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Television Personality

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Nexus
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Posted 02/14/12 - 5:14 PM:
Subject: Television Personality
Television Personality.


When he looked back to his childhood he realised that it had been television that had brought him up, at the end of the day. Arriving back from school he remembered a weariness, a lack of any kind of motivation to do anything except lie on the sofa and drift into children's programming - two hours or so, an island in the schedule, a zone of intelligibility before the grey substance of the evening news. It seemed a long time then; one basked on the island consuming biscuits and cordial, mind approaching emptiness as the tv presenters or cartoon characters defined a world, teased the imagination, comforted and bored one a little. Senses were barely stimulated - the eyes tracked, the mind collected and distributed data, the body became almost redundant. It was an accepted ritual.

He supposed when really young he'd done something else with his evenings afterwards, possibly even played with friends in the summer. He seemed to remember that sometimes he may have avoided the box altogether when the warm streets had seemed too good to leave. Yet as childhood gave way more and more he succumbed to the screen, a world which demanded nothing of him yet pulled him in and sucked at his attention, an electronic leech acting at a distance. A large chunk of the weekend seemed to be consumed by it - there in its glow it didn't matter that living had increasingly become a chore, his time divided up and classified like an organism beneath a microscope. Yet nobody glared through the lens at him; he was a cipher going through the motions. It would probably have made a difference if his parents had loved him. The latter would have involved them enquiring as to his day, glancing into his soul now and then. They may as well have been television personalities for all they cared.

Yet there were other families he could relate to. 'The Walton's' were introduced to him one Sunday morning and he projected onto them from his deepest need to belong. A poor, ramshackle rural American family living cheerfully not long before the Second World War in a secluded backwater that was just coming to recognise rudimentary forms of technology such as the motor car and radio, they weren't interested in television yet but television was interested in them. If he had thought too much about this fact he would have been forced to assume a distance from his ecstatic communion with a fictional world - the very idea that television cameras patrolled the homely interior of the family's cottage would have been almost sacrilegious. To picture the sound booms and lighting rigs that helped create the images that - he realised now - issued from a stage somewhere in a studio where the received reality was pumped out weekly from a factory system would not have been possible without some kind of rigorous process of demystification.

He now knew that it had been The Walton's more than any other television family that had inspired the project. After the fall of the little world he had created in the nuclear bunker he determined that the image of that family must have been an unconscious force driving him all along.

His fortune had been made at the height of the nineties' 'Dot Com Bubble' where investors had poured huge sums into any fledgeling internet related company that seemed about to become the next big thing. His company involved numerous tv channels only available on the Web filled with content created by computer users and players in rather modest television studios. It was all quite raw and of mixed quality but to some of the hungry millions who had just acquired their own internet connection it seemed a new world of possibility. With hits doubling monthly advertisers were soon paying large sums to get their names included on the site; it seemed as if the future of television might well lie on the internet. He soon had a lot of money and the fantasies which he'd previously kept under lock and key away from the world started to play a role in his plans for the future. He cared less about the prosperity of the company he was co-founder of than the possibility that the dreams that had been given birth to during his lonely childhood be allowed to issue forth into the disbelieving adult world.

When he'd seen the government owned bunker in the Arizona desert up for sale his fantasy life spotted its first opportunity to begin shaping the world after its own image. He sold his stake in the internet company and his fortune entered on unreal numerical realm. All he wanted to do now was get out of the society which for him seemed an endless labyrinth of dead ends. On the fifth of April nineteen ninety nine he moved into the newly purchased underground facility with a small army of contractors to begin transforming its deadly secrecy into a home for twenty hand-picked individuals.

If he had kept it homely, like in 'The Walton's', perhaps Televille would have become the first of many new living experiences. They might have begun popping up all over the country, mini-cultures destined to infect the reality of the masses little by little and - with the help of the internet and its dizzying impact on contemporary life - America could have found something new happening on its own soil. This had been the vague outline of the project's future when he had begun working on the experiment.

By November it was up and running. His security team were the first people chosen, a group that was to operate on the fringes of the lived reality of the twenty individuals which formed the core of the project. He wanted, initially, to emphasize the psychological impact of the experience of living at close quarters with other people twenty four hours a day in a submerged facility constantly monitored by tv cameras. It seemed, to him, too pedestrian to allow those people to go about their new lives without harassing them. He knew now it had been a mistake to include this menacing aspect; what he had set in motion, essentially, was a heightening beyond reasonable limit of the alienation the individuals felt in their everyday lives. He'd wanted to get the credit for some kind of discovery, a vital new insight into the psychology of modern man that would mark him as a genius rather than just a tech head who'd got lucky. How the insight would emerge from within the claustrophobic confines of the bunker he'd put little thought into.

It was all down to television, that much he knew. He had by now become convinced that he and many others like him were not the same kind of human specimens as the generation which had preceded them. Television had become such an elemental factor in their upbringing, he felt, that part of their identity had been constructed by a mediated, electronic reality. They were, in effect, a new kind of human being, possibly more damaged yet also more amenable to transformation. His idea was that television might offer a potential for transcendence on par with the religious experience. It was all a matter of intensity.

Ten women and ten men were chosen from a large pool of volunteers eager to become part of the experiment which was advertised as an exploration in communal living projected toward the twenty first century. They were told they would be pioneers involved in an adventure into the unknown that might change their lives forever. He was personally involved in all of the interviews and tests which had been designed to detect how much of a role television had played in their lives so far. Only those who he felt related to the world through a filter of ideas and images that were significantly affected by their television viewing habits got through to the final stages. Physical beauty, intellectual ability and natural talent were not deciding factors in his curious method of recruitment.

Each of the chosen volunteers had a tube to sleep in. A metal cylinder open at one end the occupant could never quite escape the bunker's eyes - a camera watched the their every move. When a volunteer left a tube they couldn't anywhere - including the toilet - without being tracked by cameras. Everybody carried a controller which enabled them to manipulate any of the hundreds of monitors positioned around the underground facility; they could access any of the visible camera's and therefore know where any of the other volunteers were at any given moment. There were, however, other cameras hidden beyond the many eyes on view around the facility. These could only be accessed from within Control Centre One from where he watched the goings on within the warren of tunnels and windowless rooms. The revealed cameras covered all of the spaces of the bunker but the additional eyes gave him a feeling of superiority.

There was a quite plain communal dining area with a single large table around which all the volunteers sat. They prepared their own meals as a group within the adjoining kitchen area; supplies were delivered weekly through a hatch from the surface. Nobody was allowed to go up to the outside unless there was an emergency. They all understood this and had signed a contract acknowledging their commitment. A games room contained ten computer terminals which shared a network dedicated to the goings on within the bunker. Security staff had access to the network from their base back on the surface. There was a tunnel which connected their camp to the experimental community; they also had a room within the facility which was used for 'interviewing' residents of Televille.

As a nod to a Mars mission imagined somewhere in the distant future he'd included a room full of plants; it also seemed necessary from an aesthetic point of view. The Science Fiction plots set in space he'd most enjoyed usually featured such a room. If a volunteer lay face down in the thickest of the vegetation areas it was possible to hide from the cameras. There was also a well equipped gym, hot baths, dance hall, lounge, movie theatre and 'chapel'. The last was a work in progress. As well as requiring them to be avid television viewers he had also chosen Televille's residents on the basis of the professed ambivalence of their belief systems. What he had been looking for were vague spiritual longings but no real connection to traditional dogmatic religion. They were, as a whole, a dreamy bunch who had failed to gain solid footholds in contemporary life. All were educated past high school and had hopes for 'fulfilment' though few of them could say where they thought it might lie. The chapel housed a video record of each volunteer's psychological background - hours of interviews had been distilled to poignant moments providing a cross-section of each person's personality. There were dream logs kept by each person over preceding months leading up to the project. This was the sole literature available in the bunker. The only movies that could be viewed in the plush theatre were those made within the self enclosed activity of bunker life, compiled from footage captured by hand held video cameras one of which had been distributed to each of the residents. They were encouraged to form groups of film makers and dream up original plots.

Looking back to the world he'd lived in during that time he'd begin to get nostalgic about Control Centre One. Surrounded by monitors following life in the bunker he could immediately click on a face displayed on his terminal before even remembering their code number and access reams of information gained during interview time along with the additional supporting data gathered by his team of private detectives. Watching a body roam around their routine he could review footage of an interview, perhaps a revealing moment recollecting their childhood from pre-bunker interviews. When the footage of the intensive weekly grillings from his security team became available a whole new psychological panorama was revealed. The pressures of bunker life soon took effect; the first interview session for each individual in the bunker had been guarded; they'd naturally been defensive and rather surprised when one of the staff had started probing and prodding in a more assertive fashion than they were used to. He knew a number of them had been in therapy for years. His staff would ask personal questions and try to deepen their understanding of the subject but the blank way in which the meetings were conducted meant it often felt like an interrogation. Indeed, that was the effect he had been hoping to achieve. It was curious how similar the fragmentation of their identities had been by the second week; he imagined now a dialogue which was a rough amalgamation of all the subject interviews during that time.

Subject: He said we were special, children of a new era or something, in the chapel, when he gave his sermon on the first day. I was excited, it made the long lead up to all this make sense.

Interviewer: You don't believe him now? You sound doubtful.

Subject: 'Doubtful..' The way you say it you'd think we were part of a new religion or something.

Interviewer: We don't have to use that word. It's a word they use 'out there'. Religion was what people used to understand the world before television. You heard the project manager's opening talk.

Subject: And I have to agree with everything he said do I?

Interviewer: I didn't say that. Though there is evidence that you have been disruptive. You've been trying to influence other people's perception of what he said. We know you had a bit of a reputation at work for stirring things up, the managers there were wary of you.

Subject: What? How do you know what I was like at work?

Interviewer: It's not so hard. We did a bit of information gathering before you came in here.

Subject: That's creepy. I can't believe it.

Interviewer: It's for your own good resident 9, we're trying to help you. Why do you feel the need to be disruptive? Were you a disruptive child?

Subject: I don't think I am - I was I mean.... What if I was? Anyway, what does 'disruptive' mean in this context? It's healthy to question things...

Interviewer. Of course, but when you try and influence others to the detriment of the whole it might not be so healthy. We're trying to help people see more clearly. Some of you are starting to, but it's a delicate process and you, in particular, aren't helping.

Many succumbed and became more pliant but a few - as had been predicted - became the minority outsiders. This pattern made things entertaining for a while but it had been assumed that they would more or less come back into the fold and accept the prevailing psychic order. Instead their rebellion became more entrenched. Isolation chambers were utilised - they had been agreed to by a majority of the bunker residents. The few disbelieving subjects were left in small rooms for twenty four hour periods and not allowed to experience the flow of bunker life. Doctored news feeds that were supposed to have issued from the outside world were one of only two real forms of 'escape' in the otherwise comfortably furnished rooms located on the surface. They had views of the surrounding desert and were free to walk about outside - there was no real way to escape the isolated location. The feeds were latched onto hungrily to begin with but the emphasis of the content was more than usually focused on record of destruction and murder. Whole evolving stories had also been prepared before the project by his clever team of psychologists and technicians forseeing the outsider crisis along with the miserable largely real news matter that had been given an additional slant of doom. All of them reacted in the same way. Usually they were isolated on the surface at the same time and therefore left their rooms and met outside and exchanged frustrations in the desert. They'd pretend to be avoiding the television and be playing the video games consoles they'd been provided with. If there'd been a way to play multi-player mode they may have found a greater sense of solidarity in their exile but the games machines were sealed in boxes and had one controller each. After hours of solitary play they'd find themselves watching the news feed and getting depressed. Returning to bunker life they showed signs of more equitable behaviour for a while but with all of them the symptoms soon re-emerged.

The rest had become engrossed in their submerged world of surveillance. The general sense seemed to be one of breached isolation; they felt they had less to hide and found they were on friendlier terms with their fellow creatures. He, the project manager, gave weekly sermons based on the insights he felt he had drawn from the many hours he'd spent watching over the volunteers in Control Centre One. Having entered the experiment with some conviction in his ideas the evolving culture of the bunker served to heighten his sense of its validity. Often he felt inspired entering the chapel, everybody seemed to sense a sacredness in the proceedings. Having hand-picked poignant moments from the video record - with the help of his staff, the amount of material was immense - he would launch into a talk where he would highlight what he felt to be problematic behavioural patterns. The 'cure' for these forms of behaviour, he made clear, was to understand in a dynamic way how they had been damaged by their television upbringings. Already they were aware of his belief that all of them had a more than usual attachment to electronically mediated reality fostered by troubled childhoods where there had been a lack of parental attention. It was also his position, however, that the emotional detachment encouraged by television had been accompanied by a power to imagine through the electronic image that offered the key to new kinds of personality structure devoid of the humdrum conflicts that plagued modern man. Together they were going to begin creating a vision for the new Millennium. When the culture within the bunker had reached what he felt to be the desired pitch of self contained harmony there would be a direct feed of images out of the facility to the internet television site of which he was a co-founder. His former colleagues had already agreed that his exciting project could potentially provide potent content that could push their business towards ratings currently only shared by the major television networks.

After successful New Year celebrations where the outsiders seemed to start to assimilate the prevailing sense of a kind of salvation he decided his new disciples needed to be given the freedom of above ground. Only the outsiders had been complaining of claustrophobia, however. He had offered to allow them their total freedom but they were aware that they would forfeit a substantial portion of the payment that they were going to receive following a six month stint in the bunker. Together the group planted gardens on the land above the bunker, he'd watched their busy activities from Control Centre One - the half submerged building had a concealed one way window that overlooked the area, from a distance it appeared like a small mound. There were cameras positioned above ground, of course, yet he preferred the natural view without electronic interference. Yet just as the gardens had begun to show their first green shoots news from the outside world took his world by storm. To help finance the project and its hoped for eventual expansion all over America he'd invested most of his money in internet related industry stocks that had showed such exciting growth in recent times and lead to his current wealth. The bubble, it transpired to his disbelief, had burst. The internet television company he had co-founded which was preparing to receive the first images from Televille burst too. That potential line of revenue, therefore, collapsed with the majority of his fortune.

There was enough to keep the project going for a year at least. He now believed all the residents along with himself, the project manager, were undergoing some kind of change in consciousness. The sessions in the chapel were becoming more intense, all felt they were leaving behind their vast shared reservoir of pain and damage in favour of something better. Yet, by early February of the new year the outsiders were again becoming restless. They announced they were tired of surveillance and needed their own space and privacy away from the rest. Two of the three were now asking for out and he knew it would mean the outside world would get its first confirmation that Televille was a failure. At first he ordered his security staff to soften interview sessions - which had already significantly altered in general approach - for the outsiders. Their 'release' date was set but he kept putting it back, claiming a series of unlikely reasons as the outsiders grew only more rebellious. Soon all three were demanding they be allowed to return to reality. Leaving them above ground one day to enjoy time in the isolation chambers he asked the rest of the community to vote on whether the three should be allowed to leave. He was sure they would come round given time. For the good of the community and, ultimately, the good of the three individuals themselves, he announced it might be necessary to oblige them to stay at least until the contracted six month period had come to an end. Everybody, including staff, gathered within the chapel as they discussed and made their vote and it was decided with a clear majority that the outsiders should stay. Discussion had gone on for a number of hours. In the chapel there were no monitors and nobody was aware that the outsiders had left their rooms above ground and headed out on foot into the desert.

Their absence was only discovered after nightfall. Security scouted the immediate area in Jeeps but there was no trace of them. The nearest human settlement would have taken days to reach on foot if the volunteers had known which way to go. His confidence that they would eventually be found continued for four days after which he was finally persuaded to call in the authorities. When they were found a day later after an extensive land and air search only one of them was still alive.

The remaining outsider became a subject of intense media attention following the incident. The escapee was very angry and spread a story depicting life in the bunker as demeaning and perverse. It was only natural, of course, that they would react wildly having watched their companions die of thirst and heat exhaustion in the desert. The good things they had experienced - the former project manager reflected later - would have been lost to recollection as they seethed over the injustice of the delays over their release. It was only understandable. However, their ravings about the project proved to be its downfall. Everything was shut down and all returned to their previous lives in the city, carrying with them whatever fragile new perceptions that might have been born within - soon, probably, to be crushed by the demands of everyday urban existence. It was like the television being turned off last thing in the evening, the moment of sadness that had been one of his most poignant memories of childhood.

Many of the former residents gave far more positive descriptions of life in the bunker. A small though vital movement was born. Participants had access to the vast store of footage recorded during the time underground. Attempts to recreate conditions within the bunker were tried in various underground locations around the city but there wasn't the financial backing or real commitment required to make them a success.

The project manager avoided criminal charges but with his personal fortune now reduced to modest savings the world that had been allowed a brief period of life outside his head melted away and he was left with only vivid memories. He'd never had any real friends and had rejected his family; now he spent his days surfing the Web and watching television as his last savings began to dwindle.

'The Walton's' hadn't been a real family, that was probably what he should have got straight in his mind before he'd launched the bunker project. Within him, he was sure, was a capacity to create warmth and feel love. He knew now he was just one individual in a city of millions; he alone couldn't breach the isolation of all those souls, however vast the resources at his finger tips might be. They met others and found some belonging, families were formed, new lives were made. He wondered now whether the only way he was sure of the latter was through the advertising he consumed. For him it didn't seem to be an option. A brief affair with one of the former bunker girls following its downfall came to nothing - he needed her easy to manipulate, he supposed now, it would have been nice to have had a controller, to have been able to channel switch when he became bored. She'd said at one point that she'd loved him. He thought now she'd probably been lying.
















libertygrl
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Posted 02/15/12 - 12:29 PM:

yay! it's great to see you nexus hug i look forward to checking out your newest work. i'll be back...
libertygrl
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Posted 02/17/12 - 5:27 PM:

brilliant clap

a small bit of constructive feedback - i had a bit of difficulty trying to follow the grammatical structure of this sentence:

"It was also his position, however, that the emotional detachment encouraged by television had been accompanied by a power to imagine through the electronic image that offered the key to new kinds of personality structure devoid of the humdrum conflicts that plagued modern man."

i gleaned its meaning somewhat from the context, but i don't feel i have a clear grasp of what you meant for sure there.

aside from that, it is yet another keen and, at the same time, subtle portrait of a tangible yet, for the moment, troubled psyche. (and i say "for the moment" because i get the general sense from this lead character, and others you've written about, that they are typically en route to some emotional resolutions. they seem troubled by circumstance but equal to the task of learning from their mistakes.)

loved it.
Nexus
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Posted 02/18/12 - 1:09 PM:

Thanks for the nice feedback. I'm really trying to get back into the habit of inhabiting this and the other forum I used to visit but it's damn hard to find the time. I haven't written for about a year but will post stuff at timely intervals from that period of creativity that now seems to have drawn to a close. A bit like the character in this story I seem to have begun seeing through some of the illusions that let me into writing the kind of stuff I did. Still, it would be nice to know others get some kind of enjoyment or diversion from it. As with 'The Biddle Effect' there is this drive to provide the portrait of a psyche that is symbolic of a kind of collective consciousness. That is, distrust of the conventional 'character' that cleanly represents 'somebody real out there'. J.G Ballard was clearly frustrated with traditional character portraits and I seem to have been somewhat influenced by his writing.

Thanks again for the intelligent and perceptive response.

(This and 'The Biddle Effect' were based on real people oddly enough. I actually used to see Biddle on TV outside the high court in London trying to boost his fifteen minutes of fame. The man in 'TV Personality' really existed and really set up a commune in New York that was wired up to the Internet just before the Nineties Dot Com Bubble that ruined him exploded!)
thedoc
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Posted 02/18/12 - 2:43 PM:

I would agree with Libertygrl that some of the sentence structrue was a bit hard to follow. The other point is that the rather detailed description of the bunker and the participants existence there did well to convey the feel of life in the bunker, but it may also have a similar effect on the reader that it had on the 'outsiders' who attemped to escape. I did get through the story but I admit to having difficulty finding time, or perhaps it's just a lack of attention span. I seem to recall proposals for this kind of experiment but that could also be that I read science fiction stories that addressed this idea. It's hard sometimes to differentiate memories from the dim recesses of the past.
thedoc
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Posted 02/18/12 - 2:59 PM:

Here is a link to another forum where a user 'Monoexplosion' has posted several stories. This is one I particularly liked.

dissidentphilosophy.lifedis...t1539-telling-of-a-feeling

BTW, my posts are under 'Guest' in this thread and he actually deleted the line I suggested, but I'm not sure I could tell you exactly where it was. I'm 'guest' because I pissed-off an admin. and he deleted my account.

Monoexplosion has posted several other stories that I thought were good.
Thinker13
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Posted 02/18/12 - 3:17 PM:

thedoc wrote:
I'm 'guest' because I pissed-off an admin. and he deleted my account.




There is no age-limit for being mischievous. laughing
thedoc
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Posted 02/20/12 - 8:47 AM:

Thinker13 wrote:



There is no age-limit for being mischievous. laughing


My grandaughter and I can certainly prove that point.
Thinker13
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Posted 02/20/12 - 9:27 AM:

thedoc wrote:


My grandaughter and I can certainly prove that point.



thumb up
libertygrl
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Posted 02/22/12 - 12:26 PM:

Nexus wrote:
(This and 'The Biddle Effect' were based on real people oddly enough. I actually used to see Biddle on TV outside the high court in London trying to boost his fifteen minutes of fame. The man in 'TV Personality' really existed and really set up a commune in New York that was wired up to the Internet just before the Nineties Dot Com Bubble that ruined him exploded!)

well, this story and the biddle effect are definitely my favorites of yours. and besides making a perceptive exploration of their characters, it seems clearly you understand them well enough to project them into a fictionalized future in a way that is thoroughly consistent with their personalities and in a way that i personally find very satisfying. cheers thumb up
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