10/23 – No Time like the Telepresent

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2008 at 6:25 pm

Reading: Still Life in Real Time: Theory After Television

Reading: Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews

The Flows of Television: The general trend, towards an increasing variability and miscellaneity of public communications, is evidently part of a whole social experience. It has profound connections with the growth and development of greater physical and social mobility, in conditions both of cultural expansion and consumer rather than community cultural organizsation. Yet until the coming of broadcasting the normal expectation was still of a discrete event or of a succession of discrete events. People took a book or a pamphlet or a newspaper, went out to a play or a concert or a meeting or a match, with a single predominant expectation and attitude. The social relationships set up in these various cultural events were specific and in some degree temporary. (Williams, Television 88)

In the Time of Television: When television forms no longer follow a single representational logic, a plateau of totalization has been reached: television images can adhere to every body in motion, a value marked there in reserve, waiting for the chance to reenter the machinery, whether played out as need or as work. Television images do not represent things so much as they take up time, and to work through that time is the most pervasive way that subjects suffer through, participate in, and perhaps even glimpse, the global unification of contemporary capitalism. (Dienst 64)

In the Time of Television: The least acceptable thing on television, on the radio, or in the newspapers today is for intellectuals to take their time or to waste other people’s time there. Perhaps this is what must be changed in actuality: its rhythm. Media professionals aren’t supposed to waste any time. Neither theirs or ours. Which they are nonetheless often sure to do. They know the cost, if not the value, of time. (“Artifactualities” 6-7)

Tactics: All of this theorizing of television – its discourses, its appartus, its interests – settles sooner or later on the place of the viewer, the recipient, the site in front of the screen. Time and again, each theoretical snapshot tries to take into account what Sartre would call the “facticity” of television, the impression that it stands over against us, soliciting and repulsing our efforts to engage it constructively. Our best tactic may be stubbornness: staring down the images onscreen, looking at television as if it were not already there, and thereby producing our own fields of visibilty. (Dienst, 33)

Control Society: …if telecommunications in general is pursuing a logic of ever greater diversification and differentiation, there can be no panoptic focal point. How can this matrix be understood in terms of power? Deleuze has suggested that the panoptic disciplinary systems have been thrown into crisis, given way to “societies of control” populated by amorphous capitalist enterprises. There is a corresponding shift in figures: as rigid discipline spreads out and becomes flexible control, the “enclosed” subject becomes an “indebted” subject. Here, then, we can recognize the prototypical television viewer: in exchange with the screen a revolving debt is incurred, one payment is dispensed while the other is held back, so that an obligation and an interest are set against the future. […] The televisual bargain will last, moment by moment, image by image, as long as we feel we owe something to television, whether it is the solemn duty to find sense in what we see or the sweet burden to pursue our pleasures there. Whereas automatic time demands that we keep watching, still time demands that we keep switching; driven by these two pressures, the image onscreen extends its claim over other images, near and distant, already past and yet to come. But if we insist on the possiblity of seeing the future anew, delivered from the contraints of the unbearable present time, our eyes ought to be trained not on television but on the active and critical powers of thought. (Dienst 169)

Moment of Zen

Right of Inspection/Cognitive Liberty: There is much to say, whether about the right to penetrate a “public” or “private” space, the right to “introduce” the eye and all these optical prostheses (movie camera, still cameras, etc.) into the “home” of the other, or whether about the right to know who owns, who is able to appropriate, who is able to select, who is able to show images, directly political or not. I had used this expression, “right of inspection,” in reference to photography, to a mute photographic work, the narrative matrices of which I had multiplied, but it goes far beyond the question of art – or of photography as art. It concerns everything that, in public space today, is regulated by the production and circulation of images, real or virtual, and thus of gazes, eyes, optical prostheses, etc. (“Right of Inspection” 34)

Technical limits, technical training: …not only is all regulation in the form of state law, all cultural protection decided by a nation-state dangerous in itself, but it is outdated from a technical standpoint. […] What is possible and, in my opinion, desirable are not legislative decisions concerning the production and distribution of whatever it is, but open programs of education and training in the use of this technology, these technical means. […] Most people who drive a car, who use a telephone, e-mail, or a fax machine, and a fortiori people who watch television, don’t know how it works. They use these things in a position or relative incompetence. I would be tempted to see in this relative incompetence and its incommensurable increase as compared with the incompetence of the past, along with the decline of state sovereignty, one of the keys to most of hte unprecedented phenomena that people are trying to assimilate to old monsters in order to conjure them away (the “return of the religions,” “nationalist” archaisms). (“Artifactuality, Homohegemony” 54; “Acts of Memory: Topopolitics and Teletechnology” 57)

The Evolution of the Technical Synthesis Implies the Evolution of the Spectatorial Synthesis: The Technological synthesis is not a replica, not a double of life, any more than writing is a replication fo speech, but there is a complex of writing in which the two terms always move together, being in a tranductive relation. […] …just as certain kinds of writing actually liberate certain kinds of reflexivity (for example, certain kinds of linear, alphabetic writing, without which law, science, and in particular history would be inconceivable), so certain kinds of image-objects are doubtless destined to liberate reflexivity in the domains of the visible and of movement, just as alphabetic writing reveals the discrete characters of language. Techniques of digitization of animated images are going to become very widespread in global society through multimedia and digital television. The relation of the analog image is going to b massively discretized, thrown into crisis, it is going to open up a critical access to the image. There is a chance, if it can be seized, to develop a culture of reception. Which might lead to another way of formulating the question of the cultural exception. The real problem here is to rethink or think otherwise what Hollywood has up to this point done in the domain of the culture industry, to which cinema and television belong. For what it has done, it has done in accordance with reifying schema, and by opposing production to consumption, that is to say: by putting analysis on one side (production) and synthese on the other (consumption). Technology is giving us the chance to modify this relation, in a direction that would bring it closer to the relation of the literate person to literature: it is not possible to synthesize a book without having analyzed literally onself. It is not possible to read without knowing how to write.  And soon it will be possible to see an image analytically: “television” and “text” are not simply opposed. (“The Discrete Image” 162-163)

Moment of Zen

  1. Steigler and Derrida indicate that “the public sphere…is dominated today, by television in general” (32). And it is television that seems to create and circulate public space and public identities. What is interesting with television is its quotidian nature; this nature causes many to ignore televisual affects upon culture, society, politics, theory, etc.: “All of a sudden, at some point that should be within living memory, television seemed to flood the social sphere with a new kind of power” (Dienst 4). Yet television narrates specific and discussion worthy systems. An interesting draw of television is its connection to the live event: “When we watch television, we have the impression that something is happening only once; this is not going to happen again, we think it is ‘living,’ live, real time, whereas we also know, on the other hand, it is being produced by the strongest, the most sophisticated repetition machines” (89). A combination of narratives and images give television its specificity and in particular, genre shows such as Law and Order: SVU connect “live” events and the image together in new and unsettling ways.

    Law and Order: SVU is a popular crime drama that builds upon traditional crime genre while also incorporating new techniques; SVU often draws upon current news worthy stories and how they relate to sexually based offenses. It is a show which presents the un-presentable or unspeakable, rape. And while this theme may seem new and unsettling, the integration of “live” or “actual” crimes, cultural issues, and politics produce an ongoing cultural and political narrative which draws us in and gives a special urgency to the show: “In the televisual nexus, political economy and culture circulate through each other instantly and endlessly” (37). The repetitive nature, along with the integration of “actual” events in crime dramas such as SVU, creates “societies of control.” As argued by Dienst, television has now become more than a form of hegemony; it has encompassed our everyday, our dialogue, our consumption, and our free time: “The second function of the televisual image concerns a transformation in the capacities of capitalism through a new production of time…the first order of time, belonging to the content of televisual flow, is the calculated bait in the capture of the second order of human (free) time” (60). Through SVU’s habitual performance of social codes through which identity is composed and transferred, the subject emerges and is recognized via the immaterial representation within the televisual field. As Butler states:
    What leads to this reproduction? Clearly, it is not merely a mechanistic appropriation of norms, nor is it a voluntaristic appropriation. It is neither simple behaviorism nor a deliberate project. To the extent that it precedes the formation of the subject, it is not yet
    of the order of consciousness, and yet this involuntary compulsion is not a mechanistically produced effect. The notion of ritual suggests that it is performed, and that in the repetition of performance a belief is spawned, which is then incorporated into the performance in its subsequent operations (Power 119).
    In short, television is one kind of reality, and the culture to which we belong is another. But we perceive both in a similar way, especially with appropriate of “live” and “actual” events into the medium; and as a result, they interact with each other and help create and situate reality. It is the generic and the particular that gives the genre of SVU its power: “This is why the notion of a genre always implies an improbable contract between visible images on the one hand, and a hypothetical public memory on the other” (72).

    Back to the unsettling and titillating subject of “sexually based offenses.” The show draws upon a cultural consciousness, one that defines sexuality, gender, and female fear in clearly delineated terms. The image itself holds specific power for the viewer; women transpose themselves into the body of the victim and often the viewer is asked to view the violated body in a voyeuristic way. Stiegler and Derrida theorize the image and give it a history. For the viewer, specifically a female viewer, the image of the violated victim resonates as a representation not only of the past (the past victim) but of the future (the potential victimization of the female viewer): “For the image…has its own history…The image preserves not so much a memory of a past event but the prospect of a future one” (73). For Steigler and Derrida, the image produces traces of the other, of the ghostly. When this image refuses to look back, is unable to look back, there is a strange transference of the ghostly. Fear coupled with uneasy desire produces a doubly ghostly image. The victim never looks back at us, instead, we are asked to transpose ourselves into the body of the victim; we are required to fear and desire the victim simultaneously. If there is a ghostly image, it is our ghost that looks back at us. Thus, I would like to apply Derrida and Stiegler’s haunted image in a different way; one which complicates the enduring gaze that obscures the visible and invisible. If there is a question that arises from gazing upon the violated victim, a victim that haunts our past, present and future memory (specifically the female memory), it is the agency given to this image. Can such an image “enjoy the right of absolute inspection” (121)? Or, arguably somewhat misapplied by me, there is the doubling ghostly shudder of fear when viewing this image because we have seen this before, we know this fear already, have placed ourselves into this image numerous times; “we are already haunted by this future, which [literally may] bring our death. Our disappearance is already here” (117).

  2. Echographies of Television is potentially a very confounding text for those attempting to understand the purview of Derrida and Stiegler’s work solely within the framework of the aforementioned technology. Although one supposes that the exchange between the two will mostly be concerned with the numerous implications (social, political, and otherwise) of television, Derrida and Stiegler don’t seem interested in limiting their discussion to this technology. In fact, excepting the final chapter of their exchange, this media is only ever really invoked as a means of approaching the photographic image. Although Derrida provides a brief account of his fascination with television as he discusses his own viewing habits, as a whole, the text deemphasizes this media with regard for the extended history of technological development. Quite simply, though television might be viewed as intensifying certain tendencies that arise in relationship to technology, Derrida and Stiegler argue that these tendencies are not limited to the development and proliferation of this particular technology.

    For evidence of this move in Echographies one might turn to Derrida’s discussion of literacy in the section entitled, “Topolitics and Teletechnology.” Here, when presented with the issue of technical inadequacies, especially as they manifest in the form of illiteracy, Derrida argues that the issue of illiteracy is fundamentally (perhaps intrinsically) related to technical development; to an extended history of technical development:

    …we are by and large in a state of quasi-illiteracy with respect to the image. Just as literacy and mastery of language, of spoken or of written discourse, have never been universally shared (it goes almost without saying that there have always been, not only people who can read and people who can’t, but among those who can, a great diversity of competencies, abilities, etc.) (59)

    Though Derrida’s move here is to substantiate a continuum of understanding or literacy as opposed to a stricter position that delineates “haves” from “have-nots” (perhaps, “understand” from “understand-nots”), one can also read that Derrida is extending the continuum of illiteracy to the technologies that proceed television, and the image more specifically.

    If the dominant trends of television that Stiegler and Derrida identify can be traced back through the history of technology, why then, is emphasis given to the medium of television? Why is the technology of television given precedence, even if the more general move is towards a discussion/consideration of other technologies?

    Perhaps, returning to the initial portion of this response, the one thing that television allows Derrida and Stiegler to do, which they will ultimately be unable to do with other technologies, is to discuss the photographic image. Here, it is important to note that I refer to the photographic image in specificity. This is a distinction that Stiegler makes in his discussion of Barthes in chapter eight. As Stiegler quotes Barthes in Camera Lucida, “I call ‘photographic referent,’ not the optionally real thing to which an image or sign refers, but the necessarily real thing that was placed before the lens, without which there would be not photograph. Painting, on the other hand, can feign reality without having seen it” (113). Thus, somewhat, the importance of television, for Stiegler, is that it is tied to reality, and as Barthes argues, a specter.

    Thus, as we have seen, the difference between television and other media is two-fold. Not only is television tied to a reality in a way that other media are not, especially in that it could not exist in the same form without this reality, but this relationship is forever present. Television, excepting brief segments on public broadcasting channels, is always tied to the photograph, and thus a reality. Here, though, as Derrida argues, we experience this reality as both presence and non-presence.
    Considering the complicated nature of this assessment, and its implications for a more general understanding of technology, it seems important to return to Barthes discussion of the specter. Derrida, following on this assessment of the photographic image, argues that “The future belongs to ghosts” (115). This, of course, needs a little unpacking. The specter, as Derrida later argues, is visible despite not being of flesh and blood. Also, as Derrida suggests, the specter is of the future as it observes and contemplates that which cannot reciprocate. To argue that the future belongs to ghosts seems to propose, following on earlier portions of their conversation, that in the future we will only have mediated images of one another. Here, it seems that one can take this argument in three directions.

    (1) The first supposes little of technological development and more in regard to its increasing proliferation. This is to say that Derrida seemingly envisions the medium of television proliferating to such an extent that the only view we have of other people is through their appearance as specters on our television screen. I don’t know that this is an apocalyptic vision in so much as it is a simple suggestion that our lives may eventually be completely mediated; that we will only encounter each other on screen.
    (2) The second assumes an incredible advancement in the technological capacity to “program.” Here, I make explicit reference to Derrida’s use of the term in the chapter on Artifactuality and Homohegemony (46-47). In this chapter, Derrida argues that, “not everything is programmable” (46). Returning to the discussion of specters, one might imagine that in the future, according to Derrida’s assessment, people will only interact as specters. Here, of course, one might imagine a world somewhat similar to that which James Woods finds himself in Cronenberg’s Videodrome. Though it is a little difficult to envision that we have one image contemplating another via the medium of television, we seem to have something strikingly similar in terms of the avatars we encounter in online environments. Of course, in the terms of Derrida and Stiegler, these avatars would have to be photographic representations of a certain reality, and not the type of representations we seem to possess now. This, of course, would dramatically disturb the connotation of avatar with which we are currently presented. In effect, returning to the quote mentioned previously, everything would have to be programmable.
    (3) The third interpretation, which might be related to the second, concerns human extinction. Though Derrida remains a little uncertain on his discourse to this effect, one might conclude that a natural prerequisite to the specter is the death of the relative person in reality. Turning to the example of Derrida’s partner, her eventual death in real life could be interpreted as a prerequisite to her being a specter in the filmic footage that Derrida speaks of. Though I imagine that death might not be a prerequisite to the specter, one might follow this thread out. Quite simply, it is possible to read that Derrida is suggesting that our immortality is determined by the images we compose. Or, as Derrida might say, following on Heidegger’s influence, it is an awareness of our own death, our ability to see into the “open,” that contributes to the significance of the photographic specter. It is in many ways strange to envision a future where the static images of individual moments of existence exist as continuations of the people that have died. In a rather simplistic sense, I question whether one’s immortality is determined by one’s possession of technology. Is your mortality determined by your possession of a camera or photographic device? Finally, we are getting to the question technics and time that Stiegler is continually trying to plug. What does it mean for Stiegler’s work that a technology actually determines our presence in time?
    (4) “What if we are already all dead?” Jeff Pruchnic

  3. I won’t pretend to understand precisely what Richard Dienst meant when he titled his last chapter of Still Life in Real Time “Ineluctable Modalities of the Televisual;” however, I am interested in elaborating (and also perhaps complicating) Dienst’s claim in this final chapter that “…all actually existing television is constructed by combining forces of stilling and extending time” (163). I’m curious about how his statement plays out in some of television’s new technologies. I’m thinking specifically of the ways in which “watching TV” has changed over the last few years. I no longer need cable to watch Mad Men; each episode is automatically downloaded to my computer every week. And if I miss an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I know it will be available on Hulu the following week. I wonder then, if these changes in how we watch television also have an effect on television’s capital. Surely, downloading seasons of shows from iTunes might not have a detrimental financial impact on the producers, directors, and actors of the show, but what about Hulu? I’m quite certain that I’m overthinking this, as ads are still interspersed into programming. Interestingly enough, the ads shown during Hulu’s “broadcast” of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are for that show alone; I’m being persuaded to watch a show that I don’t need to be persuaded to watch. Other shows, of course, show ads for unrelated products, but this self-reflexive advertisement seems to complicate Sut Jhally’s claim through Dienst that defines “programming as the ‘necessary’ time the broadcaster is forced by some mysterious social imperative to give up, and identif[ies] advertising as the pay-off, the ‘surplus value’ extracted from viewers” (61). I fail to see what surplus value is being extracted when I watch IASIP on Hulu; I neither get advertisements for products I may be compelled to buy the next time I go to the store, nor do I need to buy the series on DVD since I can watch them any time I want online and with limited commercial interruption. Of course, Dienst discredits this claim and that television is solely a vehicle for capital, but advertising is still ubiquitous.
    But to return to the issue of time: Dienst states that commercial breaks segment real time with fictive time, filling in and extending space. He notes the VCR’s ability to slow or stop images and to instantaneously switch between images. DVRs are an interesting adaptation of this instantaneous switching, stopping, and slowing of televisual time because it does so in real time. That is, while VCRs require shows to be recorded in their entirety before these time extensions and changes can take place, DVRs can do so immediately.
    Dienst also makes the claim that the “[n]ews offers itself as the most immediate, most disjointed production of a world assembled by a constant vigilance, where all rays of representation leave and return to a single point, that is, the newsreader’s face” (164). “The news” to which Dienst refers is all but superfluous to many these days. Of course, just as print will never truly die, neither will the nightly news. However, the immediate need for the 5 o’clock news is no longer so apparent. I can receive text message updates about the presidential election and surf the web from my cell phone with just a touch of the screen (with my hypothetical iPhone)If anything, “the news” as we know it today is even more disjointed than it was in the early nineties when Dienst was writing his book. Indeed, as Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Jeff Rice have reminded us, our entire lives, insofar as they are bound to the technologies we use, are disjointed and immediate. And so this archetypal televisual time to which Dienst refers seems to be (to me, at least) everywhere: information mixes with entertainment, with communication. The only difference, then, is that rays of representation no longer have just a single entrance or exit point, but as many aleatory points as we can devise.
    Dienst leaves his readers with the following statement: “When television is no longer offered as a single expressive event (the voice and visage of Authority), each act of viewing becomes charged with the responsibility of fabricating its own present tense, affirming the basic transaction while watching for a message, waiting to see what comes next. The televisual bargain will last, moment by moment, image by image, as long as we feel we owe something to television” (168-9). I don’t deny that we owe something to television still; the question becomes, then: how much? I’m not sure.

  4. Capitalism has manipulated the operating machine (T.V.) in many similar ways that it has manipulated the disabled body. Television, Dienst argues, is part of the machinery of global capitalism, and, has, inevitably developed for the most part as a tool (commodity) promoting accumulation in capitalism and its dominant effects on politics, economics, and cultures. Yet, machinery, according to Dienst, implies everything automatic, inhuman, separate, and even deathly in regards to social life. Within disability research, Lennard Davis notes that since the 1800’s— within our “ableist” society— research on the human body has been continually measured against the body capable of doing factory work. The ideology of ableism— defined as “discrimination in favor of the able-bodied” and “discrimination against disabled body”— Davis argues, has often been more “disabling” than the physical limitations of disabilities themselves. (11). Because we measure our bodies within the framework of an ableist society, we are simultaneously disabling all bodies which differ from that standard— creating a disabled culture which emerges from the values and practices within disabilities. This distinction often creates an artificial hierarchy between able-bodied (or “normal”) persons as superior because of their “wholeness,” while people with disabilities are viewed as “fragmented” and inferior (27). Unfortunately, the construction of normalcy since the 19th century has meant a simultaneous denigration of disability, as there is probably no area of life in today’s society in which some idea of a norm hasn’t been incorporated and assumed.
    But, for Dienst, the machine seems lost in its inability to be completely extricated from these social processes for the social value of the political economy correlates not just with “the value of images but the images of value” (38). Still, though, the machine is empty, vacant, really—much like rhetoric without a focus or topic. For Dienst, when the banal reproduction ceases and, thus, interpretation collapses, the machine becomes a literal blueprint for the dominant accounts of power. According to Dienst, “Since capital loves movement, it takes on fantastic and bizarre shapes whenever it is topped for very long, when it becomes “fixed.” Machinery is Marx’s most consistent example and metaphor of fixed capital, to the point where it becomes the internal perfection of capital’s representational movement” (45). Further, capital seeks to create each moment as an ideal “necessarily inscribed and abstract but irreducibly symbolic and translatable, in order to generalize its space of operation” (46). Similarly, since cultural expectations determine the way our bodies should look and act, the degree to which we (don’t) meet these expectations determines, then, our depth of disability. Giving light to the condition of those with disabilities and the ways in which constructed socio-cultural categories have prevented full integration and opportunity for those with disabilities, one can draw a connection between the disabled body’s marginalization and dehumanization with the post-fordist, modern body , which is submitted to a new technology of power, as Foucault discusses in his text, “Discipline and Punish”. According to Dienst, “The machinic form of value accomplishes what the exchange of commodities cannot: it constitutes bodies as conscious (self) representations coordinated through the technical arrangement of economic processes. …Beyond all these acts of submission and service, the final but deferred result of capitalist production is a ‘society’ itself, a set of relations played out between moving bodies, appearing to and vanishing from each other at differing speeds, in which the sole task left to human beings is to ‘renew themselves as they renew the world of wealth they create'” (48-49).

  5. “Though both accounts connect the different forms of televisual image with the competition of different capitals, each continues to accept advertising as the primary economic mechanism of television, when in fact it is only one possibility. In other words, these accounts stay close to the advertiser’s own version of the story, which is part of every commercial’s ideological protocol: the companies insist that they just want to buy slots of time that they hope will be witnessed by a certain demographic slice. We, the audience, are supposed to understand, sympathize, play along. But with the multiplication of channels and the new attachment of VCRs, this arrangement, this pact of complicity, has become more obviously fragile” (Dienst 61).
    The fear, it seems, has forever been in television that people will stop watching commercials. If people stop watching commercials, advertisers will stop buying ad time, the television networks will lose their revenue, and network television, as we know it, will cease to exist. The “zapping” mentioned in this text in reference to the ubiquity of remote controls—quickly changing channels to avoid the horror of having to sit through a series of advertisements—or the fast-forward capability of the VCR were sure to tear the very fabric of television, and advertising in general, apart. However, 15 years after the publication of Dienst’s book, and even after the widespread availability of the DVR, advertising still reigns supreme in the world of network broadcasting. And in answer to another question raised by Dienst, that of primary function—is television a megaphone for corporate interests or a creator and disseminator of culture—I would go so far as to say that not only is television primarily a tool for marketing on a grand scale, any culture that it may create or disseminate is inherently shaped by the advertising that funds it.
    In the case of television programming, both entertainment and news, the basic formatting of scripts and segments is still designed around viewer retention during advertising. Ending a scene on a cliffhanger the viewer doesn’t want to miss or breaking for a commercial immediately before sports or weather or immediately after plugging a tragic story, all are designed to hold you to your seat. If you “zap” to a different channel or use the restroom during a commercial break, you risk missing the promise of the segment or scene to come. No matter what type of culture or information lies within that promise, it is given to you through the filter of whatever advertising precedes it.
    As an advertising industry insider for a few years, I saw first hand the power advertising has in program development as well. The preseason ad buys (the industry’s version of the Super Bowl or the World Series) making or breaking new shows looking for prime time slots and old shows looking for renewal. If that aforementioned demographic slice can’t be delivered, the show goes the way of the Dodo, and another reality program (more easily producible with a higher ROI for the advertisers) gets hastily developed and slapped in the show’s place as a mid-season replacement. This, consequently, is why stations such as The Learning Channel and the Discovery Channel, both of which were originally dedicated to educational programming, fill their weeknights with such educational programming as “17 Kids and Counting,” “Man Vs. Wild,” and Miami Ink,” and why premium channels like HBO and Showtime—who don’t need to worry about advertising—are some of the only channels creating award winning, culturally stimulating programming. In the case of the actual Super Bowl (which in advertising is more anticipated each year about as much as the second coming), time phase-shifts into money—with 30 seconds retailing for millions of dollars—and the advertising becomes the culture being disseminated. Think about it. How many people do you know say every year, “I don’t really like football, I just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials.”
    Now, on the Internet—the great equalizer with the promise of unlimited, commercial-free entertainment—a battle is being waged to see who will be the first to figure out how to really capitalize on its capabilities. And what is the Holy Grail in this quest? A successful, reproducible method for the sale and application of advertising space. Now you can watch “free” TV online if you don’t mind sitting through an unzappable commercial or two at the beginning or tuning out the constant blipping of the banner ads on the side of the screen.
    But even if you are able to circumvent the advertising process entirely, say rent the entire first season of “Lost” or “The Office” from Blockbuster, every time there’s an odd fade or a weird cut every twelve minutes or so … usually after a particularly poignant line or sticky situation … that’s where the commercial goes; the reason that show was on TV in the first place, the reason you were able to rent that DVD and bring it home. Your culture is still subject to the designs of television as the megaphone of the advertiser. My question, then, is that since the days that television sets began appearing in living rooms across the nation, and shows like the “Texaco Star Theater,” “The Philco Television Playhouse,” the “Ford Theatre,” “In the Kelvinator Kitchen,” the “Kraft Television Theater, the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” and “The Voice of Firestone Televues,” was there ever a day when television was the source of culture that wasn’t “brought to you by …”?

  6. I am drawn to the desire of both books to reexamine the culture of television in its multiple uses of time—that there has to be time set aside for programming, advertisers have to be on at the right time on the appropriate show, viewers have to have time to watch the programs, and most important of all, television cannot waste the viewer’s time. These are just some of the ways of that time and television are used, and potentially misused, according to the authors. Derrida in Ethnograpies wants to change the rhythm of television—the need to promote a different use of its timing and framing: “The least acceptable thing on television, on the radio, or in the newspapers today is for intellectuals to take their time or to waste other people’s time there. Perhaps this is what must be changed in actuality: its rhythm. Media professionals aren’t supposed to waste any time.” Derrida proposes a different rhythm which he knows could “reduce certain intellectuals to silence (those who require a bit more time for the necessary analyses, and those who refuse to adapt to the complexity of things to the conditions imposed on their discussion); it can shut them up or drown out their voices with the sounds of others – at least in places where certain rhythms and certain forms of speech or dominant” (6-7). Still Life begins with a similar idea quoting Jacques Lacan who has a similar apology for having to modify his remarks to effectively think of the afterlife of the televisual. He reminds the viewers that he can only speak a truth that will fit the frame of an edited, sound bite to be viewed for television (ix). Then many pages later Jacques Derrida performs damage control when describing Martin Heidegger’s agreement to a television interview—only after he preselected the questions and drafted out his answers (124-126). The broadcast ended up looking scripted as Heidegger quoted himself and summarized his own ideas regarding the technology. Heidegger knew what he wanted to say and the interviewer allowed him the freedom to select the conversations and draft responses, but it still did not increase the rhythm or flow of the interview. If I watched an interview with similar traits, I would turn the set off, as I would think it’s a waste of my time to watch something so rehearsed. While Sara Palin ended up not having all the answers during her televised interviews, I did not consider the time I spent watching the broadcasts as a waste of time.

    Another topic that Derrida alludes to is the manipulation of the media of both the here and now (79). When is “live” not live? I often see and hear CNN replay segments that are supposedly “live”—and they were at one point, but not at the time I am currently watching. I’m also recording CNN’s Rick Sanchez for my seminar paper, and “live” then will be seven to eight weeks into the future. Will that effect the way I view the event? I was recently watching Regis and Kelly, when the TV went to a Blue Screen. A few minutes later the show returned, but it was a rerun, without an announcement to the viewer that the station was having technical difficulties so some viewers could assume it was still the same “live” broadcast. However, approximately 10 minutes later the original “live” broadcast returned. When is it OK to put a fake screen behind a reporter to make it appear they are on location in front of the White House for example. This might lend the reporter more credibility, but if I determine the situation is a hoax, I become upset with the loss of my time that was spent believing the situation.

    A final intriguing topic was Heidegger’s thoughts that television threatens thinking, contaminates the real world and interferes with human access to any kind of truth (104). This reminds me of a homicide I covered many years ago as a reporter when a man entered a convenience store, brandished a weapon, and fatally shot the employee. All this was captured on the video camera, yet when it was replayed for me the following day on the police department television station, it didn’t seem real—the truth of the actual death escaped me because I had been programmed to view “homicides” daily from my favorite crime shows: CSI’s Horatio Caine always solves the murder within an hour. The TV culture in my home is pervasive: there is a television in every bedroom, and in the living room, kitchen, basement and even the car. While my car does not have a satellite TV, I cannot drive anywhere without CNN being broadcast from my XM radio. My children have no trouble sitting on the couch and solely watching a show; yet I have to have the television on in addition to completing household chores. So I beg to differ from Dientst’s premise that television viewing is for “free time” some of us have been programmed to multi-task and television is now being relegated to a different dimension within our lives—we have to split the time of television viewing with something else. So does this definition of time need to be further defined?

  7. Derrida’s comments from “Vigilances of the Unconscious” reflect his desire for a psychoanalytic-type of labor that will “come through the unconscious, through relations between forces, a scene of work that, if scene means visibility, is not even a scene anymore. It is going on somewhere else, at rhythms we can’t control, in relation to which we aren’t obliged to be passive, but which imply, despite everything, at the very height of our activity, a kind of passivity” (136). This passivity represents a process and a presence that we must surrender to despite our lack of control. He acknowledges the importance of vigilance, consciousness, and active decision-making, but attributes that this type of political action “takes up only a limited space in the unconscious.” As a result, Derrida challenges the current categories of psychoanalysis, particularly the category of the “unconscious,” and believes that psychoanalysis should be mobilized, active, and working to help citizens rearticulate experience and meaning-making beyond a mere discourse or “awakening” framework.

    Sherry Turkle’s preface to Psychoanalytic Politics identifies the “cultural plasticity of psychoanalytic ideas” and establishes how psychoanalysis is “a way of using theory to ‘work through’ powerful cultural images, to help arrange these images into new and clearer patterns” (xxiii). Turkle’s The Second Self juxtaposes psychoanalytic and computational discourse, and evaluates how both models “incite people to play with them in an active way.” Active play and manipulation with psychoanalytic ideas echoes Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s examination of human/user activity in online and offline mediums in Datacloud. He notes that “this sort of activity – contingent, experimental, loosely goal-driven, playful – in an increasing number of situations – not only in games…is due to the dramatic increase in the amount of information we deal with on a daily basis” (3). Since this vast amount of information produces a type of user activity that continually reconstructs itself, the theoretical apparatus or framework also needs to reflect this ongoing consciousness. Johnson-Eilola states, “Rather than establishing frameworks and ground rules early on, users in these environments learned – and created – rules on the fly. Rather than understanding creativity as the inspired production of solitary genius, these users manipulated preexisting data, filtering, cutting, pasting, and moving” (3). Psychoanalysis, as a malleable theory of mind, seems to hold the promise and potential of not only enacting but accounting for this contingent, playful, and experimental process: “Whether or not one really understands computational and psychoanalytic theories in their technical detail, each offers active experiences that break down resistance to seeing mind in its terms” (Turkle xviii). Turkle’s research on psychoanalytic and computational models of meaning-making provides a rich framework to explore Derrida’s desire for a psychoanalytic-type of labor. Derrida considers this labor “to work, through psychoanalysis, within psychoanalysis, or to put psychoanalysis to work: this is at one and the same time a task, a situation, and a process that is under way…” (137). Indeed, the passivity that is occurring within the unconscious realm is “taking place, it is happening” (Derrida 136) and because this process is technical, the dialectic between psychoanalytic and computational theories is “under way”…waiting for new knowledge, new meaning-making heuristics, and new questions to be constructed – and reconstructed.

  8. Is it possible that Derrida foretold, in his usual elliptical, elusive/illusive/allusive way, the ugly bitterness of recent McCain-Palin campaign rallies? You know the ones: where Obama is decried as a “terrorist,” “radical,” or “Arab,” or where unidentified voices call for his assassination? Or, better still, those at which Palin herself argues that Obama doesn’t see American the way she and her supporters do—the supporters who live, one must guess, in the “real America?”
    I ask because in many ways this behavior seems predicted by Derrida in Echographies of Television. In what almost seems an aside, Derrida explains how the technologization of democracy (or vice-versa maybe) has brutal unintended consequences:

    The more powerful and violent the technological expropriation, the delocalization, the more powerful, naturally, the recourse to the at-home, the return toward home. Once “democratization” . . . has, thanks precisely to the technologies we were just now talking about, made such “progress” . . . to the point where, the classical totalitarian ideologies having foundered . . . the neoliberal ideology of the market is no longer able to cope with its own power—once this has happened, there is a clearer field for this form of homecoming called “petty nationalism,” the nationalism of minorities, regional or provincial nationalism, and for religious fundamentalism. . . . Hence the “regression” which accompanies the acceleration of the technological process, which is always also a process of delocalization . . . . (81)

    In the midst of the primary season, Obama infamously opined about working class voters, arguing that their abandonment by government in general and the policies of the Bush years in particular gave them adequate cause for their hostility toward Obama’s politics; the senator claimed that “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Which, in a nutshell, is the same argument (or a very similar one) to Derrida’s. While it is true that the continuing unraveling of laissez-faire capitalism has driven ever more of these voters to the Obama camp, the vitriol evident at recent McCain-Palin rallies points to an unfortunate confirmation of the movement foreseen by Derrida: Obama’s black skin and “Other-“ sounding name, his (rightful) antipathy to the so-called “values voters” of 2004, and his effortless cosmopolitanism all point to a passing of power and prestige (perhaps even more important here) from the white middle- and working-classes to a more (symbolically at least) democratic idea of America and American power. The fervor with which Sarah Palin’s entry into the race in late summer might then have had less to do with the fact that she was a woman or a **cough, cough** “maverick” than that her nomination appealed directly to the sense of wounded national (and nationalist) pride that Derrida and Obama had earlier diagnosed.
    What is so fascinating about this is that the behavior of the McCain voters in question is in some ways unprecedented in American history. It is true, of course, that there have been periods in which organizations like the Klan have swollen in number, but these have typically followed cataclysmic events such as the Civil War; or periods of sudden and swift social and cultural change, such as desegregation in the 1950s and the expansion of the Civil Rights movement in the decades following; or even the angry scapegoating of minority groups following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center. If I am right in arguing that Derrida and Obama are diagnosing something new in American culture—a fervent and possibly violent provincial nationalism, fueled by racial resentment and stoked by religious fervor and the happiness of a warm gun—then the increasingly likely election of Obama to the White House might be seen as something of a final provocation. That is, I wonder if an Obama election—like Lincoln’s election in 1860, which inspired the first moves toward secession—could inspire serious threats to the stability of the union. Given the immense symbolic value associated with the Obama candidacy—magnified many more times, I imagine, should he win—an Obama presidency could not inconceivably be the catalyst for some unpredictable test of the nation’s character.
    This remains largely, then, a question of representation—how shall America, and the values, people, ideologies, and ways of wielding power associated with it, be represented in the 21st century, both to itself and to its sister nations? To the extent that this is a question of representation, we might thus also say that it is a rhetorical crisis in some sense: what forms of representation will be needed to make sense of America’s place in the world, faced with a crumbling economy, two failing wars, and the diminished respect of other states? And how, finally, would the election of either McCain or Obama shape the way those representations are determined?

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