Sunday, June 16, 2019

Waiting for the Snow...

Last translation from The Wage of the Channel Hopper column republished from the old Steve Erickson's website.

Waiting for the Snow... 
Where the zapper feels that he should rest the “French Audio-visual landscape (FAL)” for a while, before hitting it again - soon? - in the small of the back. 
To conclude, let’s start with two quotations: "Christmas time again, with its trail of ancient frights. The shops are chockfull with all kinds of unbelievable rubbish, but there is no stock left of that which we need." (Raymond Chandler) And: "You wouldn't realise to what extent, when an investigation is made in society, the media have become one of the main subjects of revolt." (A reader). The first quotation is a reasonable inducement not to pursue this chronicle beyond Christmas. The second induces a desire to wait for the metamorphosis of the FAL to advance (in the sense of the "advancement" of progress, or the "advanced" state of old meat) before visiting upon it the smiling, if cruel, voyeurism to which, for a hundred days, the zapper has confined himself. 
Is that enough reason to take stock, to draw up a balance sheet? If yes, such a balance sheet would be rather modest in scale. We still do not know what television is, but we are beginning increasingly to imagine that it must be happy enough being "the telly". This irrefutable truism implies that it must not be held responsible for the fact that it bears little relation to thought, to morals, or to poetry. All of which are very noble, to be sure, and which cinema meets from time to time. However, this truism also means that when it comes to information (giving news of the world), to de-ontology (teaching the lesson that others must not be excessively ill-treated), to prose (using better image and sound), television - in the best cases - will have a say. 
In other words, it should be possible to say that we live in homes that have "running water, gas, electricity and images". And while we justifiably complain when the water supply is cut off, we do not believe that water tastes like whiskey when finally it does begin to flow normally from our taps. Water, we will say, is more or less pure, good and chlorinated. This is the essential question where television is concerned: it relates more to ecology than anything else. Rather strangely, everybody came down heavily on that poor word “FAL”, without realising that it was about a landscape, and that we were more its guardians than its vandals. The landscape is not a New Territory to be discovered and opened up in the future (all the speeches about that sublime object which television could, or should be, do begin to get one down), it is an environment in fact, which we have enjoyed already for a long time, an environment which it should be possible to improve, no more., The task involved is, doubtless, titanic, but it may be wiser to entrust it to ants. 
The foregoing paragraphs concern the zapper, inasmuch as he is a citizen and that he has a claim to what a recent tabloid referred to as his rights as a "consumer of media". What follows, however, deals with those obscure reasons which have led him to believe that by zapping he would go beyond appearances, drift towards a lighthouse of truth – truth about French society subject to a mild hysteria, about archaic reflexes lingering in the midst of total modernity, about unknown dogmas and supervised liberties and about that strange desire to see, to see at all costs, employing surprise or stratagems, for fear that there may be nothing or, on the contrary, too much to see. 
Doubtless, one must have seen too many films of cinema to take television seriously. As if one day television will give back to cinema all that it has taken, not only in terms of a portfolio of films, but also in terms of solid hypotheses which filmmakers developed earlier within the cinema only because the other media were not yet ready to welcome them: from (the much forgotten) Rossellini to Godard (who lately has been in great form, and so much the better) through Vertov, Welles and Tati. If there were a "history of communication," cinema would be, at one and the same time, the Golden Age as well as the Era of Suspicion. Television would merely have been its manager (surprising, how prominently this word "manage" figures in our everyday speech), its "digestive," so to speak. So much so, now, when cinema cannot meet our needs, it is still with what we have learned from it that we contemplate that which wishes its death. Can the cinema critic of films still survive? The cinema critic of life, in any case, leads a hard life.

Originally published in Libération on December 24, 1987. Published in English in the anthology Cinema and Television: Fifty years of Reflection in France, edited by Jacques Kermabon and Kumar Shahani. With some edits by Steve Erickson and me.

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