Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#2 Arthur Kroker, Marilouise Kroker 1 Jan 1993

Excremental TV

Excremental tv: Sacrificial tv, Disciplinary tv, Surveillance-tv, Crash-tv.

We live today in the age of excremental tv. No longer tv under the old sociological sign of accumulation with its coherent division of tv-aesthetics into strategy (official culture) and tactics (outlaw culture), but tv as already having come under the Bataillean (excremental) logic of dis-accumulation, self cancellation and self-exterminism.

Tv therefore, as a waste management system: an indeterminate stockpiling of dead images and dead sounds that threaten to suffocate us with their inertness, and on behalf of which the mediascape now functions as a vast aesthetic machinery for managing the discharge of image effluents and for recycling all the waste products, televisual subjects most of all, produced by excremental tv.

So then, four anal flows in the image-discharge of excremental tv: Sacrifice, discipline, surveillance, and crash.

Sacrificial tv

Sacrificial tv is tv functioning just as Nietzsche predicted in the prophetic theses of On the Genealogy of Morals. In the age of the virtualization of the flesh, tv functions as the key televisual site for discharge of resentment onto the public situation. Sometimes the sacrificial scapegoating of the televisual self as viewers deliver themselves up as a joke (America's Funniest Videos) for consumption by the mediascape, made all the more delirious by the use of the camcorder for purposes of self-abnegation and self-humiliation. At other times, the sacrificial scapegoating of vulnerable minorities (African-Americans, the poor, Queer Nation) as tv dissolves into a sacrificial tableau, naming the victim of the day and dictating the terms of the sacrifice. Consequently tv shows like cbs' 48 Hours and Cops, with their incessant scenes of African-Americans being hunted down and arrested for drug offences, are a source of massive psychological discharge of all the anxieties and fears by the surrounding white suburban population, as it relives nightly traumas and fantasies of the tv security state. In sacrificial tv the moral coherency of the ruling majority in liberal culture is assured by the televisual functioning of the scapegoating-mechanism, with its nomination of a purely accidental range of victims, their instant demonization, and their televised sacrificial punishment. No longer tv as a discourse between elites and the silent majority, but as a deeply libidinal machinery linking ascetic priests (tv anchors) and the majoritarian population of passive nihilists into a scene of sacrificial violence.

Disciplinary tv

In the age of liberal fascism with its globalization of the language of technical willing, tv functions as a medium for intensifying the disciplinary state, that point where the state projects power outwards into the consciousness of its televisual subjects. Not so much tv operating according to the disciplinary codes, theorised so eloquently by Paul Virilio, where tv would act as a war machine with its threefold logic of strategy, tactics and logistics, but disciplinary tv in the age of excremental culture as all about disappearances: a negativeland of fractal subjects, recombinant bodies and memory splices, where the aesthetic machinery functions most of all to assure consent to the dynamic language of technical willing. Not just to the vision of a technology of freedom, but now to an improved vision of tv as a healing process with life-giving powers: a universal and homogenous therapeutic televisual process that operates according to the following medical model: scanning of the televisual body for viral infections (morning news with its catastrophe theorems and crisis-ridden language), social therapeutics for the alienated televisual subjects (the afternoon talk -- shows like Oprah and Donahue), and chloroforming of the recombinant body before it is discharged into its sleepstate (the nightly talkshows, Jay Leno, David Letterman, etc.). A disciplinary machinery where technology speaks in the name of life, not death, according to the model-social therapeutics, not blood, and where the key ideology is seduction, not coercion.


Excremental tv - published in Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#2 (1993)


Surveillance-tv is the world of the camcorder where Marx's 'priest' finally comes inside the televisual subject like a cancerous tumour, and everybody becomes their own surveillance camera. Sometimes surveillance of the 'other' as the camcorder lights up the previously invisible region of the actual operations of power. The global witnessing of the Rodney-King-beating, for example, with its twofold message of (explicit) police-brutality and a (implicit) repeated televisual warning to African-Americans, that they have good reason to fear encounters with the security state. And sometimes surveillance of the previously undocumented regions of the 'self' as the camcorder zooms in on the catastrophe-zone of the excremental family; see Johnny's first birthday, see Johnny's first masturbation, see Johnny's first toilet training. Here the camcorder is the privileged televisual medium of excremental culture. Not so much about documentalism (although that too), but really a viral weapon in the Oedipal struggle, that point where the unhappy union of Daddy-Mommy-Me is turned into a surveillance-zone for future punishment: Mommy's camcorder-invasion of the privacy of her children, and Daddy's storing up of televisual images for future ridicule.

In surveillance tv the optical power of the camera finally leaves the static, centralised region of the tv-studio, becoming something fluid, polymorphous and immensely popular. The camcorder, then, as the newest member of the televisual family. Every Mommy an archivist of the moving image of family history. Every Daddy a potential film director editing and re-editing the script of the family-story, with its jump-cuts, montage-techniques, and Godardian reversals. And every little Me, an unlicensed actor in the unfolding logistics of perception into which the excremental family has happily disappeared.

Panic families, therefore, where the will to visually record family-life is in direct relation to the breakdown of unitary family-relations. When the family dissolves into a lap frame of tv-life, the cinematic screen finally goes liquid and actually enters the body. Life becomes an eternal tv-gameshow, an optical trompe l'oeil, a perfect scene of cinematic derealization with 1,000-hour camcorder childhood memories, with its endless stockpiling of dead images, which no-one will ever look at because they are really about the erasure of experience, the exterminism of memory.

And what about the future of the children of the camcorder generation; that televisual generation of whom it might be said:// This is your life! Or is it? Perhaps for them, a new technological advance in the age of digital tv. The appearance on the market of the video-interceptor: a new technology for digitally resequencing all the debris of family memories. Here, Daddy can be made to play on the floor in the role of the baby, Mommy can be cloned, brothers and sisters can be added at will, and all the visual materials of the family-album can be digitally reordered. When all the children are like the replicants in Bladerunner, //with their useless stockpiling of virtual memories, then every child will be free to play the game of staged communications to its final point of disappearance: that cinematic moment when the camcorder finally becomes a way of doing philosophy, of visually recoding all the nostalgic memories of the Oedipal family. And why not? The generation of 'cam-children' has been robbed of its memories by its forced enclosure in the family script, actually given the wrong televised memories by the cinematic realisation of its parents. These never were their memories, but false images of their parents. A kind of televisual prison for the future of the virtual child, where even the ability at maturity to reflect the past of family life has already been scripted in advance. So then, the future camcorder-generation, the direction of political rebellion is clear. Discover the inner camcorder, the camcorder that has been suppressed by the disappearance of subjectivity into the distended eye of the Oedipal family. Flight surveillance-tv by going vague: by using the video-interceptor in the age of digital tv to cross the stock of footage of the old camcorderfamily, to digitally resequence memories of family life until the desired family finally emerges.


Excremental tv - published in Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#2 (1993)


The inertial tendencies at the disappearing centre of excremental tv are overcome by the principle of reenergization through violence. On American college campuses, the most popular underground video these days is Death-video (101 Faces of Death): actual death scenes, ranging from penal executions to corpses pulled from car wrecks. It's the very same on television, where the newest hit-shows have to do with America's biggest crashes (I Witness Video) or for that matter, on network-news where the screen is energised again and again by all the passing scenes from splatter culture: starvation victims, body fragments from plane crashes, human debris from all the big catastrophes. In Crash-tv, the metaphor of the screen can be energised by the metonymy of the catastrophic event because the ruling rhetoric of excremental culture is cynical seduction:// the crossing of the syntagm between metaphor and metonymy, between rhetoric and catastrophe, as the quick reversal that assures the fading attention of televisual subjects. Like a stellar blast from the darkest regions of outer space, Crash-tv radiates the dark mass of the population with the ferocity of its explosion, just as much as it fascinates with the primitivism of its imagery. In Crash-tv, we suddenly exit modernist culture, and enter the unknown terrain of the post-modern primitive,// that territory where all the post-modern technologies involved in the virtualization of the flesh merge with the most primitive of human emotions: fascination with the smoking wreckage of the crash, chilled paralysis at the sight of the catastrophe, one last joke as the plane falls through the air in its death spiral. In the world of the post-modern primitive, what fascinates is not coherency or the accumulative logic of the stabilised image, but the ripping sound made when the walls of virtual reality implode inwards under the fantastic pressure of surrounding events, and we are suddenly swept away in a catastrophic free-fall through all the surrounding space. Splatter culture is the final destiny, and fatal dream, inspiring the viral growth of Crash-tv.