Affair

Andy Warhol.  The most influential artist of the last 100 years.  He loved his television.

Steven Shaviro writes about Warhol, and in particular, about how Warhol succeeded in killing his emotions, believing that their death resulted in his ability to artisticly produce, and reproduce anything, without any emotional attachment.

In the article, which was published in Criticism, in 2004, Shaviro writes that Warhol attritubted the death of his emotions to his love affair with his available technology.  Here is what Shaviro writes, as his article draws from a great deal of autobiographical information about Warhol:

Warhol’s account of the loss of his emotional life–leaving aside his sense of satisfaction at the prospect–has since become a commonplace in discussions of postmodern culture. Thus J. G. Ballard writes of “the death of affect” under the influence of the last century’s new technologies and media.  In a somewhat different way, Fredric Jameson also posits “the waning of affect” in postmodernism.  And of course, Jean Baudrillard’s work is all about how “the cool universe of digitality” has eclipsed the real, “the ‘cool’ cybernetic phase supplanting the ‘hot’ and phantasmatic.”  The argument goes something like this: Thanks to the new electronic technologies, the world has become a single global marketplace. Universal commodity fetishism has colonized lived experience. The real has been murdered by its representations. Every object has been absorbed into its own image. There is no longer (if there ever was) any such thing as a single, stable self. Subjectivity has broken into multiple fragments, and the high modernist endeavor to totalize these fragments, to redeem them, to bring them back together again, is a futile and meaningless exercise. The death of emotion is concomitant with all these other losses.

… The experience of television is intimate and cozy. I watch it at home, alone, or in the company of immediate family members and close friends. Rather than making everything seem larger than life, TV miniaturizes experience. It shrinks everything down to my own size. It squeezes the world into the confines of my living room. Television addresses me directly–not from on high, but almost as an equal. It doesn’t overpower me in the way that movies do. Nor does it keep me stupefied and glued to my seat. Most of the time I watch it distractedly while I am also doing other things. The frequent commercials also break up the flow: they give me a chance to get up and go to the bathroom or to do additional household chores. And often I am not even committed to one specific program: the remote is always close at hand, and I can change channels whenever I like. For all these reasons, television is beautiful, and not sublime. It captivates me with its vaguely reassuring presence rather than taking me outside of myself with extreme displays of passion.

Of his article, though, this is the passage that that bothers me most:

In his 1965 book Understanding Media, McLuhan argues that television is a quintessentially “cool” medium, in contrast to the way that radio and the movies are “hot.”  Television doesn’t overwhelm us with shocks; rather, it invites us and cajoles us. It is a part of our everyday experience; it quietly insinuates itself into our personal lives. We get so deeply involved with television precisely because it doesn’t imperiously demand our attention. It is simply there, day in and day out, like wallpaper or a piece of furniture. Television is “cool” in the sense that it lowers emotional intensity. It makes the extraordinary seem ordinary, whereas hot media, such as the movies, do just the reverse. Often we think of TV viewing as passive, but McLuhan rightly insists that it is highly participatory and interactive. After all, we talk back to the television, we cut it off, we ignore it, we fight with it and make up with it again, just as we do with our spouses and our siblings. Television is a continually running, low-intensity domestic drama, without the cosmic heights and sublime depths of tragedy.

This is why Warhol says that he has pursued an ongoing “affair with [his] television” and why he calls his tape recorder his “wife.” [Warhol used his tape recorder to record his conversations, or interactions, on a regular basis.] With their help, he was able to domesticate and resolve all the “problems” that other people were always dumping in his lap. The TV and the tape recorder were far more effective than psychotherapy, he says: “I kept the TV on all the time, especially while people were telling me their problems, and the television I found to be just diverting enough so the problems people told me didn’t really affect me any more. It was like some kind of magic.” With the TV on, no problem can be desperate or urgent any longer. Whatever it is, it’s just part of the flow. Television thus gives us that “certain angle” of vision from which it becomes impossible ever to take emotions seriously again.

No problem can be desperate or urgent any longer.  Do you agree with Warhol?

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