Archikulture Digest

The End of Television Part III

The End of Television Part III

Brian Feldman Productions

Frames Forever & Art Gallery

Winter Park, Fl

June 12, 2009</strong>

In a small picture framing shop on busy Orange Avenue, artist Brian Feldman and some assistants pile derelict televisions on top of each other. From the street, the aging wood-grained plastic frames the snowy and out-of-tune pictures, while behind the scene makeshift antennas and scary power strips keeping the whole edifice of obsolete technology propped up for one last 24 viewing marathon. Today is the last day of analog television, the end of an era, and a fairly insignificant event in the lives of most Americans.

“end-of-tv-3”

The concept of sending pictures via the aether enthralled inventors ever since radio became practical, but it took WW2 to make it a true mass phenomenon. Cathode ray tubes and reliable high frequency, high bandwidth electronics came out of military radar, and when the war ended that manufacturing capability was redirected to putting an Idiot Box in every living room in America, and eventually in most homes in the civilized universe. Sending complex information in an analog world took a mixture of clever engineering, precision manufacture and still resulted in temperamental and unreliable receivers. Color took another 20 years to arrive, and for any number of economic and political reasons, the color system was cobbled onto the existing analog systems. While this kept millions of installed TV sets useful, the complexity and compromise made for a wobbly system.

Once TV was practical, the more critical question of “What to do with it?” followed quickly. In the early days, people projected using television for education and culture with the same blind enthusiasm that check book balancing and menu planning were assumed the best and highest uses of a personal computer. Instead, we got cartoons and the Vietnam War, men walking on the moon and a three microsecond view of Janet Jackson’s breast. Turns out the ShamWOW really IS the highest and best use of color moving pictures in a box.

Analog television did keep vaudeville alive long after movies killed it. The mixture of song and dance and novelty transferred well enough from the Orpheum Circuit to the Networks, and through the ’70s the star-hosted variety show was reliable fare that made family viewing a pleasant compromise. Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin, and even Glenn Campbell hosted shows, along with dozen of other less well know entertainers. Now we’ve lost that togetherness, as hundreds of narrow casted shows and cheap video distributions means we rarely watch anything as a group, but retreat to our own private videodrome for narrative entertainment.

“end-of-tv-1”

That collective disinterest fueled the public reaction to “The End of Television Part III”, only a few late night carousers stopped by, interested more in the L.A. / Orlando game than an outmoded technical display. Through the snow each station displayed a constant crawl warning that the analog signal was going away, sounding like a call form a distant civilization whose star was about to explode, and knowing nothing could be done to save them. What people stopped to watch felt a grim resignation that goes along with mass layoff from a failed employer. First the Network Affiliates went off air, then the Spanish stations and Independents, with only the religious stations clinging on to the last trumpet, hoping to get one last conversion, one last donation, or one last enragement about the liberal humanist conspiracy before the party ended. Finally only a single automated station remained, it’s out of town engineer likely to get a nasty memo from the FCC.

“end-of-tv-2”

How did all this make me feel? Vaguely nostalgic, as I got my start helping dad fix old TVs when that was all we could afford. Television is a much smaller part of my life these days – Local News focuses on car crashes and 7-11 surveillance video, real news comes from the internet, and the rest of the TV product leaves me cold. My digital TV serves more as a computer monitor than the Boob Tube, and that suits my lifestyle fine. TV’s been on life support for a while, and this is as good a time to pull the plug as any.

More information on Mr. Feldman’s projects may be found at http://brianfeldman.com


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