“The challenge now is to think video, to think cinematically, to visualize, not only theory and culture as products of a complex visual cinematic apparatus, but to show how that apparatus entangles itself with the very tellings we tell.  To tell a theory visually, like a story or a ‘mystory’, to use Ulmer’s (1989:xi) term, is to argue for a new ethnographic relationship to old-fashioned writing itself.” 

Norman Denzin, The Cinematic Society: The Voyeur’s Gaze (1995:200)

Cultural Farming Project Statement:  2006

      Just like you, I watch TV and have done so my entire life... unless, I suppose, you were born before 1940 (before household TV)... or if you are from, say, Bhutan (the last nation on Earth to legalize TV in 1999).  Unlike you, however, for twenty years I also worked inside the U.S. television industry’s design profession.  And, even more unlike you, after being highly trained as a visual rhetorician and building a successful professional career, I retrained myself to stop watching “big” TV, and dedicated the rest of my life to looking at it instead... in order to better glean how television ritualizes.  And TV ritualizes first and foremost through common production practices, patterns, and regularities.  Contemporary TV/media production is a primary but little acknowledged lexicon/grammar, that is to say, TV is an anonymous, unaccountable, universal docent (guide/lecturer), which enacts the ritualization of much of our cultural production.  In short, it is this “ritualizing cultivation” of media communication which whets Cultural Farming’s projects.

“Our investigation proposes to show how, as a consequence of this reifying representation of civilization, the new forms of behavior and the new economically and technologically based creations that we owe to the nineteenth century, enter the universe of a phantasmagoria.  These creations undergo this “illumination” not only in the theoretical manner, by a ideological transposition, but also in the immediacy of their perceptible presence.  They are manifest as phantasmagorias. 

Thus appear the arcades...” 

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (1927-40)


      My longitudinal vantages plus my sense of urgency and purpose to better examine the potencies of TV/media production practice combine to make Cultural Farming a unique, comparative repository.  For where most TV scholarship focuses on interpreting media content, the projects herein broadly consider how our practices and presentations condition content production.  Indeed, we all have instinctively, mimetically, learned how to make our personal media by watching and absorbing decades of too-familiar TV production.  But what is less understood is that the common “big-media” production techniques we are mimetically mastering encourage only certain stories to be told.  Hence, regardless of our intentions, the medium itself often shapes, conditions, and sometimes even determines the messages we try to construct (McLuhan).  And inside this eagerness to make our media recognizable, noticeable, seductive, entertaining and profitable (i.e., media-mongering), we observe certain TV actualities ritually emerge, for instance:

Violence always televises better than non-violence.

Lust makes better TV than satisfaction.

Sex is better TV than brotherly or sisterly love.

Loud is easier to televise than soft.

The physical is better than the spiritual.

Any fact is better than poetry.

Death is always better TV than life.

...and this: Cameras are Guns.

      But the beguiling rituals of North American TV are even more insidious and go even deeper than these cursory observations.  At first, I did not want to see these actualities; after all, I had built a very specialized and successful career inside the television production industry.  Why rock the boat?  But the more deeply I studied TV, the deeper I saw.  And so, Cultural Farming grew into a repository for explicating common media ritualization.  The work here is no fetishization or some ultimate collection of the dumbest, weirdest, most egregious “bloopers” of all time; rather it is simply a personal comparative aggregation of what I have actually seen and contextualized -- myself, by hand -- as I watch typical daily TV in my home.  This is a different kind of talking-back to TV, for it transgresses the seductions of contemporary social-media capitalization, commonly: “If people are not talking about you, you’re dead.”  Once collected, collated, re-membered, theorized and distributed, I believe Cultural Farming’s brand of remediation coalesces into powerful “written” observations, or meta-stories of contemporary culture.

“This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing

without quotation marks.  Its theory is intimately related to that of montage...”

“...Method of this project: literary montage.  I needn’t say anything.  Merely show. 

I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations.  But the rags, the refuse – these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.”

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Convolute N)


      Indeed, the term farming implies specific ethnographic methods for writing about contemporary cultures via remediated assemblages.  The theory here is media and communication theory (Benjamin, Bakhtin), the method is critical montage (Eisenstein, Vertov), my ethnographic technique (Denzin, Marcus) derives from anthropological film discourse (Rouch, MacDougall), and the assemblages are steeped in notions of surreal practice (Brecht, Buñuel).  Combining and materializing these methodologies lie at the heart of each Cultural Farming project. 

      Importantly, Cultural Farming encourages civic responses to common, debilitating, corporatized media production practice; and to do so through a thrust of amateur, pedagogical, critical media ethnography.  As both position and practice, Cultural Farming appropriates, questions, challenges, provokes, and complicates common media practices.  If nothing else Cultural Farming is confirmation that, from here onward, all TV media scholarship must be considered suspect if it does not, at the very least, contain the actual media content examined -- particularly in light of the efficacy and vitality of the varieties of experimental appropriation and remix herein.

      Today, after six years of relentless archiving and remixing, I continue to collect and collate hundreds of hours of media data which inform the production of a variety of Cultural Farming experimental/critical video writings.  These include: five hundred daily blog posts containing well over 2,500 video clips; seventy “critical mystory” video essays; a dozen ethnographic projects, and a self-writing montage machine containing 12,000 individual video fillips.  Other Cultural Farming projects, include topics like pornography, digital visuality, Hurricane Katrina, and a 105 minute, 12 chapter “critical reenactment’ of the cable news coverage during the U.S. school shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech.  And, most recently a six-hour “book” of allegorical lament: Trauerspiel, in fifteen volumes, where I publish numerous findings of my project in honor of Walter Benjamin.

      The video projects herein challenge a wide array of academic thinkers, others critique everyday visual media production practices, and all challenge existing media theory.  And so by necessity, Cultural Farming focuses broadly on many aspects of production and the impact of media practice in other traditional and/or emerging non-fictional venues.  For instance: developing critical-cultural approaches to production; circulation and reception of visual imagery; semiotic analysis; the commercial, political and cultural uses of media imagery; visual ethics; how audiences consume, interpret and use media images; web design and aesthetics; new imaging practices and technologies; the visual production of identity; virtual signifying practices; new media objects as database forms; historical visualization; materiality and production of the image

      To abide fulsome requirements for practice-led ethnography, I include written exegeses as analytical accompaniment to my video-writing constructions.  Elaborated throughout Cultural Farming, these explications of emerging critical experimentation in media-mixing production (epistemology, methodology, method) help situate the viewer to intentional montage and offer viewpoints for building both public and critical tools for self-reflexively invigorating visual media culture.

      Cultural Farming is neither a media lesson in convenient interpretation, or authoritative top-down critique of how our media “should” be made.  Indeed, there is room aplenty for any and all forms of TV/media.  Rather Cultural Farming is a collection of comparative provocations intended as public encouragement for greater participation in the examination of all media.  Because what is dearly lacking in our contemporary mediascapes are engaging, critical, bottom-up (or outside-in) critiques of our crazy mediated worlds.  In toto, this project is much more descriptive television study than prescriptive recipe -- although its description should point to the need for ethical prescription.  It suggests neither the “politicitization of art” or the “aestheticization of politics”.  Rather, it is fundamentally aboutknowing TV”, as a public action, which purposefully disabuses both familiarity and disparagement. 

      Yes, television may be our most important invention over the last 100 years.  The problem, however, is that our media have always been held too tightly for too long in too few hands for too few reasons... and ultimately examined with too few critical methods.  Our opportunity to civically respond to decades of unchallenged cultural production has come.  So go ahead, make your own media with media, through appropriation and remix.  But do it reflexively, fully aware of intention and consequence.  And be sure each tells smart, critical stories about our mediated worlds. 

                                        Good Luck.  I hope you make it.

                                                            (direct link)






Visual Methods


TV Journalism

Critical Ethnography


Anthropological Film

Google & Sociology

Plugged Planet

German Lectures

Teach Your Children

Light & Structure

TV’s Big Lie

Big Risk Set Design

How To

Critique Award




An American, living

in Canada, now spending his life experimenting with new forms of critical media ethnography.