A Post-Television Surreal

“Watching television, the most powerful everyday experience of surreality ever devised, was formative of the cultural outlook of anyone growing up in America in the fifties and sixties. With its endless sequence of splicings of commercials and programs and channel switchings, television was and is the ultimate exquisite corpse, a juxtaposition engine that produces a completely weird artifact at any given watching.” – Michael Sorkin, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, Cars, Dolphins, & Architecture, Ant Farm (1968-78)

This is why so many of us who grew watching too much television ended up as tele-visual, post-surrealists, dreaming in endless juxtapositions of spectacle & news & war & cartoons & variety sitcoms. It was all pretty much razzle-dazzle for the mind’s eye, a numbing effect brought on by the extrusion of electronic signals that flowed out of the box cheerfully and endlessly. When the remote came along, things got even faster, and more sequential, and abruptly more jarring, because not only was television uniquely programmed for us short attention-span baby-boomers, but now, we could chop it up into an even more granulated textural experience, recombining commercials & logos & station identifications in the grand style of cutups of say, William Burroughs’ filmic, beat experiments that superimposed improvised jazz riffs on the moving image.

Now that the flow is all digital & pixels, it’s fair game for further mashing & splicing & deranging according to the whims of our post-post-tele-surreal-visual desire. Whether scrolling or streaming or scrubbing across the media landscape, the continuous torrent of media churns its way across our screens in an impossibly unceasing frenzy of movement and spin. Our eyeballs are soaked and our ears are immersed in the glorious splendor of the Tap: that is, the 24/7 Media-on-Tap. In a tremendous trajectory that spans the early days of sitting in front of the b & w television box ::: to the ever-present-present Now of our mobile devices tethered to limbs that thumb down the screen one-handed in a kind of wondrous awe of the data flood that surges from within our fingertips, we have come a long, long way – careening uncontrollably though optimistically focused – down the vast, epic stretches of the information highway.