Browsing through Amazon earlier this year, I was recommended to read Test Card F: Television, Mythinformation, Social Control (AK Press, ISBN 1-873176-91-0). Produced in 1994, this anonymous publication came before the internet reached its critical mass and claims to “explode all previous media theories and riots through the Global Village”. The book describes a triangular power balance between the Media, Government and Capital.
Test Card F: Television, Mythinformation and Social ControlTelevision, we are informed, is not about the programming that we all think we’re sitting down to watch, but a box designed to keep humans apart and make us want to consume goods. Oddly, it created a new sociability because with everybody experiencing the same thing, it didn’t matter that we were all apart. Test Card F explains that while we may be enjoying these programmes, the real reason for the networks and the broadcasting is converse to what we might expect: the simple reason for the programmes existence is to make you receptive to the adverts.

The idealogical ‘bent’ of what is transmitted may be important but it is the maintenance of viewer attention–Being There, not something else or doing something else–that is all-important. The shows, soaps and scandals are simply the minimum required to ensure that reception. Programmers don’t care what’s on as long as the set takes centre stage in social life.

The book is produced brilliantly, from the opening “quote” from John Major to the final words that tell you what you already know, it is filled with great essays on dissent, weird anecdotes and illustrations in a cut and paste format. If there’s any one issue, it is that I felt that the were missing one key factor in their brutal slaughter of the worlds old favourite gadget, in the same way that many anarchist texts seem to ignore something, perhaps it is something to do with why people create or want to be a part of television, or perhaps its this statement at the end of the book:

“…[Ideally, I like to avoid the media; I don't own a telly and don't read newspapers, but I keep my eyes open. I see newspaper advertising boards and I can easily walk into a newsagents and read the dailies. If I so choose, I can keep myself informed of what the media is spouting whilst retaining my distance. Friends and conversations with other folks are probably the best sources of what to write about]…”

It would be great to read a follow up to this, how the same anonymous writers see the world as having changed with the proliferation of the social web, interactive TV and the slow fall of Rupert Murdoch.

Below are a few quotes and images from the book that I highlighted.
The notion of ‘currency’ carries with it a necessary redundance for all that has passed before. Knowledge becomes a highly perishable commodity of transient utility. If we are to talk about how we live, we are expected to talk only of what is deemed to be ‘happening’, in the news, today. All who wish to communicate by written of spoken word are forced or acquiesce in orientating their attention upon the latest issue, event or fad. As the definition of ‘importance’ changes daily we either go with this meaningless flow or appear hopelessly out of date.

Test Card F: Television, Mythinformation & Social ControlNinja Turtle Pizzas by any means necessary
-It’s a society-sized delusion, fooling ourselves to be happy that we’re not unhappier
-… a class which has always sneered then quietly lapped up both upper class and working class culture to hide its own lack of any culture at all.
-”Had we produced something truly radical then there is no way it would have been screened on public television. There are government restrictions, and all kind of limitations imposed by big corporations that are shaping what you can see. Our aim was to home into that small margin that lies between bringing up radical statements and to be allowed to voice them.” Paper Tiger TV
-The conversion of communication between human beings into a commodity is the political economy of the active sender and the passive consumer/reciever. The issue … is to create our own autonomous means of communication.Bigger Arts Grants Longer chains
-Sponsorship of ‘independent’ video is an insignificant part of a business whose real interests lie a vast distance from some kind of ‘people’s TV’
-All these places like Video Umbrella seem to be set up to help ex-St Martin’s students get jobs with Channel 4.

That’s not Television, that’s Channel 40!
-Six community cable channels were set up in Britain in the seventies on the lines of U.S. public access stations along with funding for facilitators’ wages. Channel 40, in Milton Keynes was funded by the Development Corporation in charge of constructing this new towns development.
-When labour returned to power in 1974 and reinstated the Annan Committee, who may it known that Pay TV would not be one of their recommendations for the future of broadcasting, the cable companies prompty closed down the projects in Wellingborough, Greenwich and Bristol.
-Workers at the local stations had the best progressive intentions. They were breaking new ground on broadcasting, at the forefront, they believed, of new ways of seeing and new mediums of communication. It was a lot more than funding problems though that dashed their hopes. Their facilities got used by far fewer people that originally anticipated, and those who did already had easy access to the media.
-Project workers found that ‘community’ access is as false a proposition as consensus politics… For what is the community, but only global class conflict in miniature.
-Undoubtably, the bottom line for the backers of the project was profit. For some of the workers involved it was the belief that if you teach someone how to use a video camera, they will never watch television in the same way again.
-They certainly don’t look like ‘television’ as everyone knows it, but they don’t look like anything else either.
-The pressure to produce… discouraged experimentation and instead made for simpler (and so longer) programmes for transmission.
-The high hopes of the late sixties were dashed to disillusion when put into practice.

Test Card F: Television, Mythinformation & Social Control
The Politicians Mirror.
-The media forges a version of a brave new world which is already completely forged, a world of virtual economic recovery and super soaraway market confidence trickery.
-If it isn’t reported, it didn’t happen.
-“Oxygen of publicity” contains the implication: the media machine will determine what initiatives will survive, and what initiatives will suffocate.
-We don’t need to watch television or work with television — our lives and potential are a thousand times more fascinating.Manufacturing dissent
-People are forced into ridiculous stunts to get their message across.
-A groups fascination for publicity can end up in doing things simply in order to get it, while liasing with the media- to get them to come and loo at you can take up so much time you can’t get anything else done… for who’s the person to go and do an interview – the best talker, the most photogenic, the person who did it last time?… Our will to live is cut down to a soundbite; our collective strength is reduced to a single figurehead who’s easily compromised or rubbished… “We have the image of the movement to think of, people won’t want to join a movement of extremists”
-If an event is not covered, did it ‘happen’?… Have you ever resolved to take action due to something you’ve seen on TV… Appeals to the mass never threatens the basic structure of mass society itself. We attack the spectacle with the same weapon that imprints the order of passivity on our daily lives.
-But the character of revolutionary movement is not exciting enough, not able to match the artificial, the contrived, the excitement of the cop car chases. The stunt must become ever more ridiculous.
-The short span of attention, jumpting from one issue to the next, is the response to someone else’s definition of crisis. We come to expect instant results, the immediate resolution of TV detective drama, and when we don’t get them we give up too easily, lapse into cynicism or jump onto the next bandwagon.
-… being spoken to by the ‘alternative’ leadership is so dull that political groups have to rely on theatrical (usually musical) shows to be at all attractive
-(Rallying every Saturday begs the question:) what are we doing the rest of the week?
-It’s stunning to find that some groups of people still pander to the media expecting to get fair treatment, then moan when they get misquoted and stereotyped.The whole job’s fucked
-We waste our own time studying the screen to find our reflection.

Test Card F: Television, Mythinformation & Social Control