the 1970s Raymond Williams postulated that the real innovation
of television is television itself. He supported this argument
by looking at the way in which a TV broadcast constitutes itself.
It consists of a sequence of segments, blocks, parts. A normal
evening of TV watching strings together multiple series that are
already structured in themselves: commercial interruptions which
are themselves interrupted, newscasts with their own specific
formatting, announcements, films with their structure and cutting
techniques, and so on. Williams calls this the “flow”.
What was new about the TV medium was not the content (which is
actually to be found in theater and other forms of presentation)
but the form. It enables the viewer to let himself or herself
be carried along. Spontaneity gives rise to relaxation. What is
interesting is letting it all flow by, letting it happen.
It is not all too long
ago that 24-hour-a-day broadcasting was something unknown in Central
Europe. Sometime after the last talk show, the late film or the
news came the inevitable nightly signoff. Snow. I remember from
my childhood how that was a moment of terrifying stillness and
clarity. It is no coincidence that in the film “Poltergeist”
from the early 80s Tobe Hooper used just this phenomenon as something
calculated to give one the creeps. After the American national
anthem the broadcast is over; the snowstorm sets in. And it doesn’t
take long for the eerie voices of the damned to start calling
out of the hypnotic blizzard. It seems as if we would like to
ban this snow from our world.
leaves no time for snow, which is known as thermal noise in technical
parlance. Test patterns are also passé (much to the annoyance
of many TV repairmen, I’ve heard). Even in cases where a
gaze into the snow seems almost unavoidable – when using
a video recorder, for instance – the phenomenon is foiled
again. Modern television sets recognize thermal noise and replace
it with a static blue screen. A heavy Williamsian blanket, not
of snow, but of warm and cozy continuity, descends over the TV
landscape. The terrible stillness of the blast of wintry cold
after signoff? Ha! That’s how it used to be. But let’s
leave it at that. We don’t want this turning into a sentimental
“Save the Test Pattern” campaign.
Against the structure
of television – to put it bluntly – I am going to
posit snow, i.e. noise. It is the real specific characteristic
of the TV medium. The acceptance of noise as a universal form
of communication and as a media-specific characteristic does not
mean seeing noise as null information, but as metainformation.
It is the same in information
theory, where noise represents the maximum value of null information,
which at the same time is undecidable from the opposite pole of
absolute information (which theoretically would avoid all redundancy).
Thus both information theory and television work with redundancy,
on the one hand in order to make possible any sort of communication
or broadcast at all, and on the other hand in order to suppress
noise as the fundamental frequency of our interaction.
The television image
is unthinkable without noise (snow): firstly, noise is the result
of the carrier frequency by which the visual signal reaches the
receiver; secondly, the deluge of broadcast images tends to cause
itself to devolve into noise in the receiving consciousness. Noise
frames the television image on both the sending and the receiving
end. The television image appears only as a coded overlay, as
an image signal on this side of noise. In this sense watching
TV means entering into a twofold battle against noise. One that
is immediately technical and can be read against the history of
broadcast and equipment norms, and one that is mediately technical
and relates both to the way in which the images are produced and
to the adaptation of human subjectivization strategies: technology,
aesthetics and the human sciences, i.e. work, language and life,
give rise in varying degrees to the social production of television.
Under a paradoxical universal conception, which is reminiscent
of the milling mass of cells in the interior of organic matter,
the social production (or the production of society) that is television
represses noise: mass communication.
On the concept of communication,
Michel Serres writes: “Maintaining a dialog means postulating
a Third and attempting to exclude him. Successful communication
is the successful exclusion of this Third. At another point we
have referred to this Third as the demon, personified noise.”
Wherefrom the conclusion can be drawn that noise makes its entrance
on television when communication fails (admittedly this happens
rather rarely) or when communication is noncommunication as in
the case of the countless talk shows: there drama and conflict
– in other words the affect, the noise – dominate
television must repress noise, since as an optical medium it operates
with the imaginary, not with the real, which is noise. The dialectic
noise that arises in the noncommunication of the talk show reveals
the necessity of the demonic to facilitate the producer’s
desired perception of the medium. Because communication via TV
screen only allows an abstract form of exchange, its receivers
must revert to religious habits in their interaction with television.
The highest authority in this new religious universality is no
longer defined as that which is all-seeing, but that which is
seen by all. Salvation, previously the result of my fear and His
mercy, today derives from my zap and Its – television’s,
that is – predictability. It is reciprocative previsibility
that bridges the unbridgeable and allows mass communication to
function. The “conflicts” of talk shows are embedded
in this context of salvation in that they are accorded the role
of the demonic-real in the imaginary, of the noise in the medium.
It is obvious that the decisive dialog in watching a talk show
does not take place between the debating individuals in the studio,
but between the moderator and the viewer. The talk show guest
is precisely the Third that must be excluded in order for communication
via cathode-ray tube to succeed. In their virtual embrace, the
sender-receiver pair ensure their place high and dry on the Ark
and above the talk guest (You’ve pitched your tent on low
ground, buddy!), while from the distance comes the rushing noise
of the rising floodwaters.
english // monochrom deutsch