to practice.  Thus, what I’m mostly concerned with today is the profound lack of reflexive, (C)ritical craftsmanship throughout professional and social media production, because whether we realize it or not, our production choices are expressions of power, and thus political.  Much of my work is an attempt to shock into awareness the notion of media tools and techniques as an originating “mouthpiece” of ethical media communication... and I attempt to spotlight this through surreal, comparative appropriation and remix.  Here, I’ll offer two quotes:

           

    “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us” (McLuhan, 1968)


    “The cameraman and the machine are now one...we hardly know what goes

            on between the hand and the metal” (Benjamin, 1936).


      Likewise I submit: We continue to neglect how “we become what we behold” -- through our media production practices.



11.  Why don’t you call your videos “documentaries”?

       While every project in Cultural Farming enacts a kind of (empirical) documentation, the term “documentary” is just a wee bit too precious today, don’t you think?  How about “video essays”... or, “modelbooks” (Brecht), or “percepts” (McLuhan), or better yet, how about James Joyce’s phrase “feelful thinkamalinks”?



12.  Why don’t you post your videos on YouTube?

       For starters, YouTube promotes “Broadcast Yourself”.  Cultural Farming is nothing about that.  But also, I don’t particularly like or trust Google.  Despite their corporate claim to “DO NO EVIL”, they remain a hugely influential filtering-machine that often practices ethically questionable policies.  Yes, I use Google to search the internet, but why give them my videos?  After all, they have the ability to take whatever they want from me anyway, right?  As for YouTube, their fine-print policies speak for themselves... not to mention that YouTube was launched by three guys from PayPal (‘nuf said).  At bottom, it is important both for intellectual diversification and for “quality control” to host all my content under the oasis of a private banner. 



13.  Are you located in Canada in order to skirt U.S. copyright restrictions?

       Heavens no.  I live in Canada because I choose to.  My wife and I love it here, although we both retain our U.S. citizenship.  Calgary certainly differs from Boston, where we lived for almost 25 years.  Regardless, go read copyright law.  Today’s law clearly allows Cultural Farming’s brand of fair-use appropriation and remix.



14.  If you were a professional visual designer, why do Cultural Farming’s projects appear so simple and in such low-resolution?

       Fuck you....wait, let’s start over.  Isn’t it better to ask: Why do most all video makers feel the need to proffer templates of ill-composed, phantasmagorical, riots of attention-deficit?  Or maybe ask this: Why does most every 120sec video have 60sec of self-serving titles and credits which also probably include dozens of digital effects?  And of course, ask this: Why is music usage (like all of NPR radio, for instance) always gratuitous and clumsy?  Design is the primary component in ALL sensible communication.  All my design choices throughout this website are measured and self-reflexive from start to finish.  So now, you tell me, what might Cultural Farming’s design sensibility be saying?


      As for Low-Resolution...read McLuhan.  TV is cool, baby...not hot.  The higher the resolution the more hyper-real, and the more we get lost inside the ob-scene close-up.  In lower resolution, however, the image is less immediate, less sacrilegious.  Low-Res adds critical distance (aura), allowing space for the viewers to fill in some blanks.  Plus, MUCH of the material herein was archived 10-12 years ago.  Back then, at the beginning of “vlogging”, the internet could not support video much over 320x240 pixel sizing.  Re-magnifying this material today creates quite low-resolution.



15.  How are we to tell which parts of your videos are “real” and which parts you have manipulated?

       This is a common question, and I answer it this way: Does it matter when each story rings true to television experience?  Would this scholarship somehow be less a mirror if it were entirely fact, or entirely fiction?  I hope each viewer DOES ask: What is gained or lost when Cultural Farming’s manipulations are “meaningfully different” than TV’s original transmission?  For the record, however, very little of the content I remix is altered.  Maybe 5%.  And I do this exactly to ensure an ‘ethnographic accuracy’ in the retelling.  Cultural Farming is less an exercise in quantitative collection than a qualitative expression of how TV’s grammars help produce ill meaning. 


       All empirical representation is interpreted differently by different people.  In my videos I retain the ability to occasionally shift certain audio, make certain clips aged or grainy, etc.  But upon close examination, it is readily apparent that, beyond ‘reordering’, the overwhelming ‘manipulations’ in Cultural Farming are merely cut-and-paste, fade in-out, and dissolve.  As ethnographic ‘tone poems’ constructed to capture the essences and styles of contemporary TV practice, I need do little more, since the original content is typically already manipulated well beyond the logics of rational discourse.  Bottom line: You should never always believe what you read.



16.  How well is Cultural Farming received in academia?

       Funny you should ask.  To my knowledge Cultural Farming has never been “received” at all.  To my knowledge, no one --NO ONE-- has ever “received” my work.  Over the past 13 years I have NOT had a single intellectual conversation about my work with anyone.  I have literally traveled around the world to offer Cultural Farming to hundreds of people: in person, in my classrooms, in lectures, at conferences, in papers, at screenings.  Essentially everywhere I go I have begged MANY for response -- from close friends to complete strangers.  But not one person, not even professors who were paid to academically supervise me and this work, has ever sat down with me to discuss any part of Cultural Farming at length.  How can this be?


       As I write this, I have shown 60 minutes of Cultural Farming videos twice weekly on local TV for over two years now...over 250 episodes...and I have yet to receive one viewer comment.  Even the TV station staff have never talked about my work with me.  I understand thinking can be difficult.  But maybe our world, where most any 30second kitten-video can garner millions of global views and comments overnight, has completely lost the ability, or the will, to understand media critically.  Academia, in my view, is no different.  After all this, you might conclude that maybe the problem is me; maybe my work just sucks?  Yes, I actually do feel this occasionally...but I do not THINK it to be true.



17.  Why doesn’t this work look like Ethnography?

       Critical (Media) Ethnography is a particular methodology for ‘writing culture’.  It is the application of critical theory in anthropological research, which places particular questions at the centre of ethnographic studies: power and inequality, the political economy of symbols and actions in contemporary culture, and the social and ethical relationships between the interpreter and the one interpreted.


       For me with Cultural Farming, I chose the U.S. television industry to be my exotic (primative?) tribe of study.  I intimately lived and worked inside this tribe for 20 years.  Then, I lived amongst a neighboring village of ethnographers for another 10 years.  As I moved upwards through their ranks, I gained the trust of both tribes, which granted unique first-hand observational perspectives into their practice, rituals and mythologies.  Returning home, I chose to write the material I collected using methods similar to the specific languages of these two tribes.  I am attempting to ethically report even minute cultural details using voices and techniques similar to their own artistic craft. 


      My longitudinal methods attempt to illuminate and re-leverage hegemonic consensus.  I would wager Malinowski, Boaz, Mead, Bateson, Levi-Strauss, Turner, Conquergood, Geertz, Marcus, Denzin, Madison, et al. would agree that this is a recipe for a good scientific cultural story.   Does that answer your question, or should I also insert a laugh-track?



18.  If you are not a professional, or an academic, and you don’t make documentaries, what are you?

       In academia, as in the medical profession, doctors are dotingly revered; whereas nurse practitioners, like me perhaps, are often dismissed as considerably less valuable.  I’m a citizen, a TV ex-professional who is now hell-bent on illuminating to other citizens how our common media production practices often condition social meaning-making.  Of course, over time I’ve anointed myself with a variety of funny monikers like “tyro ethnographer”, “public intellectual”, “misanthropic flaneur”, “critical culinaire” (as in Brecht’s notion of “culinary”).  My latest appellation is “mediaturg pamphleteer”.  I like this one a lot...I can always use some reason to chuckle.



19.  Why do you keep saying “cameras are guns”?  Wouldn’t you rather be shot by a camera?

       I wonder... and so should you.   When cameras became guns, the first casualties were objects that ‘happened’ before the cross-hairs.  Shortly thereafter, everything became fair game as visual-reality battle lines were redrawn between what was in front of and what was behind the lens.  This too lasted only a short while, as gun-against-gun equalized into camera-against-camera -- each easily concealable inside every pocket.  Oddly today we remain largely unaware to a world where most all media shoot like guns, and vice versa (caution: heavy thought). 


      Moreover, it’s not simply the endless unleashing of these new weapons into an unprepared world, it is also the increasing speed of their bullets.  For example, from our media to our military, from pharmaceuticals to equities trading, everything --EVERYTHING-- is happening at bullet speed, and only increasingly accelerated by technology advance.  Don’t get me wrong here, I am a strong proponent of innovative technology.  But until we insist that our new technologies launch with suitable governances (harnesses, steering wheels, rules of the road), along with their promises of benefit, we will continue to find ourselves ‘behind the eight-ball’. 


      Theory and critical proficiency must not always be a digital day late and a dollar short.  Hence one growing (deadly) problem we face today is the seemingly ungovernable speed of new technology.  Cultural Farming is but one mechanism for  s l o w i n g   d o w n  this reckless, seductive advance.



20.  How many “hits” does Cultural Farming get?

       Hard telling.  Since its inception in 2003, Cultural Farming has received somewhere approaching one million page views.  But this number is skewed since one particular project, Media Nipple, was given its highly ‘searchable’ title precisely to garner attention.  Today the average number of visitors to Cultural Farming has noticeably decreased.  This is partly due to Google prohibitions, but also due to a sharpening of pedagogical focus, which lessens resemblances to typically hyped ‘social’ media.  I also surmise it is because I refuse to ‘play’ insidious, obligatory, web-promotional strategies.  I could care less about ‘juicing’ my internet rankings. 

     

       That said, I’m guessing most scholars never get around to what’s most important anyway: watching the damn videos.  Likewise, I’m guessing casual viewers are scared off by the big blocks of written text throughout.  ‘Stickiness’, however, is probably more important and the average visitor does appear to hang around my sites for quite a while, although I do not bother tracking every visit to every project... there’s just too much work to monitor.  Moreover, most viewers have no clue HOW to watch my videos.  I mean, who has time to settle back, don headphones, and think deeply for 30 minutes without emotional seduction?  It’s now 140 characters or die.  Wait...who has the time for 140?



21.  Who visits Cultural Farming?

       I have no way to determine this exactly.  Interestingly, North Americans seem not to be my main audience.  That award currently goes to europe and the UK particularly, maybe because of their embrace of practice-led research.  Oddly, right now I seem to be getting an inordinate amount of traffic from Korea.  Go figure.



22.  Who are your most influential theorists?

       If you look around Cultural Farming projects, names like Walter Benjamin, Sergei Eisenstein, Bertolt Brecht and Jean Baudrillard should almost fall off the screen and onto your lap for reasons clearly articulated throughout.  But many other ‘interlocutors’ have deeply influenced my work as well.  These names run a gamut from Susan Sontag to Norm Denzin to Sigfried Kracaur.  In (visual) anthropology, it’s people like: Jean Rouch, David MacDougall, George Marcus.  In TV/media: James Carey, John Fiske, Robert McChesney.  In media-art-education: Paulo Freire, William James, Henry Giroux, John Dewey, Robert Stam, James Elkins.  In performance ethnography: Sonya Madison, Victor Turner, Dwight Conquergood, Richard Schechner.  In theatre: Robert Edmond Jones, Donald Oenslager, Bel Geddes, Craig and Appia continue to top my list.  


       But a few longtime academic ‘whipping-posts’ like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman have also been influential.  Neil was very kind and encouraging to me in the 1990’s.  Back then I knew nothing about critical-anything.  His writings were extremely accessible, clear, noble, sharp-witted.  Today, much of academia sniffs at Postman’s body of work; too quick to compartmentalize his oeuvre into a kind of convenient foil of simplistic “determinism”.  Postman deserves to be re-read, historically, in light of the enormous changes within both media and education today.  He has a lot of good, controversial things to say and remains an excellent ‘entry point’ for autodidacts like me.  Likewise, the more I continually read McLuhan the easier it is to circumvent his bigger-than-life persona.



23.  It’s hard to watch all the fast-paced violence, anger, nudity, and stupidity in your videos; can’t you make them another way?

       Trust me, I would if I could.  I don’t like it either, nor does my wife.  It is much harder to make these videos than it is to watch them.  But, in order to accurately retell TV’s techniques ethnographically, and to receive the lessons they offer, there is simply no way to avoid ‘ugly’ representation.  And that exacts an emotional and physical toll on me too.  But then, if I unethically chose to ignore my actual collectings, I could just translate my findings into some language other than TV-speak, like writing yet another omissive book or academic article about television, like everyone else does.



24.  How can you say your videos are somehow “representative” when each clip in every montage is so un-contextualized?

       We should remember that our notions of contextualization are also socially constructed.  Moreover, we have come to accept many forms of extreme and illogical video discombobulation as simply part of our everyday communicational processes.  My videos provoke this normative.  All TV, whether news or advertisements, comes to us in endless streams of dis-contextualization.  Importantly, these unintentional surreal practices lay both at the heart of TV’s inability to helpfully communicate, as well as offering unique intellectual opportunities to re-function these same surreal practices toward their original purposes: as lenses for deeper reflection.



25.  Why don’t you ever use clips from the most popular shows like “24”, “Lost”, “CSI”, “American Idol”, or daytime TV?

       Hey, I’m just one guy.  I can only watch so much TV, and I only rip what I’ve actually viewed on my home TV.  Maybe these other genres could become your ethnographic project?  Journalism, news and technology information, as well as other non-fictional screen media (disasters, sports, elections) comprise my particular interests and expertise.  I care little about fictional TV; it can be made in any manner suitable...it’s fiction after all.  News, on the other hand, must never embody fictionalizing practices.  But as we all know, journalism too is dangerously seduced by contemporary mediamonger techniques.  These techniques mark my work.



26.  At your age, why are you still in school?

       Ha, one should never be “out of school”, right?  The problem for me, however, is finding any school interested in, or even willing to acknowledge Cultural Farming’s approach to critical media ethnography.  This too will change, but by the looks of it, not any time soon... and not without a struggle.



27.  What does Cultural Farming help to understand?

       It helps me to understand that most communication technologies today are made and used by people who neither know or care about communication.  Most folks trying to communicate, including our so-called smartest professionals and academicians, truly believe their machines accurately enable others to understand their meanings.  This fallacy is so utterly pervasive and dangerous, I doubt the world can recover from 7 billion people collectively screaming to get heard in exactly the same way.  We are building Earth into a Tower of Babel.   You should read how some ancient books predict its conclusion.


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that every benefit accrued from a new technology is paralleled by an opposite misfortune...and too often even worse unknowns.  Massive dire consequences from our blind embrace of technological ideologies lie waiting just around the corner.  We haven’t seen anything yet.  And that worries me.  Indeed, we are lustfully jockeying for front row seats to ‘witness’ the final image of our own spectacular destruction.  In a phrase: Must-See-TV.


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand how much educational media literacy has utterly failed us all.  Every American today learns how to perfectly ‘interpret’ media messages well before high school age.  Everyone believes they can see through media, to the truth.  We wink at the tricks and laugh at the gimmicks; we know what and how to ‘believe’.  Alas, we’ve been trained too well.  We are too clever x2.  Cultural Farming, however, argues we are dangerously media ill-literate. 


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that continuous entertainment for profit is the ugly pox-mark of media totalitarianism.


     Cultural Farming helps me to understand that we are witnessing a new turn towards anti-intellectualism.  And that technological communication only exacerbates this dangerous turn.


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that whomever uses the useless term “the media”, inside of any argument, is signaling they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.  Media is plural.  “The media” is not only bad english, it is generalizing to the point of ignorance.


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that anytime I hear the words SHOCKING or CHILLING or WARNING or BREAKING NEWS, I know a TV lie is about to happen.   


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that the only taboo images on U.S. television are those of dead white Americans.  Everyone and everything else is fair game, and the closer to the lens the better the profit.  Blood helps.


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that U.S. national newscasts are produced in exactly the same way ISIS produces its media propaganda.  And that this similarity should worry us all...particularly to those who ignore “media effects” and “technological determinism”.


      Cultural Farming helps me to understand that North America desperately needs one ‘official news source’.  Not to stifle debate, but to offer an accurate staring point for collective discussion and argumentation.  We need a Walter Cronkite, or an effective public television, or a global ‘Statistics Canada’ to tell us facts truthfully.  Utter cacophony kills.


       Cultural Farming helps me to understand that most people on Earth are drowning fast in an ecstasy of communication, and that ‘cultural farming’ could be an important antidote against the onslaught of mechanical communication.


     Cultural Farming helps me to understand that we probably wouldn’t be in half of the shit we are in today if we were still playing audio cassette tapes.


      Cultural Farming helps me to understand: Cameras are Guns.  No one is carrying an empty holster during this rapid weaponization of communication technology.  And this notion should literally make all forms of life on Earth shake in their boots.



28.  Do you really think that practicing ‘cultural farming’ can significantly change media or social conditions?

       I wouldn’t hold my breath.  But it has inoculated me and I have personally been deeply embedded inside media production, practice, education and theory as much as anyone I have ever met over these last 30 years...from analog to digital.  And so I am an example that cultural farming is a small, but very potent, beginning to personal media emancipation.   One down, 7 billion people to go!








HOLLAND WILDE

An American

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

 

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