May 2009

Although I have not paid for cable in years, and though I couldn’t tell you what the top shows have been for the past ten years, and even though I have frequently proclaimed “Kill Your Television” as a panacea to our collective North American spiritual crisis (highest level of depression in the world) I felt I had to comment on an article that appeared at titled “The End of Television As We Know It”today that said:

“For decades now, the networks and production studios have held a creative stranglehold over the industry. If you were a writer with a brilliant idea for a new show, you had to go through “the system” if you held any hope for your idea to see the light of day and come to fruition as an actual television show. “The system” meaning everything so frustrating and wrong and cliched with modern day Hollywood—-An endless clusterfuck of pitch meetings to tone-deaf underlings, countless script re-writes birthed from asinine notes from dunderhead executives (“I see on page 16 you have Sally eating a peanut…shouldn’t she be eating a cashew instead?!”) who’d never written a thing in their lives but love handing out business cards to aspiring starlets with the word “Producer” under their names, a dizzying array of focus groups and trend research studies so the higher-ups can get their fingers on the “pulse” of the modern viewer and force the creator to change accordingly, and everybody and their wife and cousin has got a fucking opinion to the point where the whole thing gets utterly mutilated. Someone could have the most brilliant idea and these people will more often than not find new and innovative ways to destroy it, all in the hopes of making it more appealing to Harriet and Clarence McAverage in Des Moines, Iowa.”

My response:

Not really.  I mean, it would be nice to think the internet, the platform that made you “famous,” Gawker,  was all that, but not yet. Last year 99% of television was still watched on a “TV.” I was surprised myself by that number, but guess what – Hulu+YouTube+Piratebay+Demonoid and all of it still equals less than 1% of the viewing audience.

People have been crying “Kill Your Television” since it began. And every year we declare its death, but it won’t go away.  Next year when all those new xmas-gift HDTVs start broadcasting 3D content, Lost in 3D, UFC in 3D and the rest of it (sure YouTube 3D is coming soon too) the internet will still be a relative drop in the bucket. Perhaps it is for the same reason radio won’t die; sometimes people don’t WANT to think, they don’t want to make their own choices. Sometimes they just want to sit back and have their entertainment programmed for them by a curator, by a collective group of people who are experts in storytelling, lighting, editing, acting, post-production etc.

“User-created content” may find ways of reaching large audiences, it may even prove to be innovative and of high standard, but what makes television relevant is that it concentrates an audience and its collective experience. The internet lets anyone watch anything anytime – but they do not share in the moment and TV, as the modern campfire creates a certain sense of social unity. You can watch the Superbowl a week later on Hulu, but that kind of misses the point doesn’t it? The collective excitement is gone, the dueling sides, the excitement of participation is lacking in this regard.

Sure this idea of choose-your-own-adventure is neat, but it is still time-intensive and requires research and thus actual work. TV is a passive sport and so long as we work and get tired and just want to chill on the couch and be entertained, TV will be around.

Last night my sister stopped over in Los Angeles en route to the Quechua village of Otovalo in Ecuador from Guangzhou in the Canton province of China and I strapped her down for an hour to ask her about her incredible crusade to study the textile trail for my podcast.

Vanessa is studying the semiotics of fashion in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she discovered the language of culture can be unzipped from the patterns found in textiles. From Chan Chan to Lake Titicaca in Peru to the mega-industrialized cities of Canton, there is a history of meaning woven into the very fabrics that under closer scrutiny reveals much about the culture. For example the pelicans find their way into Peruvian “mantas” – cloth used for everything from baby harnesses to satchels for carrying foodstuffs, because the behaviors of pelicans may reveal the stock of fish in a given body of water. The action of a certain animal running uphill may belie the coming of a storm. For these reasons, these systems of communication are transmitted in the images found in the weave.

The Inca Trailchina tower with cyclist
Machu Pichu, PeruQuechua indian and loom and Mastercard

Vanessa trekked four days up the Incan trail, not only laden with but constructed of a semi-precious green stone called Serpetina, to the mystic cloud city of Machu Pichu. She considered the flora and fauna along the way and how their colors and movements worked their way into the cloth.

At Lake Titicaca, the natives have created floating islands out of reeds where they have taken up permanent residence – powering their internet connection via solar panels. The implications of this are astounding and beyond the scope of this article. But consider what this means in light of a thing like the Principality of Sealand.

Although now some villages are using synthetic dyes and fibers, natural colors were created from insects to onions, from llama and alpaca wool – but now the global popularity of alpaca has forced prices to raise so high the the very natives who innovated use of the material can’t afford it.

A month later, Vanessa finds herself in Hong Kong en route to a tech convention in Guangzhou where the sky is, as she describes, a permanent ashen color from all the pollution to be found in the world’s central factory for technology. Nine-story high building filled with nothing but cell phone merchants bring on intense migraines and colossal skyscrapers – glass and steel wonders that put the best New York has to offer to shame follow the dictates of Feng Shui and yet these things remain virtually unknown and unseen by the Western world.

The Great Firewall of China has kept well-hidden the most heavily populated and among the most ancient cultures in the world and its accelerated modernization within the past ten years has led to extraordinary developments not only in tech but in street culture and ideas.

Textiles are made on looms and looms, which used punched cards to create the complex patterns used in textiles are essentially the precursor to today 8.9″ laptops, thus the patterns thereby created are miniature programs whose propriety belongs to those micro-cultures that developed them. To unlock these codes is to understand hidden knowledge about the world, language and development of a culture. In these times when thousands of unique languages are going extinct by the week, to learn to read these lines of code is to reveal much – to find the seeds for restoring their significance in the world.

I urge you to listen to this extraordinary interview with this designer on my podcast and explore further the possibilities and semiotics of fashion.

Listen to Episode 17 of the KeramCast – or subscribe at iTunes by searching for “KeramCast” in the podcast directory.