(2012)  Just like you, I watch TV and have done so my entire life.  But then, maybe you were born before 1940 (before household TV), or maybe you are from Bhutan (the last nation on Earth to legalize TV in 1999).  Unlike you, however, for twenty years I also worked as a designer inside the U.S. television industry.  And, even more unlike you, after being trained as a visual rhetorician and building a career, I refunctioned myself to stop watching TV, and dedicated the rest of my life to looking through it (theoretical de-signing) in order to better understand how television ritualizes

      Television ritualizes first and foremost through common production practices, patterns, and regularities.  Indeed, contemporary TV/media production is a primary but little acknowledged lexicon/grammar.  This is to say, TV is an anonymous, unaccountable, universal docent (guide/lecturer), which embodies and enacts the ritualization of much of our cultural production; often regardless of intentional human actions.  It is this “ritualizing cultivation” of media communication which whets Cultural Farming’s Understanding Television project:

“Our investigation proposes to show how, as a consequence of this reifying representation of civilization, the new forms of behavior and the new economically and technologically based creations that we owe to the nineteenth century, enter the universe of a phantasmagoria.  These creations undergo this “illumination” not only in the theoretical manner, by a ideological transposition, but also in the immediacy of their perceptible presence.  They are manifest as phantasmagorias. 

Thus appear the arcades...” 

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (1927-40)


      My longitudinal vantages plus my sense of urgency and purpose to better examine the potencies of TV/media production practice combine to make Cultural Farming a unique comparative repository.  For where most TV scholarship focuses on interpreting media content, or creating sellable content, the projects herein broadly consider how our practices and presentations condition content production.   

      Those who have predicted the obsolescence or downfall of television are gravely mistaken.   On the contrary, TV is growing faster than ever, with every form of audio-visual communication struggling mightily to become but another kind of TV.  And make no mistake, we all have instinctively, mimetically, learned how to make our personal media by watching and absorbing decades of too-familiar TV production.  But what is less understood is how these common “big-media” production techniques, which we are also mimetically mastering, preempt human communication by encouraging only certain kinds of stories to be told.  Hence, regardless of our intentions, the medium itself often shapes, conditions, and sometimes even determines the messages we try to construct (McLuhan).  And inside this eagerness to make our media recognizable, noticeable, seductive, entertaining, clickable and profitable (i.e., media-mongering), we observe certain TV actualities ritually emerge, for instance:

Violence always televises better than non-violence.

Lust makes better TV than satisfaction.

Sex is better TV than brotherly or sisterly love.

Loud is easier to televise than soft.

The physical is better than the spiritual.

Any fact is better than poetry.

Death is always better TV than life.

...and this most important point: Cameras are Guns.

      But the beguiling rituals of North American TV are even more insidious and go dangerousy deeper than these few cursory observations.  At first, I did not want to see these actualities; after all, I had built a very specialized and successful career inside the television production industry.  Why rock the boat?  But the more deeply I examined TV, the deeper I saw.  And so, Cultural Farming grew into a personal repository for explicating common media ritualization. 

       The work here is neither a fetishization or some ultimate “gotcha” collection of the dumbest, weirdest, most egregious bloopers; rather it is simply a personal comparative aggregation of what I have actually seen and contextualized --myself and by hand-- as I watched my home TV screen since 2003.  Cultural Farming is a different way of talking-back to this thing called television, for it critically transgresses coercion-and-consent inside contemporary social-media capitalization.  Once collected, collated, re-membered, theorized and distributed, I posit Cultural Farming’s brand of observational remediation coalesces into powerful arcades of contemporary culture:

“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...”

“...Method of this project: literary montage.  I needn’t say anything.  Merely show. 

I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations.  But the rags, the refuse – these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.”

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Convolute N)


     There lies a paradox, however:  Few of us know how to watch television... and  far fewer know how to teach television.  Indeed, we merely ingest, grunt,  excrete, and ingest again (Jarry).  No one can claim expert vision regarding television (like fish oblivious to the thing we call water), because it is something we all have always known and always watched.  We also know that ‘experts’ are very often quite wrong.  In short, without great audiences there can be no great poets.  Cultural Farming is poetry for no audience.  Maybe that’s why it works.


     TV/media communicate messages; on that much everyone can agree.  Less understood, however, is how media production practices equally communicate in their own unique way.  My purpose here is to provoke possibilities for critical response in a mediated world, and most importantly to foment deeper public discourse about how media-makers tell our socio-cultural stories to us.  Put another way, common TV/media practices can only tell certain kinds of stories, and their technologies can only tell them in certain kinds of ways.  This is a massive communicational dilemma in a multi-dimensional-media-world.  And this is the ‘theme’ of most every video in Understanding Television and throughout Cultural Farming.

      One way to better understand television (ie., all audio/visual technologies) is to elicit a critical responsiveness to those communicating to us through their media.  Understanding Television is my personal path towards building a repository of methods for talking-back to common media-mongering.  Understanding Television is how I’ve come to understand media.  Indeed, there are important lessons to be learned by responding to “the media”, by critically refunctioning its language and technique.  Let’s retell media’s unreflexive stories back to their makers as a method for challenging these forms of pernicious anonymous cultural production. 

      Cultural Farming is a metaphor for an intellectual action event.  It signifies gathering vital ‘seed’ stock, then replanting for personal media empowerment and growing critical media cognition in a participatory democracy.  Our world is an unhealthy garden of endlessly-streaming auto-manufactured images; too much is cultivated inhumanely, unfit for human consumption.  Harvesting new proficiencies in tele-visual literacy is, in part, vital sustenance.  Help weed-out mediamonger manipulation by critically renegotiating ‘televisual’ grammars.  Help harvest diverse forms of critical media discourse to enrich social fecundity and intelligibility.

      You too should be a cultural farmer (How-To).   Indeed, different, critical kinds of media must always be made by citizens, for citizens, in forms of civic response to today’s reckless TV/media production practices.  Cultural Farming -- as only one kind of ‘victory garden’-- is but another step in this responsibility by cultivating nutritional methods for survival in a mediated world.  Simply put: Produce your own healthy ecology by redeeming everyday junk-food-media... because our brains eat what our bodies sense.

      In sum, Cultural Farming is a wide-ranging record of my personal and intellectual walkabout: from industrial media-horticulturalist -- to nomadic remix-hunter-gatherer -- to radical home-vidi-gardener -- to a kind of self-sufficient mediaturg-pamphleteer.  Understanding Television is my specific response to glaring gaps within the generalizations of existing media critique.

                                my+story+history = mystory (mystery).

      Cultural Farming is media appropriation and remix, as auto ethnographic surrealism (free money), using critical performance and documentation as a means for writing about media culture.  While some may argue that Cultural Farming is for mature audiences only, I often argue the opposite (bio), particularly since most all content here-in is remixed using actual video ripped directly from North American basic broadcast with my home TV.  These projects do not further problematize censorship/citizenship issues, indeed they may be small solutions to them.  So, if your objection concerns copyright, I suggest you read this:  Fair Use  or  This  or  This.  And if your problem here is with media effects....I say, wake up! too will eventually be mediated for someone else’s profit.


      My term farming implies specific ethnographic methods for writing about contemporary cultures via remediated assemblages.  The theory here resides in media and communication critical theory (Benjamin, Baudrillard, Bakhtin), the method is montage (Eisenstein, Vertov, DADA), my ethnographic methodologies (Denzin, Marcus, Conner) derive primarily from anthropological film discourse (Rouch, MacDougall, potlatch), and the assemblages are steeped in surreal practice (Brecht, Buñuel, Schwitters).  Combining and materializing these notions lie at the heart of each Cultural Farming project. 

      Cultural Farming, hopefully, encourages robust varieties of civic response to common, debilitating, corporatized media production practice; and to do so through a thrust of amateur, pedagogical, critical media ethnography.  As both position and practice, Cultural Farming’s obligation is to appropriate, question, challenge, provoke, complicate, and sometimes even shame common media practices.  Contemporary media production desperately needs this.  If nothing else Cultural Farming is methodological confirmation that from here onward all TV media scholarship must be considered suspect if it does not, at the very least, contain the actual media content under examination... particularly in light of the efficacy and vitality of the varieties of experimental appropriation and remix herein.

      Today, after years of relentless archiving and remixing, I continue to collect and collate mountains of televisual representations which inform the production of a variety of Cultural Farming experimental/critical video writings.  These include: five hundred daily blog posts containing well over 2,500 video clips; seventy “critical mystory” video essays; a dozen ethnographic projects, and a self-writing montage machine containing 12,000 individual video fillips.  Other Cultural Farming projects, include topics like pornography, digital visuality, Hurricane Katrina, and a 105 minute, 12 chapter “critical reenactment’ of the cable news coverage during the U.S. school shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech.  And, most recently a six-hour “book” of allegorical lament: Trauerspiel, in fifteen volumes, where I publish numerous findings of my project in honor of Walter Benjamin.

      The video projects herein challenge a wide array of academic thinkers, others critique everyday visual media production practices, and all challenge existing media theory.  And so by necessity, Cultural Farming focuses broadly on many aspects of production and the impact of media practice in other traditional and/or emerging non-fictional venues.  Among many:

- developing critical-cultural approaches to production

- circulation and reception of visual imagery

- semiotic analysis

- commercial, political and cultural uses of media imagery

  1. -visual ethics

  2. -how audiences consume, interpret and use media images

  3. -web design and aesthetics

  4. -new imaging practices and technologies

  5. -visual production of identity

  6. -virtual signifying practices

  7. -new media objects as database forms

  8. -historical visualization

  9. -materiality and production of the image

      To abide fulsome requirements for practice-led ethnography, I include written exegeses as analytical accompaniment to many video-essay constructions.  Elaborated throughout Cultural Farming, these explications of emerging critical experimentation in media-mixing production (epistemology, methodology, method) help situate the viewer to intentional montage and offer viewpoints for building both public and critical tools for self-reflexively invigorating visual media culture.


      Cultural Farming is neither a media lesson in convenient interpretation, or authoritative top-down critique of how our media “should” be made.  Indeed, there is room aplenty for any and all forms of TV/media.  Rather Cultural Farming is a collection of comparative provocations intended as public encouragement for greater participation in the examination of all media production.  Because what is dearly lacking in our contemporary mediascapes are engaging, critical, bottom-up (or outside-in) critiques of our crazy mediated worlds.  Try to see TV critically for yourself.  You will slowly begin to understand exactly how deeply horrific this essential communication medium has truly become. 

      Additionally, Cultural Farming is a Free-Access, No-Advertising, No-Copyright site.  It is for folks who think best when words are mixed amongst the pictures.  It is for farmers who most appreciate the simple fruit of their own hard labor.  It is for citizens who understand that full and free access to our communication spectrum is both a right and a privilege.  In toto, however, remember this project is much more descriptive television study than it is prescriptive recipe.  Its description, however, should point to a clarion need for ethical prescription. 

      Please remember, as with every Cultural Farming project, Understanding Television suggests neither the “politicitization of art” or the “aestheticization of politics”.  Rather, it is fundamentally aboutknowing TV”, through an active gesture of repayment, as a public action, which purposefully disabuses both familiarity and disparagement.  Cultural Farming is how I’ve come to understand my television.


                                     Good Luck.  I hope you make it.

      Yes, television may be our most important invention over the last 100 years.  The problem, however, is that our media have always been held too tightly for too long in too few hands for too few reasons... and ultimately examined with too few critical methods.  Our opportunity to civically respond to decades of unchallenged cultural production has come.  So go ahead, make your own media with media, through critical appropriation and remix.  But do so reflexively, fully aware of intention and consequence.  And be sure each tells smart, sharp stories about our mediated worlds.  


An American

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




  Understanding Television through Cultural Farming

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