Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Are You Still a TV?

So Sunday night’s Emmy Awards were a classic example of why cable, whether basic or premium, generally trounces network TV. In a three hour snoozefest, we saw why reality television hosts shouldn’t generally be eligible for awards. When the supposed highlights of a program include removing a supermodel’s outerwear and later dropping her on the floor, one must wonder what this can actually mean?

It goes without saying that television remains the most significant communication medium of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first, of course, it might be the internet, the blogsphere, viral video sites, something other than a box tethered to a cable in a living room, or den, or bedroom. What seems obvious too is that not only has the audience for this content diminished, but its methods of delivery have not altered as radically as one might have expected.

I expect that the average trendsetters in LA or New York or Milan, (for the sake of appearing really, really out of touch let's deem them "hipsters", as if we have somehow fallen back to the fifties with out goatee beards, bongo drums and late night readings of Allen Ginsberg's Howl) the ones with the big headphones attaches to his or her iPod, probably aren’t that interested in sitcom episode delivery to their personal communications device. It’s sort of like listening to Girl Talk and wondering why he doesn’t get sued for copyright infringement while at the same time remembering that the Verve did.

Anyway, it’s obvious that we are in a period of visual transition. Remember when the biggest worry we had was that media moguls would corner the digital reproduction rights on works of art so that we wouldn't be able to have their reproductions streamed to the flat panel displays in our homes? Remember how horrified we became with the thought that the reproduction poster of Van Gogh's Starry Night or the Mona Lisa might not actually be enough? Just try to imagine streaming a Sol LeWitt wall drawing or an On Kawara date painting, something so unexpected that the visitor to your home, spying your vast multimedia array, would ask, "Is the service guy coming to fix that soon?"

The paradigms for both the dissemination and the reception of contemporary visual culture, whether televisual or otherwise, deserve to be revalued and reconsidered. It’s certainly not a new argument. In 1990, academic Tony Fry hosted a course in Sydney, Australia, exploring Heidegger and the televisual. The resulting essays, RUA TV, consider the range of implications of visual culture.

Imagine now if we had understood then just what the ensuing maelstrom of digital delivery might be? Either way, something should have given me a reason to turn off the TV on Sunday. Instead, thanks to wireless internet, it merely became the bad background noise to what was really engaging me, right there on my other, more controllable, screen.

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