(February 2016)  This website holds 170 VIDEO PROJECTS -- each an experimental ethnographic essay.  Most all projects were montaged between 2003-2016 under the (C)ritical method Cultural Farming.  Collectively, these projects render an essential viewpoint of life with tele-visual media, which underlines how technological advance has incrementally manipulated simple human communication into something oddly inhuman, strangely evil, and murderously life-threatening. 

     Through sheer ignorance, we are failing Reality by failing to understand the lethality of our own graven media.  We now find ourselves sleepwalking inside a digital nightmare: a mechanically doubled (sur)reality of lies, surveillance and war.  We are about to face an intellectual and spiritual reckoning.  Much human sacrifice will be required to appease this technological seizure.  It will not be pretty.  For while these warnings are regularly televised globally to anyone willing to learn, we humans remain unwilling to understand.  (link to most recent essay

                                           

              “Our unfortunate times thus compel me, once again, to write in a

         new way.  Some elements will be intentionally omitted; and the plan will

         be to remain rather unclear.  Readers will encounter certain decoys, like

         the very hallmark of the era.  As long as certain pages are interpolated

         here and there, the overall meaning may appear: just as secret clauses

         have very often been added to whatever treaties may openly stipulate,

         just as some chemical agents only reveal their hidden properties when

         they are combined with others.  However, in this brief work there will be

         only too many things which are, alas, easy to understand.” 


                                               Guy Debord, 1998

                                           


What is going on here?

     Even after decades of living amongst, observing, and participating along side innumerable media makers (bio), Understanding Television illustrates how I came to better understand the logics of all televisual communication (TV, camera, phone, computer, film, gaming, virtuality, social media, internet, etc.) by recording and assembling their rituals, languages, techniques, seductions and hectorings.  What is becoming increasingly clear from this research is that contemporary communication

“We are dangerously failing at critical discernment throughout all informational media.”

production is conditioning citizens to preference belief and faith over thinking and understanding.  With this turn away from experience and toward representation, we are dangerously failing at critical discernment throughout all informational media.

    Collectively, the projects herein perform a longitudinal depiction of how various North American media producers create their particular forms of tribal “common sense”.  My video essays, however, do not attempt an explanation of this growing tribal reality, rather each project is an empirical recitation of our desires to mechanically produce one.  It is how I see this new ‘feudalism’ (1,2)  through my home TV and computer, which were my only two screens for these 75+ hours of experimental ethnographic montage.

      Many of these projects contain one individual video construction, some contain dozens, and a few projects hold thousands of individual videos.  All projects are accessed by clicking any red, green and blue dot or bar on the Archives page.  Inside these projects you will find a contextualized performance (a poesy) of the methods I utilize for (C)ritically understanding television. 

     As an exploratory form of social criticism, Understanding Television should be measured as a robust and ambitious ethnography of a great stretch of mediated history -- our history -- and what this looks like, why it’s here, and what lurks in the future.  I do this in order to effectively journal these times, when cameras and guns and worldwide webs proliferate exponentially with quite similar complications.  Indeed, Understanding Television reveals our culture dangerously wallowing in overwhelming ignorance, as we willfully ‘game’ the unfathomable predicaments of inescapable virulence, technological gods and human isolation. 

     To survive a perilous future, we will have to learn to intellectually and methodologically reconnoiter the logics-of-representation residing in all communicational technologies, well before we bother ourselves with content meaning.  We must dually face the ugly history of our own mechanical addictions, as well as a new host of invasive moral imperatives arising from misusing and misunderstanding the dark arts of persuasion multiplying inside the apparatus.  For the apparatus is now

“Let’s be clear. We humans are the ones who happily choose to wield lethal power over others.”

deeply embedded inside all forms of human communication, ready and willing to equally perform every bidding, both good and nefarious, throughout the entire electronic-state.

     But let’s be clear.  We humans are the ones who happily choose to wield lethal power over others with these easily weaponized technologies, whether it be television, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or artificial intelligence.  Humans of every stripe are demanding to be ‘heard’ by any means necessary.  Attempting to employ Cultural Farming requires the re-fusing a culture’s apparatus of communication as a means for resisting the lethal rush of mechanical misunderstanding.  This demands a massive societal undertaking.  I see few signs of this happening today, but the stakes are too high, and time is too short, to settle for anything less. 

     In this current-world where every living subject is too easily turned to an image-object, our cameras, our guns and our webs are converging to detonate on a global scale, leading us into new kinds of carnage unforetold in the history of man.   For as Kenneth Burke writes, “There is no difference, in photographic style, between the filming of a murder mystery and the filming of a “documentary” (1950, p.17-18).  But then again, maybe my entire fallacy is wrong.


How should viewers watch these video essays?

      You should watch these videos any way and anywhere you can, exactly as you watch all of your media today.  You can watch in any order, pause, rewind, fast-forward.  It’s only media...seldom precious, never scripture.  You can, of course, try to watch my videos purely as entertainment, like any other common form of screen media, but I would not recommend this.  All videos are re-constructed into tele-stories about contemporary screen culture.  Some portions are artistic, some historical, some merely factual. 

I care less about what communication ‘says it says’ and more about how ‘what is said’ functions across society.

Others are appropriated to spark recent memories, while other parts are purposefully disjointed to provide contrast or provoke insight. 

      In toto, these are experimental forms of ethnographic writing using only previously made media content.  My intention is intellectual montage over artistic collage.  I care less about what communication ‘says it says’ and more about how ‘what is said’ functions across society.  I prefer sobriety over entertainment, ideological instability over conventional ways and means, nature and naturalism over reality and realism.  I aim for healthy diversity through reforestations of understanding, which can help supplement the growing devaluation of liberal arts education.

      Yet, each video project herein is designed as a ‘TV format’ expression.  So sit close to the screen.  I make these projects while sitting 27 inches away from a 27 inch computer screen.  Also, the audio should be turned up to at least “7”.  Wear headphones; they help discern nuance.  But ultimately, there are no rules for watching.  Mine is a paratactic style of video writing, which reflects TV itself, and sharpens the difficulties and contradictions of contemporary existence better than prevailing political discourse (Adorno).  These are experimental video essays and each should be watched closely, re-read and studied with clear eyes like any other academic text.  Just remember, the true potency of Cultural Farming lies inside doing, not watching.  “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

                                         

                I do not favor technology, but technology often chooses us:                  Can’t see videos (.mp4 & .mov) on your screen?  Try using another browser.

                                        


Introduction to the research.

     Media do not speak Truth, including this website, because each form of media omits much more than it can ever convey.  What all media primarily omit are human bodily sense and experience.  Sense and experience, however, are the ‘root and branch’ of all human understanding.  Yet, somewhere along the road, we forgot that media making is at best representational, only partially capturing what we know to be actual, that is to say, what we humans can see, hear, smell, taste and experience for ourselves. 

      If you question these opening statements, please consider a few examples.  Have you ever attempted to photograph a natural vista or a close-up of a flower pedal only to come away frustrated because photographs never fully replicate the experience you were feeling right then?  Has anyone ever snapped a quick pic of you against your wishes?  Have you ever practiced photo-smiling in your bathroom mirror?  Have you ever poked out the eyes of your mother in an old photograph?

      How about video?  Did you ever make your own media only to realize no one is remotely interested in your story and that your audiences get bored after only minutes?  Have you recorded a family video only to discover ‘bad’ sound, lighting or clumsy behavior ruined your production? 

  “We have successfully conflated fact with fiction throughout every facet of human existence.

Have you ever interviewed a grandparent only to wish they spoke in short, sharp, clever sentences?  Have you ever used any superfluous special-effect to help ‘jazz-up’ your video’s appeal?   Do you have a billion chunks of visual media saved and stored somewhere?

      Still unconvinced?  I challenge you to slow-watch TV and closely count the massive number of quick-edits, or the number of impossible images and situations displayed on your screen.  Talking animals?  People flying?  Objects appearing and disappearing?  Outer space fantasies?  Lifestyles of perfection?  Innumerable examples like these can number into the hundreds per every 30 minutes.   Through ceaseless repetition, we are forgetting how to see Real.  We are successfully conflating fact with fiction throughout every facet of human existence.

      However, in cases like these above, I wager a common response would be, “Well, that’s how good media is supposed to be made.”  Or maybe you would decide to buy yourself better video equipment, to edit faster, to get your family to sit closer to lighting sources.  You might even add some compelling music to enhance the viewing experience.  (Folks always love music videos best, right?)  Well, these motivations, times a thousand, are but only some of the elementary ways media making compels us to knowingly lie to each other.  We not only enjoy this, we now demand seduction through clever story-telling, exactly as we consciously intend to seduce others.  But even ‘little white lies” eventually begin to add up to something consequential.  These lies dangerously begin to blur very important human lines between real and fake.  Our representations of life have become our life.  We have allowed this to happen.  We encourage it.

      Before we can gain understanding, however, we must be clearer in our terminology.  The projects in this website are concerned with common media production; in this case, a broad range of televisual forms of communication.  The word “media” is plural, referencing everything collectively: TV, camera, phone, computer, film, gaming, virtuality, social media, internet...including newspapers, magazines and potentially a hundred other forms.  There is no such thing as  “THE-media”.  And using this half-witted generalizing term signals little more than lazy babble.  It is stupid-speaking, quite like today’s full retreat of the adverb.  Using the term “the media” only further erodes clarity and dulls argument. 

      My projects are also concerned with medium: particular individualized forms of un-human communication.  But primarily my projects consider methods of mediamongering: how we create our media by combining poor thinking with improper language, then filtering that through our ignorant actions and “smart”

  “Just saying the dangerous phrase ‘the media’ creates impossible hurdles to understanding.

machines, into false communication.  Still, we almost always believe our media will persuade accuracy and understanding for the viewer.  How can this be?

     Dangerously today we share a cultural  ‘common sense’ eager to collectively understand technological communication as Truth, especially our own made media, despite these glaring omissions.  Even when media makers with their tools and techniques accurately convey factuality, which can be accomplished when the effort is made, our media remain a representational performance of Truth.  Still we continue to irrationally believe and behave otherwise.  Contemporary mechanical communication fails us so badly today we find it difficult to intelligently discuss this or any other topic. 

      These impossible hurdles not only obstruct reality, they also promote a host of “fake news” practices.  My argument, here in this research however, is diametrically different than the sorry cries of “fake news from THE-media” coming from legions of media illiterates purposefully blaming any viewpoint contradicting their own.  Instead, I purposefully claim something different.  I mistrust the apparatus first and foremost.  For only after spiraling inside the morass of “mechanical reproduction,” come the historical foibles lurking inside all of human communication.  It should be no wonder why informational communication is so difficult and dangerous. 

     Few North Americans seem willing to finger THE-medium as a perpetrator.  Consequentially, we humans remain slumped in media illiteracy, which is quickly bifurcating national intelligence.  It takes critical practice to employ any machine wisely.  And this experimental media site is my attempt to manifest a critical response to ‘common’ practice: The medium is the message’s biggest problem.

     To be sure, certain approaches to media making are substantially more truth-telling than others.  These approaches are vital to human communication and understanding and can still, potentially, help lead to an ethical resumption of true documentary and journalism.  But, the craftspeople of (capital-J) Journalism must double-vow to help ethically sharpen the tip of this protective spear of democracy.  We all must learn to better acknowledge, control, and negate each medium’s falsity.  I do not see this happening.  In fact, the opposite is now hyper-fueled by ideological profiteers like Sinclair Broadcasting.  Until then, the first stance of media-consuming citizens should begin well beyond that of skepticism, and more towards an attitude of educated cynicism

      Cynicism is characterized by a general wariness of self-interested motives.  Cynics hold healthy skepticism of faith or hope in human activity particularly when these activities are motivated by ambition, desire, greed, materialism, self-aggrandizement, or goals and opinions, which a cynic perceives as omissive, futile, vain or ultimately meaningless and thus deserving of dismissal, ridicule or admonishment.  Educated cynicism is how current lies of a ‘fair and balanced’ news media -- and even a President -- can be exposed, countered and neutralized.  This kind of critical re-functioning is not easy, but it can be accomplished personally and privately at home with an independent intellect. 

      Media cynicism is fundamentally important to understanding television for several reasons.  A cynical media education instills a constant reminder of the imperfectness residing inside all human communication since time immemorial.  Clear, honest and truthful communication is, to say the least, an enormous human challenge demanding constant effort and precision.  Educated media cynicism is also an intellectual check-and-balance while accepting technology’s unending advance.  We must remember that the tools and techniques inside each medium mechanically edit, accelerate, obfuscate, contradict, shift, mute and/or amplify communication‘s original intention.  These mechanics collude inside the apparatus itself to hinder factuality, all while simultaneously promoting itself and countless other dubious agendas.

      Media cynicism encourages deeper public critical investigations into unscrupulous mediamonger manipulation.  Educated cynicism encourages citizens to compare, contrast and cross-reference disputable ‘truths’ against historical human experience and understanding. 

   “Each new form of communication requires equally new investigations into its language, rhetoric, grammar and logic.

However, lying is purposefully built into media’s machinery as well.  Indeed, lying is the pervasive modus operandi throughout television.  Media simply cannot get out of their own way.  They increasingly insist upon mediating everything.  Consequently, every new mechanical form of communication requires equally new investigations into its language, rhetoric, grammar and logic.

      Lying, human and mechanical, is so commonplace, we are reflexively refusing to accept the logics of factual information.  Lies in unending repetition quickly build dangerous alternative truths, which undermine our understanding of how we humans have historically understood the differences between truth and ‘truthiness’.  Inside this human-made swirl of absurdity, we find that blaming Hillary Clinton for causing four deaths in Benghazi becomes an equivalent to Colgate’s promise of the best-tasting toothpaste.  Both claims of truth may include bits of factuality, but they are overwhelmingly omissive, thus false.

      Moreover, regardless of medium, simply repeating falsehoods is apparently enough to make them True.  The people and processes pushing this exploitation must be called out, questioned and held responsible at every turn.  And all this needs to happen during each step of media making: What we say, why we say it, the way we say it, and what we use to get it said.  This is a tall order holding enormous consequence for any ill-educated society which continues to champion job training over civic humanities education. 

      This website seeks to collate and unveil some of the lies and fallibilities inherent in media making, and the convenient reasons why we continually rush to favor false experience.  I do not suppose Truth here in my video essays, rather I itemize and illustrate a host of media fallacies, which I have witnessed for myself right in my home.  This research concludes: If you believe contemporary media production, you need a better belief system.  Better still, triple-test all your beliefs against actual human experience, which is my desperate call: Step away from your screen-beliefs and go out into Nature to gain human experience).  Cynicism is but the first step to understanding, especially when it comes to media like television.  For we can no longer believe just our eyes and ears.

                       



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 however, like no 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 13 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 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 with many forms of media badly.”  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 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 13 year experiment (Cultural Farming) attempts to sharpen that 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, 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.  In short, 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 social 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 (read: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Amazon, Netflix, et al) of these new communicating machines.  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.

      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: 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



How do I understand television?

     Television, as I historically remember it, changed when President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  My entire professional media career changed with it.  But then, my TV experiences rarely jibed with common perception.  I never saw one speck of the dire predictions eagerly claiming “the death of television”.  I saw the opposite.  I found television to be a well-oiled self-sufficient money-printing machine.  I never found any trace of an independent or liberal media anywhere inside the television industry.  I never once witnessed ‘journalism’ ethically struggle against corporatized control.  Instead, I met people there who winked and nodded like all business people do.  My growing curiosities slowly

  “I never found any trace of an independent or liberal media anywhere inside the television industry.

turned to revulsion, which eventually killed my career ambitions.  After 25 years and 10 Emmys, I quit the media business and determined to understand TV from differing perspectives; through more accurate and critical means.

      To help foreground my unique approach to understanding television, all my videos are made in the comfort and privacy of my own home while watching a 15” TV screen.  Most every day, when I am not outdoors planting trees, I simultaneously watch four major U.S. 24hour news channels: CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, and CNBC. 

      I also typically watch a range of live TV events: daily news & talk shows, elections, celebrations, sports, etc., for these are where we typically find informational media production in its primary forms.  I also collect a wide variety of historical examples of media making.  These range from individual artistic expressions to exemplars of common media memory.  Daily, to augment these limited informational media sources, I also learn elsewhere: CSPAN, PBS, NPR, NYT, WSJ, WP, IBD, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, among others.  I also read philosophy, often Thoreau, in bed.  This sketches my daily media bubble.

      What I do not watch is the other 90% of TV’s content, which is purposefully fictional and/or anti-informational.  I almost never go to the cinema.  I very rarely access YouTube.  I do not own a cell phone.  I have never Facebook’ed, texted, swiped, played a video game, interacted with touch-screens or donned a VR headset.  I own no apps.  Nor do I subscribe to NetFlix, Hulu, HBO or any of a host of other televisual venues available to North American consumers.  I do not read Reddit, Politico, The Onion, Huffington Post, Boing Boing, Mashable, The Drudge Report, Breitbart News.  I leave research into these media sources to other more ambitious ethnographers.  There are only so many hours in my day.

      In my home, my TV is directly connected to my computer.  While watching TV, I ‘rip‘ normative idiosyncrasies that echo from my TV screen and then I download these into my computer hard drive.  As I collect these video fillips, I itemize and archive each into folders listed under a variety of topical headings.  Later, I combine and re-function these fillips to create various critical examinations.  I often re-negotiate these yet again into even longer videos, typically about 30 minutes in length. 

  “My projects, therefore, should be viewed as critical educational methods for self-training -- autodidactic praxis.

The entire process takes a great deal of time and effort, but it is rather simple and inexpensive to do.  Since 2003, when I first began video bricolage at home, I have archived countless individual clips totaling well over 20 terabytes of re-usable material -- which includes many examples of ethical media production as well.

      All content within this site was montaged by me alone, although much of it, obviously, was previously ‘produced’ by many-many others...mostly anonymous mediamongers.  The only two digital tools I use are, by today’s app-happy standards, so simple they are reminisced much like paper and pencil: iMovie-6 software (2006) and an iMac computer (2009).  Content here is collected and presented neither as ‘fine art’ or as ‘bloopers’ -- nor as a trap for the gaze -- but as ethnographic exemplars of the consequences inside historical communicational technique. 

      I do this purposefully, since Media and Art can no longer stand under any democratic or revolutionary law of strategy; although the “work of art” can (potentially) be redeemed for countering reification: Art for Thinking.  My projects, therefore, should be viewed as critical educational methods for self-training -- autodidactic praxis -- which should be robustly employed inside all media pedagogy.  (For instance, Cultural Farming can be a useful method to intellectually assay the “truthiness” of Quenton Tarantino’s “vermisitude”.)  Indeed, when the viable notion of Carnivalesque today is worse than stupidly produced, critical polyphonic methods like Cultural Farming often reveal that Thinking Art can be more productive than ‘the truth’... without narcotic opiates or opioids.


                       

What does using theory mean?

      Importantly, each project is best viewed through particular theoretical filters, for instance, as “Epic Smoker’s Theatre”.  This is how Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), arguably our most provocative modern poet-playwright, intended his Epic plays.  He wanted his audiences to watch intellectually not emotionally; to lean back, not forwards engaged and immersed in empathy.  He suggested smoking cigarettes and watching each production dispassionately...with critical distance.  Brecht held disdain for theatrical machinations that emotionally trick audiences into intellectual passivity.  His theatre developed a variety of (critical theory) techniques for countering pathos and immersion...and fascism.  Brecht’s radical dramaturgy deeply informs Cultural Farming’s theory and practice.

                                          “The proof is in the eating.”

      Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), perhaps the most influential early soviet filmmaker, perfected a parallel theoretical filmic technique: Montage...the mother of all media special effects.  Eisenstein’s methods attempted to write a kind of explosive short-hand, through “intellectual collisions” of images and ideas.  He edited his film clips intending each to explode, allowing for alternative unspoken concepts to arise in the aftermath.  Eisenstein’s works are masterpieces of between-the-lines visual expression.  He was the first to assert a camera-machine as mightily as the sword.  He soon realized, however, just how politically charged and personally dangerous his theory and practice would prove to be.  For the catastrophe of critical provocation is that the utterer is commonly its first casualty, as Cultural Farming can also attest.

                              “It is not a Kino-Eye we need, but a Kino-Fist.”

      Likewise, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), Germany’s most cited media theorist, wanted to construct an allegorical ‘quotational arcade’ for tracing Europe’s calamitous turn to Modernity.  He called his Arcades Project “rag-pickings” because he intended it to be collaged from trifling, yet exemplary, bits of cultural detritus.  Benjamin deeply understood he could only illuminate his ‘profane panorama’ through the usage of surrealistic methods -- quite like Brecht and Eisenstein -- in order to properly explicate a new reality shocked between two world wars and edging to the doorstep of history’s most hideous mechanical absurdities.  Today however, we find surrealism to be but one more intellectual concept, so utterly hijacked and corrupted, we have entirely lost its true essence.  True Surrealism is a robust methodological technique Cultural Farming attempts to recover, precisely because it conjures Benjamin’s illusive intersection of positivism and mysticism.

Arcades Project: “This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks.  Its theory is intimately related to that of montage.”

     Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), media theory’s meteoric and misunderstood celebrity-philosopher, also deeply played inside communication’s plasticity.  To McLuhan, language was mankind’s first technology.  He purposefully tricked with words, as we so carelessly do today with electric media, to confound towards multiple modes of comprehension.  He reveled in outing alternate currencies of meanings parodied inside liturgical ignorance and the mechanics of clumsy syntax.  McLuhan’s specter was James Joyce, by necessity, for McLuhan understood Joycean polysemy helps to ground fulsome intellectual sense.  Grammar-logic-rhetoric; turn on-tune in-drop out; give-receive-reciprocate...each a critical mantra pulsing throughout Cultural Farming.

                       “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

      Yet as the infamous post-modern philosopher, Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007), explained: There is no liberation or revolution of the media available to us, except for "restoring the possibility of response".  For Baudrillard, we must allow media-speech to "be able to exchange, give back and repay itself" through forms of Symbolic Exchange (potlatch).  Ironically, Baurdillard admits this would require "an upheaval in the entire existing structure of media".  Unfortunately, unlike McLuhan, Baudrillard never gets around to offering us a useful critical praxis.  Understanding Television, however, may well express viable strategies for waging ‘necessary personal revolution’ against our willful dependency upon tyrannical media (obscene & panoptic), which seduce an ecstasy of appearance through ever higher resolution lenses and screens.  For when “vision machines” (Virilio) rule by means of paradoxical logic, surveillance and punishment go hand-in-hand inside the simulacrum of hyperreality (Foucualt).

                          "More real than real, that is how the real is abolished."

        And as for the methodological haunts of SURREALISM residing inside every Cultural Farming video, I defer to Michael Löwy, (2012):


        “It is impossible to imagine an activity more contrary to these times, and less

     opportune, than that of a Surrealist Group at the beginning of the 21st century.


        Surrealism must not be confused with the so-called "artistic avant-gardes"

     that succeed one another after flourishing for a short period -- such as

     Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Dadaism, Abstract

     Expressionism, Pop Art and others.  Surrealism is simultaneously artistic,

     philosophical and political, as were the Baroque and Romantic movements.


         Like alchemy, socialism and the Romantic philosophy of nature, Surrealism

     is a matter of tradition.  It has an ensemble of writings, manifestoes, and

     documents that transmit its esoteric, philosophical and political message, as

     well as a continuity of magical and poetic practices. It refuses to erase the

     past.  Anything that cannot find a spark of hope in the past has no future.


        But Surrealism like hermeticism, sorcery, piracy and utopia, is above all a

     matter of creative imagination.  Like the cangaceiros, the noble bandits of the

     Brazilian woods, the Surrealists are doomed to innovate, invent and explore.

     The old ways, paved roads, and beaten paths are in the hands of the enemy.

     New ways must be found --- the wanderer makes the path.”




What is the video at top of this page about?

      My video essays vary greatly.  Some are long, some short.  Some are fast, some are excruciatingly slow.  Some pertain to single issues, others express utter cacophony.  Most are densely complicated, but rarely are portions purposefully obtuse.  The premise throughout is personal critical elicitation through acts of ‘talking back’ to media makers using their own words, languages and techniques. 

      I care little about entertaining an audience (or even cultivating an audience).  I care even less about proselytizing more ideological pablum.  Instead, I insist upon interrupting and antagonizing normative, passive, media immersion, and allowing critical spaces for myself and for viewers to consider their own thinking processes while watching these fillips collide.  Moreover, each video is an experiential writing form -- ethnographic surrealism -- hand-fashioned into my theoretical aesthetic (ekphrasis) for unveiling our mediating worlds. 

     From another angle, my works are but a designer’s refunctioning of Aristotle’s

  “Unlike Aristotelian tragedy, imitation is no longer the goal, since that affords the ‘space of seduction’ between spectator and spectacle.

notion of opsis (mise-en-scene or spectacle), through critical performances using only the quotidian tele-tactile amputations (McLuhan) streaming from my TV screen.  For here I link the act of writing about TV with the art of its production.  However, unlike Aristotelian tragedy, imitation is no longer the goal, since that affords the ‘space of seduction’ between spectator and spectacle.  You will find no seduction here.

      I confound the double bind of mimesis by mixing methods of Artaud's theater of cruelty.  This for Cultural Farming vexes the gap between the closed worlds of media making and media consumption, by attempting to provoke critical (dialectic/dialogic/didactic) modes of understanding.  And I do this because TV is no longer ‘looked at’ with any concentrated attention, rather it is perceived, as Walter Benjamin noted, in a state of (mechanical) distraction.  If nothing else, Cultural Farming provides critical practice for ‘waking up’.  As Douglas Kellner (2001) writes: 

        “...a television studies that is critical and multicultural provides

     comprehensive approaches to culture that can be applied to a wide

     variety of artifacts from TV series to phenomena like Madonna, from

     MTV to TV news, or to specific events like the 2000 U.S. presidential

     election, or media representations of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the

     U.S. and the U.S. response.


        “Its comprehensive perspectives encompass political economy, textual

     analysis, and audience research and provide critical and political

     perspectives that enable individuals to dissect the meanings, messages,

     and effects of dominant cultural forms.  A critical television and cultural

     studies is thus part of a media pedagogy that enables individuals to

     resist media manipulation and to increase their freedom and

     individuality.  It can empower people to gain sovereignty over their

     culture and to be able to struggle for alternative cultures and political

     change.  Cultural studies is thus not just another academic fad, but can

     be part of a struggle for a better society and a better life.”


      Here, my project topics vary with numerous televisual currents (convolutes) running throughout: Potlatch, image making, cameras-screens-guns, media history & technology, communication & journalism, poetry & jazz.  Any video may also loop a host of sub-themes like: telephones, politics, gaming, consumption, fashion, fear & death, business, feminism, education, religion, children, medicine, human bodies, language, celebrity, food production, pornography, robots & drones, military & war, surveillance & privacy, race & gender, nature & animals, virtual & live events...  Nevertheless, every video illustrates particular amplified intentions (ethics) inherently resident inside the ‘production of production’, which conflate a collective media ‘common sense’.

      Many videos here share similar technics.  But there differences.  For instance, one particular video, LINKED HERE, is a bit unusual in that it is split equally into halves.  The first portion is content ripped from just one hour-long History Channel program.  I discarded most of this pathetic futurist propaganda, but aggregated the amplified visuals I wanted to re-function.  I then inserted non-diegetic contrapuntal audio accompaniment, which I happened to hear on TV the night before.  This orchestral music is from a feature film entitled Another Earth and composed by Fall On Your Sword.  I appropriated this music primarily because it provided an excellent scaffold for me to edit around, and it was approximately the same length as the content gathered. 

      This first half of the video intends to invoke a fictional imagistic Tone-Poem, mirroring the grotesque rush of living and moving creatures our obedient society so passively accepts.  Every image here is wholly fictional, created by anonymous media designers, and well beyond any human experience and understanding.  But the exercise here is not to cleverly re-edit content to a musical beat or to simply mash-up compelling imagery. 

   “This is Surrealism and Fair Use put to good work.  It is Cynicism well spoken, and ‘magical aura’ reconsidered.

Rather, the challenge is to edit away unwanted parts of this lie, while positioning the remaining bits into my own alternative, intentional, ready-made dreamscape, in order to re-perform a more ‘dialectical’ critical orientation. 

      During exercises like these, I posit that one quickly begins to understand media’s very dangerous potential to reshape anything to suit any particular need.  Mine is a new story, equally as ‘true’ as the original.  Therein lies the magical lethality, continuously being remade and relearned, yet which mostly escapes science and technology.  For this is Surrealism and Fair Use put to good work.  It is Cynicism well spoken, and “magical aura” reconsidered.  It is a triangulation towards truth.  It is wisdom gained through a praxis of contradiction: negative dialectics.

                “I want you so bad, it’s driving me mad, its driving me mad.”

      The second half of this video is more difficult.  It centers around the recent Paris/ISIS terrorist massacre (13Nov15).  I made this video as it simultaneously spilled into my home as LIVE TV -- while network employees wittingly amplified real fear and confusion with non-sensical TV production methods believed to be most  palatable for consumption.  This portion of my video is not meant to shock, rather it should elicit shame -- shame for how we so eagerly produce and devour ever increasing horror as spectacular entertainment under the guise of news & information.  It outlines the utter lack of ethical purpose now continuously produced throughout too much of televisual journalism.

      Unfortunately, I have previously recorded many similar events (1, 2, 3).  And with each daily death-event, standard TV production simply goes into round-the-clock stasis.  Shock and anecdote are championed over factuality.  Repetition cancels cognition.  We eagerly ingest another media spectacle with mouths agape, awaiting the next dosage of magic bullets from very real hypodermic algorithms openly administered by a very real and growing Surveillance State.  Nothing could be worse, right?  Wait...how about we all attach our cameras to miniature helicopters!  Neat...another new form of gun...or is this an opioid?  Good question.

      In this case, to help innervate a critically distanced posture, I chose very familiar audio from The Beatles. 

  “We eagerly ingest another media spectacle with mouths agape, awaiting the next dosage of magic bullets from very real hypodermic algorithms.

I am not exactly sure why this felt right to me.  Cultural Farming montage can be employed as a Situationist form of surreal ‘automatic collage’, and Abbey Road was written soon after the 1968 Paris student revolt; so maybe that’s why.  Regardless, the album to me is dark...and now maybe an uncanny metaphor from similar times long forgotten.  Unnervingly, this video points to many worse televisual-events to come; probably in the next ten minutes.  If so, you can be sure each will be instantaneously ‘analyzed and produced’ -- quite likely cozened for profit by humans and machines right in your neighborhood -- for total emotional effect; maximizing any technological trick to further hypnotize, manipulate and entice a consumer responsiveness over you and every other willing viewer.  “Gotcha.”  “Thank you TV, may I have another?”

                      “She’s so heavy.” ...but how do “she” and “heavy” mean?

      Critical insight from each of my editing choices truly begins to occur during the act of re-production, in the case here, by slowing down both music and image to an other-worldly speed.  We know this music very well, only now it is oddly different, conjuring fresh connectivities.  This is only one simple but effective technique for making strange (Verfremdungseffekt).  While there are hundreds of individual edits in this 30minute video, all are attempts to elicit a new transparency, a truer personal memory.  Because we now too often willfully exclaim, “It was just like a movie!”, and happily turn away to another media channel, further conflating actual with its mediated appearance.



What was discovered in this research?

      My videos punctuate the notion that the more we embrace the veils of this new mechanical despotism (reality-as-image and communication-through-machines), the flatter, cheaper and more misunderstood healthy human communication becomes, which in turn fosters an ever greater consumption of our own spectacular death-extravaganza.  For once spiraling inside the swill of technology, all of life is reduced to image form.  Human lives become as easily erasable as media are deleted.  Cameras-screens-players become an equivalent reality to guns-targets-jihadists perpetuating a machismo hair-trigger mode of eternal fascism (Eco).  Inside this cult of death and humiliation, nothing remains sacred and life becomes permanent warfare.  So, when I hear growing talk of guns, I reach for cultural farming.

                     “Everything for the people.  Nothing by the people.”

      An unchallenged communicational “bully pulpit” does not happen accidentally.  Whether ISIS, YouTuber’s or General Motors, media makers equally profit from similar technological façades of communication, each boasting grand victories of media seduction and radicalization through mechanical ‘common-sense’ techniques of coercion and consent.  It is why the entire ‘super class’ (from Angela Merkel to Jon Stewart to Ivanka Trump to Joel Osteen to Kate Middleton to Bashar al-Assad to Tom Brady) now always speak to camera in exactly the same manner.  It is how Hate literally communicates its mob psychology in order to trump Love.  In the propagandist writings of Edward Bernays (1928), we read:

        “In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of

     private conduct.  In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse

     economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find

     it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything.  We have voluntarily

     agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding

     issues so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions...


         “So vast are the numbers of minds which can be regimented, and so

     tenacious are they when regimented, that a group at times offers an irresistible

     pressure before which legislators, editors, and teachers are helpless.  The

     group will cling to its stereotype, as Walter Lippmann calls it, making of those

     supposedly powerful beings, the leaders of public opinion, mere bits of driftwood

     in the surf. 

   

        “When an Imperial Wizard, sensing what is perhaps hunger for an ideal, offers

     a picture of a nation all Nordic and nationalistic, the common man of the old

     American stock, feeling himself elbowed out of his rightful position and

     prosperity by the newer immigrant stocks, grasps the picture which fits in so

     neatly with his prejudices, and makes it his own.  He buys the sheet and pillow-

     case costume, and bands with his fellows by the thousand into a huge group

     powerful enough to swing state elections and to throw a ponderous monkey

     wrench into a national convention.”


       Media seduction and radicalization through mechanical ‘common-sense’ techniques of coercion and consent is how entire populations can be hoodwinked to happily act against their own best interests.  It is how the U.S turned to war against Iraq in 2003 without evidence of weapons of mass-destruction.  It is how John Kerry was “swiftboated” in 2004.  It is how Barak Obama got born in Kenya in 2008.  It is how Apple overtook Microsoft in 2010, and why FOX News always denies it is part of “THE-media”.  It is how ‘media strongmen’ Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes gaslight fiction into fact in 2016.  Indeed, brutal repetition works, and chickens like these always come home to roost.

      Growing illegitimate ‘common-sense’, whether good or bad, signals the full-throated ascendancy of a disturbing new form of proudly righteous anti-intellectualism, because once the REAL is eagerly castrated of every natural sense of logic and truth, we too eagerly succumb to FALSE in exactly the way we succumb to TV commercials.  We passionately believe, despite critically thinking. 

  “This signals a cataclysmic shifting of power, since there can no longer be any claim to Truth, and therefore no claim to the ‘right side’ of history.

One expressive result of this is the increase in hate speech.  But it is only one of the binary-bubbles formed when technological communication weaponizes.  For when any ‘fact’ equals and cancels any other ‘fact’, we can also believe that Life equals Death.  This signals a cataclysmic shifting of power, since there can no longer be any claim to Truth, and therefore no claim to the ‘right side’ of history. 

      At face value, Understanding Television clearly illustrates that the primary purpose of contemporary media production really is to hypnotize: to simultaneously bait and beat (entertain and seduce) every viewer into agreeable submission.  That shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Just under this surface, however, you will soon begin to understand that wielding lethal forms of power against others is apparently at least half the joy of being human (or an image) in this world.  Maybe this is why we so cheerfully claim addiction to our media: “We are the media!” instead of “Sapere aude.”  Or maybe it is because too many 21st Century media philosophes secretly desire their own monarchies as much as their rulers.  Regardless of your answer, when major mouthpieces of informational communication get hijacked, Democracy gets decapitated, and only the strongest get to survive.  This encourages a full embrace of the primitive world of “the killer”.  After all, killing is infinitely easier, quicker and more decisive than thinking.  We forget, however, that speed kills too.

                       “Tomorrow belongs...Tomorrow belongs to me.”

      Cultural Farming is the only means I know to privately help inoculate oneself from this communicational spiral and reclaim human communication through equal acts of immediate critical response.  There is still time to refuse, at least until every corner of our human brains have been perfectly mapped and plumbed for profit.  It is why I re-employ actual TV production to illuminate, rather than to vacuously interpret TV content with still more words.

      Cultural Farming reveals that the devil residing in communication expresses itself equally inside our tools and practices.  And once you understand this for yourself, you may actually begin to feel dirty adding to the pestilence by making media in these same old “bully” ways.  And you may even begin to regret your own deep dependency on technological communication.  Who knows?  From time-to-time, you might even feel courageous and choose to celebrate the natural world by opting away from mendacious technological production in order to engage the craft of communicating in more healthy human ways.  That is unless you too are simply another killer by nature, which of course humans naturally are.  And this glib fact poses a deep political and philosophical dilemma.  For the dirty little secret of human existence is that those refusing to be killers are usually among the first to be eaten.  Indeed, Enlightenment must always grapple with the laws of cold hard nature.  Cultural famers understand this, however, as a constant clarion call.



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

      Whether or not you understand television, I suggest trying again by other means, as verification.  After all, Cultural Farming’s experimental methodologies are not championed by anyone...yet.  Indeed, television study is, at best, considered a tired and musty academic topic today.  The same is true with ethnography, which remains highly controversial when compared to ‘standard scientific techniques’ of understanding.  Critical Theory, too, is routinely attacked as narrow Marxist thought.  Magical insights afforded through montage are deeply questioned.  Reflexivity is criticized as self-indulgence.  Current claims of interdisciplinary study seem little more than lip-service.  Surrealist practice is fundamentally ridiculed.  Even worse, TV news and information is publicly mocked at every turn.  In all, this 13 year experimental project receives almost no support, and even less audience.  To be sure, any claim to be a ‘private thinker’ is a laughable concept these days.  I am alone in this project.

      Still, after a lifetime of watching, making and studying television, I have found no better approach than Cultural Farming for truly understanding televisual communication -- even though I wager that the crimes of the camera, which I am attempting to elicit, will escape most viewers to this website, exactly as viewers will continue to prioritize story and content over its production.  And so, whatever claims made or not made in these projects continue to seek confirmation.

      Above I list my lenses, my filters, my tools, my ethical guideposts.  And these are the things you should hold close when watching my difficult prestations.  It is a lot to ask of any viewer.  However, my projects are not typical documentaries “As Seen On TV”.  Spoon-fed conclusions do not appear; not even recognizable beginnings and endings exist.  Moreover, it can be disorienting when surreal media

   “When communication is mechanically made primarily one way, only very few things can ever be said.

techniques perform the opposite of entertainment.  But then, one needs craft to watch media as well.  We should always be asking ourselves: “What voice is truly speaking?”...before asking, “Who is speaking?” or “What is said?”

      We should always be asking, “Why am I spoken to in this manner?  Who is holding this camera, pushing this button, and selling this to me...and why do I keep buying into it all?”  Because the purpose of writing and watching critically surreal media ethnography is to consider what is gained and lost through typical, common-sense, communication production practices.  Always ask yourself: “Isn’t this all just the same old shit?”  Because, of course, it is; for when communication is primarily made one mechanical way, only very few things can ever be said. 

      Persistent cultural inertia luxuriates here, betwixt and between identical drumbeats duplicating inside these addicting technologies.  Every mechanical medium is but a false communication via deprivation chamber.  Hyper simulation... Ecstasy of communication.  However, once we begin to employ critical filters and methods, we soon begin to awaken and discover we are more than willing attendees to this spectacle of our own obliteration into appearance.  And we begin to understand that our beloved -- necessary -- technologies too often trick away our humanness through endless pornographic promises of certitude, power, pleasure and immortality. 

             “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!”

      Every project herein illustrates the profound folly inherent in contemporary media practice and interpretation.  And so, each of my videos is fashioned to encourage myself and viewers to slow down and see and think anew, comparatively, through new insights in new ways.  Hopefully, this might inspire other acts of personal emancipation from hegemonic media domination and consent.  After all, the point of (C)ritical investigation -- and the work of Cultural Farming -- is radical translation over indefeasible interpretation.  At bottom, as if there could ever be a bottom, my video essays are comparative sketches rendered as tools for sharpening our focus when understanding contemporary televisual communication. 

     And yes, of course, my videos display biases -- I am, after all, illustrating exploratory forms of visual critical response -- but my projects also display many media truths, triangularly, through the public act of “Show & See” (Mitchell).  Empirically speaking, Cultural Farming is the most ethical

   “Production is essentially all we CAN say with media anyway.

way to document media production because the reader becomes witness to the exact tribal-rituals I see enacted to my face on my home screens.  For no amount of reading or writing words can re-pay TV for all it ceaselessly gives to me.  In this way, my videos purposefully do not tell viewers what to think; rather each is an illumination.  Each is a transgressing potlatch, willfully rendered and freely returned to broadcast ether.  It’s the least I can do to reciprocate.

      My video ‘prestations’ illuminate common technological communication practices.  They reveal that the ‘manner’ in which we communicate always precedes -- and too often supersedes -- whatever it is we intend to say.  This alone must position media production as a ‘primary cultural actor’.  And increasingly today, as my videos document: Production is essentially all we CAN say with media anyway.  Indeed, the medium’s mystical message lies inside the video witch-doctor’s massage. 

                                           


        “To fall out of step with one’s tribe; to step beyond one’s tribe into a world

     that is larger mentally but smaller numerically – if alienation or dissidence is

     not your habitual or gratifying posture, this is a complex, difficult process. 

     It is hard to defy the wisdom of the tribe, the wisdom that values the lives of

     members of the tribe above all others.  It will always be unpopular – it will

     always be deemed unpatriotic – to say that the lives of the members of the

     other tribe are as valuable as one’s own.  It is easier to give one’s allegiance

     to those we know, to those we see, to those with whom we are embedded,

     to those with whom we share – as we may – a community of fear.”


                                               Susan Sontag, 2003





Ok, now what’s the next step?

      Now, simply return to the Archives page, and once you can turn down the lights, settle back, don good headphones, situate the screen to occupy 50% of your field of vision, grab a smoke and concentrate, click on any colored dot or bar and read into my experiments about the media also streaming endlessly into your home. 

     But then, to truly understand media like television, you’ll need to reap these benefits for yourself by responding to your own mediascapes...because the genuine purpose of Cultural Farming is personal emancipation, which can truly occur during critical experimentation.  Just understand that being a cultural farmer is difficult because it is good honest hard work.  Indeed, the price of true personal liberation is time, practice, theory and luck.  Stop watching and start understanding.

      If all else fails, no worries, choose a parallel path...go plant a tree.  That is what I am doing now...after the Orgy.  And I reflect fondly upon that dusty melodic aphorism from Timothy Leary (1920-1996): “Virtual reality is electronic acid; because in fact today, Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al, are actually fully loaded semi-automatic killing machines.  Cultivate your TV understanding!


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





HOLLAND WILDE

An American

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




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