Mediamatic Magazine vol 3#3 Anna Abrahams 1 Jan 1989

Computer Graphics & TV Fetisjisme

The use of Graphics as a fourth track, along with the iconic image, the spoken text and other sound, results in a form of extremely information-packed television:


Computer Graphics -

The question of whether television’s assault on society will result in illiteracy is an anachronism. Equally those research projects that count the number of cigarettes, glasses of whisky and revolver shots are virtually irrelevant. A new television has surfaced where letters and texts absorb our attention. This may sound reassuring, a return to the tradition of writing. But one danger has simply been traded in for another. Our well-being is now threatened by a new perversion: television fetishism.

Until recently television was simply advanced radio. With the advent of television in the 1950s the family gathered in a semi-circle around an appliance that looked suspiciously like its predecessor. The programs followed more or less the pattern one expected of radio, but the voices were made flesh in a blurry box.

For the viewer the snow-storm cleared with the progress of technology. Yet many program makers still create radio with pictures. Images support sound by providing a guarantee of authenticity but add little by way of content.

The viewer turns on his world at the touch of a button. The immediacy of live tv gives him the feeling of standing slap in the middle of history. He receives the world’s great story via the simple perspective of the character of the presenter. This easy structuring, this pre- digestedness enables the viewer to lap up the stream of information in a completely passive state. The screen is transparent in a one-way direction: by means of the mechanisms of identification the viewer becomes the presenter but he will never be hit by the spray of gunfire. The viewer nestles in his comfy chair and forms an absolute unity with this reassuring form of television.

This situation is gradually changing since the coupling of computer technology and television. And the viewer who is used to sumultaneously knitting, opening a can of beer, reading the newspaper or carrying out some other household activity has received something of a shock. The use of computer effects in the clearly delineated field of clips appears to have been nothing more than a finger exercise in the total overthrow of the established order of television. Above all it is the combination of image manipulation or special effects with the graphic application of the computer that seems to herald a new era of television in which the visual element is at least as important as the auditive and where the monocular Renaissance perspective has been replaced by the multiple computer perspective.

Most stations use the new technology simply in a desperate attempt to maintain the semblance of an identity. The logos, generated graphically by computer, appear on screen and tumble towards the viewer with the hidden message: I exist!

Dutch law insist that every station represents an important section of society. Because in Holland this is measured by the number of individuals who become members of a particular station the system is reversed and a station’s right to exist in fact depends on how many people identify with it. So a station must be attractive and identifiable. Considering, of course, that this combination is impossible, Dutch stations opt for those programs that scored well in the amusement stakes of American laboratories, and merely profile themselves by means of their logo. What began simply as modestly announcing the name during the station presenter’s introduction was soon flashed on the screen during every amusing sequence. Now feature films are almost constantly visited by doves in logo formation that flap across the screen and the way things are going it won’t be long before the screen is completely over-run by flocks of logo-bearing birds.

Obvious Text

RABOTNIK created a pointed parody of this on Amsterdam TV. Clutching their logo the RABOTNIK team approached a computer company with the request to unleash all the standards effects. The result is a logo that unfurls, rotates on various planes, comes apart... and then the text appears: Net Echt, just like the real thing.

RABOTNiK’s experiments with computer graphics have progressed still further. Texts interrupt television footage as separate blocks of titles like in silent films or the work of JEAN LUC GODARD. Computer graphics are the formal elements with which on an aesthetic level they distinguish their cultural magazine from the usual TV fodder.

Last summer the BBC broadcast its travel guide The Rough Guide to Europe which used these devices in more structural way.
A television crew from Def II, a program for young people, travelled through Europe’s capitals and edited its experiences at the breakneck tempo of the videoclip, openly exploiting video effects such as strobes and digitizers. Regularly the image was divided up with each fragment telling its own story. One of The Rough Guide’s innovations was to combine the squeeze with graphics.

The program about Amsterdam focused on the anne frank House. During an excerpt from the film The Diary of Anne Frank in which ANNE wonders despairing what has become of lies, the bottom edge is pushed up into the image. In the block that is created underneath the image, a computer-generated text spells out the facts of a life that was forcibly ended.

This way of splitting the television frame in two creates an effect that completely differs from the normal way of subtitling. Deff II constrasts the text with the image.

In this case the emotional charge of the image is dramatic while the text is cool and impersonal. The text is always and emphatically an intrusion, often performing as a recalcitrant commentary as in the Red Light District part of the Amsterdam program.

Do you have any check-ups or anything here, for things like AIDS? I mean does the government, uh... you know run any kind of... Beneath the spoken answer to this question {No governments... no, they only have campaigns), ran a text in a black border: Prostitutes are now banned from street-walking. Beneath: But yeah, we always were safe you know. It’s not new, ran: More than half of those who did are thought to carry the aids virus.

Like a contemporary variation on einstein’s intellectual montage, this design is aimed at the sudden collision of two autonomous sources of information. This generates new meaning. Without the text’s graphic articulation as an independent element within the program, these conflicting messages would produce an undecipherable mishmash of information.

A voice-over would be no use in this situation either, for you’d have to listen to two voices at once. Just like titles, it is only after a text has been spoken that the voiceover can place its content in perspective (the contents of the two texts are placed then in a diachrone relation to each other). Rough Guide’s power is its simultaneity, its synchronicity of spoken and written text enabling the immediate elimination of the initial meaning of the former.

Although in the Rough Guide the voiceover has been struck dumb, there are regular appearances of presenters. Yet there are no presenters in the weekly BBC pop program Behind the Beat. This is striking because the presenter has always played such an important role in this genre of television. Between the clamourous highspeed editing of the video-clips the constant returning to the figure of the presenter has a steadying effect, it provided a haven of peace. His disappearance from Behind the Beat has cranked up the tempo still further, just as in The Rough Guide. The graphics which mostly appear under a squeezed image, replace the presenter as the source of information. They announce the clips and they appear in the frequent interviews with musicians. You never actually hear a question during an interview and when this cannot be deduced from the answer, the graphics are brought in to help.

So graphics are used for various purposes: they are an element in the identity formula, they have an aesthetic function, they allow for a confrontation between two opposing contents, they create a lethal tempo - and of course the one function does not exclude the other and many combinations are possible.

The anonymous Voice

The introduction of graphics marks the birth not only of a new form of television, but also of a new ideal viewer. The real viewer must adapt to this imaginary viewer. The more like this model he is, the more he will enjoy an evening’s TV.

The use of graphics as a fourth track, along with the iconic image, the spoken text and other sound, results in a form of extremely information-packed television which demands full concentration from the viewer. The purposeful fragmentation of the image compels the viewer to use all his senses to follow a program. The multiple perspective means that the viewer can no longer identify with the narrator and be the imaginary source of the image. His illusion that he and his remote control determine world history has been shattered. Stampeding television is leading a life of its own, with it own language, at its own speed and with its own logic. Television has become autonomous and the viewer must adapt his infantile attitudes.

The new television viewer is fascinated by the mysterious disappearance of the single narrator. Being a nostalgic creature, he longs for the time when everything was easy, for the era of dependable presenters who were always there when you turned on the telly. Their world was your world.

The disappearance of the smiling, human presenter marks television’s castration of the viewer who always experienced TV as an extension of himself. All his energy is now directed towards healing this gaping wound.

The voice-over is a voice without a body, graphics are words without a voice. There is no information about the age and gender of this form of narration. This anonymity begs the question of who actually is speaking. The viewer stares and stares. Of course this is pointless considering the nature of graphics. Graphics have taken the place of the single narrator (as personified by the presenter) yet at the same time point to his absence. Graphics are a monument to loss. The viewer’s searching gaze will never find its object, satisfaction is by definition excluded; the direct experience of narration by means of a presenter or voice-over has been lost.

Although the viewer is quite aware of the fact that a single narrator no longer exists, he still secretly believes that he is hiding somewhere behind the graphics. The viewer doesn’t really want to know and cherishes the graphics that seem to lead to the source of his loss. He perks up everytime they appear. He cries out in amazement and sits on the edge of his chair. And it’s particularly the technical side that fascinates him which at least in principle seems possible to fathom. For him the computer is tangible proof that graphics lead to a source and connect his, the material, world with the world of chaotic electronic images.

What is strange is that television has managed to maintain its attractiveness. This is precisely because it never provides complete satisfaction. The perverse pleasure of the television fetishist actually consists of the eternal prolonging of desire. By seeking the narrator he can make believe that a narrator still exists. His greatest fear is that it really is possible to glance behind the graphics. The emptiness he would find would confirm his worst fears and also make the break between him and the world of television final and absolute.

translation Annie Wright