CCTP-725: Cultural Hybridity/Remix Culture: Weekly Seminar Discussion
Week 5


A overview of the chain of theories: Banjamin, Debord, Baudrillard







Before I begin this week's wiki, I wanted to post something about the controversy surrounding Lady Gaga's hotly anticipated first single, titled Born This Way, from her upcoming album. The blogosphere and mainstream news sources are scratching their heads and a heated discussion has emerged as to whether or not Lady Gaga has engaged in copyright infringement (some sources are calling it plagiarism). CNN's The Marquee Blog has a decent round up of current discussion in the media, with links to other articles dealing with the same topic.

She’s Not Real


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Chris Scarborough. Untitled (Shannon 3) from the Ideal Species series. Friend of artist photographed and then digitally altered to female aesthetic of avatar/manga. We see this image in film, in our childhood playthings, in western standards of beauty. The unreal is celebrated, but the unreal is simulacra - these images exist more powerfully in hyperreality than they do in reality. I interpret this image as having some kind of social commentary re the emphasis on certain female traits. The eternal struggle for something unattainable. Also echos Cindy Sherman's photographs, which address themes of the male gaze on women. The woman is always sexualized, even in dealth/unconsciousness/sedatedness/happyness.



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Irvine’s lecture notes for this week (Statement, Representation, Reference, Image, Sign) begin with a few statements illustrating the Liar Paradox:

This statement is false.
The statement “this statement is false” is false.

The lesson here is that, once you try to assess the truth/false validity of these statements, you wind up in a pickle. You encounter contradictions and soon realize that even grammatical and semantic correctness cannot consistently assign a truth value to a statement. (For example: “This statement is false.” Then the statement itself must be true. But only because it is false. But because it is true. And so on ad infinitum.) Here is an overview.

With this in mind, the intention of Rene Magritte’s famous painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”) becomes more apparent. If the statement “this is not a pipe” is true, then it is false (because the paining is clearly of a pipe!), but it is also true (because it is only a painting of a pipe, after all). On which side of the pendulum does the truth lie?

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Rene Magritte, The Treason of Images ("Ceci n'est pas une pipe"), 1928-29, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Magritte's work exemplifies the Liar Paradox. The artist questions taken for granted assumption about truth and the real.

Correspondingly, Baudrillard wants us to ask ourselves, “what is really real?” about this particular time in history, at a time of unprecedented engagement with mass media and consumerism. He goes as far as to say that nothing is real, that everything is now a sign, codified, free-floating, in relentless exchange with other signs in a state of hyper-reality.


If nothing is real, if there is no authenticity to ground us in reality, then we live by and through pre-coded means. In “Did you Ever Eat Tasty Wheat?: Baudrillard and the Matrix”, William Merrin explains:


“… [Baudrillard] presents us with our own simulated reality: a world where every act and thought is preceded by its own semiotic model; where all behaviour is a pre-coded response to a coded society; where the simulations which govern our world are those which we too help to reproduce…”

Merrin goes on to say that we experience a “pacification of everyday life” (using Baudrillard’s phrase) when the distinctions between reality and illusion blur because of our immersion in the semiotic flood of communicational and consumer society. Mass media casts a spell over us so that we can only stand to gaze into it (because we cannot stand anything else); we want to be those images and have those things, and we cannot be satisfied until this is the case. Our happiness (however misguided) depends on the acquisition of those representations of a reality that does not exist. We crave the speed and superpowers of those fictional characters on film, but we forget how those representations have come about (digital cinematography) and, in any case, we don’t care. The unattractive woman can now buy a representation of beauty; it is not inconceivable that we will one day be able to manipulate other features of ourselves. We are hooked on the hyperreal.






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Hello Kitty with Nietzsche mustache. Two iconic cultural signs. What an odd combination! Referencing intellectuality and chilishness. Very playful. By combining two universally recognizable images, the viewer is confronted with something new. Interestingly enough, though Nietzsche is associated with nihilism and the dealth of God, he advocates an aesthetic playfulness in response to his pronouncements.



In a similar vein, in The Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord worries about the effects of mass media on our consciousness, afraid that it will eventually reduce all of human social life to “mere appearance”. He thinks that the engrossing nature of the spectacle conceals social and economic inequalities perpetuated by an inhumane mode of production. Debord is borrowing ideas of commodity fetishism from Marx and applying them to our fascination with and addiction to communicative and consumer society. The spectacle “escapes the activity of men”: we live to consume, watching re-runs of codified re-runs and acting on nothing but our consumptive cravings. In doing so, we become “lonely crowds”, together in the spectacle of consumption but alienated by those materials we have been led to desire.


Baudrillard’s theories of simulacra and simulation are helpful in letting us understand our relationship to mass media, and the relationship of mass media to itself. However, by proposing that reality is nothing by images and signs takes the argument too far. Idealism - that existence is nothing but ideas (responding to empiricist perspectives) - argues that there is no world for ideas to be grounded. In this sense, the world becomes monistic idealism consciousness is the only feature of existence. Debord grounds his critique of mass media and consumer society in the mode of production and social/economic inequalities. I don't agree with everything he says, but I do think that he does well by planting semiotics, representations, spectacle, in reality. There is so much lying beneath our addiction to hyperreality – the underbelly that Baudrillard ignores. He was right about the all-encompassing nature of simulacra, but he takes this idea and runs too far, and looses me in the process.
Other examples to consider:

Google Art Project (GAP)

“In this sense, you might say that the GAP's virtualized paintings offer up a textbook case of the "hyperreal," a term popularized by thinkers Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco to describe representations that are more vivid than the things they represent. For both Baudrillard and Eco, this notion had a negative overtone, associated as it was with these European philosophers' sense that the American love affair with science and technology, amplified by the U.S.'s global hegemony, was breaking down some older sense of stable cultural value. Disneyland's imaginary landscapes — or even the Getty's art conservation practices — became a target for their vaguely apocalyptic musings.”

- Rebecca Jakob (rsj23@georgetown.edu)





Perhaps one of the more recent film studies on the idea of the simulacrum and Baudrillard’s distinction between the real and the referential is Christopher Nolan’s, Inception. The work of Cobb (DiCaprio) and his cohorts is, simply put, to be architects of simulation; to create a simulacra that so closely resembles one’s own reality that the subject is unable to determine that which is real from that which is hyperreal. Ellen Page’s character, Ariadne, is brought into the fold of the simulation by Cobb - in a staggeringly arresting way, he is the architect of her dream. His hook is creating her simulation and enticing her to create those simulacra for others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yshUmxuEjE

The tutorial scene for Ariadne directly relates to Baudrillard’s statement in Simulacra and Sumulations, “of the same order as the impossiblity of rediscovering an absolute level of the real, is the impossibility of staging an illusion.” The concept of pulling too much from the realm of “real” to create the hyperreal creates the danger of becoming completely absorbed by the simulation, and not being able to extract yourself from a situation that is completely fabricated.

Inception also requires that we examine the Platonic idea of the hierarchy of images - the good copy, being intrinsically linked to the original versus the simulacra, which has only an extrinsic resemblance to the real (as according to Ozturk’s interpretation in the article, Matrix Reloaded). At the heart of the film is Cobb’s struggle between identifying the real from the simulation, and the dichotomous task of constructing the flawless simulation in order to finally be freed from the simulacra that has taken over his own existence. In the film, simulation surrounds Cobb, the real becomes more and more difficult to discern.
Jess Perlman


Simulacra and Inception
“I never sleep on planes. I don’t want to get incepted.” –Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock

Like Jess, I found that Christopher Nolan’s Inception was at the front of my mind as I made my way through this week’s readings. The first scene she references, when Adriadne first experiences the engineered dream world, was key to my linking the film to these particular concepts. In this scene Cobb notes that a dream differs from a memory in that you can’t discern the exact moment a dream begins.
external image Inception_parisian_cafe.png


To use Baudrillard’s terminology, a dream is thus “hyperreal” – it has no real origin or reality. He uses Disneyland as the “perfect model” of a simulacrum. The park is a physical representation of a fictitious idea. Are Nolan’s dreams within dreams not then layers of simulacra?
Ozturk, quoting Deleuze, notes that a simulacrum “does not have an internal relationship to a model but only an external relationship built only on the ‘model of the Other from which there flows an internalized dissemblance’”. Jess commented that this idea is at the crux of the “architecture” of the dream world. A target must be familiar enough with their surroundings to provide the intended information, but the details must be vague enough that they don’t notice the difference between their dreams and their reality. Further on the same point, I found that the Architect’s engineering process also recalls Debord’s remarks in his article on the “Society of the Spectacle”. Debord notes that life is a “social relation among people, mediated by images”. The Architect presents the Target with a “series of spectacles” that hopefully are simulated to such accuracy that they will ideally trigger the sharing of information or certain actions. It is only when the Target realizes that the dream world is a simulacrum that the illusion falls apart.

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As spectators of Inception, we must also consider that the “reality” stage of the characters’ world is not necessarily reality at all. Benjamin notes that “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence”. Indeed, there are so many “dream layers” to the film that it’s easy to get turned around and forget where the beginning is. The map above suggests that the beginning of the inception process is reality – but perhaps Cobb has been dreaming all along, and his scenes with his wife Mal (before her death) are the true reality. We see Mal's talisman fall in this level, showing that gravity still works and supposedly reassuring us that we are firmly planted in reality. On the other hand, this image could have been manufactured as a part of a dream spectacle composed by another Architect. Of course, we have to consider that the whole thing is a simulacrum, a spectacle of images based on Christopher Nolan’s fictitious ideas. Still, what’s most exciting about this film is that it engages viewers to debate what was reality and what was simulacra. As seen in the 30 Rock quote above and the Inception-style map of Sex and the City 2 below, the film has truly entered our intertextual cultural dialogue.

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-Liz Kneuer



Zachary Allard

Our complex and self-referential world of images that have no necessary relation to any sort of “real world,” yet still exert an influence upon our reality is nothing new but appears to have reached a point of saturation that had been previously unimaginable. There is something fascinatingly counter-intuitive about a photographic image that bears no necessary relation to anything in the real world or any “thing” that was photographed. This is a relatively recent phenomenon for photography and film but is not that different of a phenomenon from that of painting. People have known for a long time that paintings require no referent; it is just happened that photography/film for most of its existence had been defined by such a relationship to the “real world.” In time however, people will perceive photography/film as little more than painting with pixels.
So, the image has always been problematic. Plato distrusted this world and Judeo-Christian religions have mistrusted the image and the icon for a long time. However, this new digital age is largely mediated through the problematic simulacra of film, the internet, advertisements, etc. While Baudrillard dismissed the notion of the real and argued that simulacra are everything, it strikes me as (at least in this digital present) as a bit of a false distinction if we accept his premise as true (or accurate). It actually seems that art (images, etc) imitates life imitates art that imitates life that imitates art and so on ad infinitum, creating a mobius loop of “the real world” with all of its “simulacra.”Merrin beautifully summarizes Baudrillard’s ideas about, “a society where real and imaginary implode; where all our experiences are overexposed first in the cold, electronic light of the mass media, in the aspirational, high-definition of the advertising image, and in the hyper-cool, hyperreality of digital cinematography; where our most fervent hope is for the cinema, or television to give meaning to our existence by broadcasting it, or for our lives to attain their hyperrealistic effect.” There is no escape or action outside of a world where stories and images and “simulacra” define our conceptions of what is “real.” Perhaps, it has always even been so. Even without the internet or television, humankind would view their world through the prism of their myths and words of their priests and stories of their ancestors. This is merely a time where our myths and stories now move and talk and appear in the guise of “the real.” Let us take cinema/television (for the distinction is minimal today) as an example. Cinema is completely constructed and controlled by humankind. It has not reached a point of self-consciousness, and there are no movies physically constructed by other movies. However, if the people constructing the film themselves have had their lives and experiences shaped in light of the cinema that they themselves are now constructing, the loop achieves infinity.
There is no “real” or “simulacrum” because they spiral into and out of each other in an infinite loop of creation. It is the opposite of a snake eating its tail and more akin to yin and yang creating a circle by swirling into each other in an endless cyclone. The distinction between the real and its image may have never been useful, but it certainly isn’t now. They “both” create the other.

(An excellent song with an apt title)





Image is always-already a hybrid
We’ve already looked at the significance of intertexuality and dialogism as means to define art objects. In this perspective, we view the art object as an image of its networks and associations. However, there are perhaps greater phenonemon that exist above the network, perhaps, we are defining a plane of thought that can be metaphorically a macrocosm for the art object.
The image can be defined by:
- its reproductions/appropriations/hybridizations or methods of creation
- viewer context, the spectacle, an “anti-discourse”
- its relationship to the hyperreality, its role in altering "the spectacle"

"Works of art are received and valued on different planes. Two polar types stand out:: with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work." - Walter Benjamin
The cult value of art is easily illustrated by its culpability to reproduction. Throughout history man has been able to physically replicate art objects to varying degrees of success, however, the concept of the original is more important than ever in this epoch. In this environment, the original reigns supreme over other replications. The question is why? This is also the same question that we ask of cultural hybridity, it's that we apply a non-hyperreal framework to judge the authenticity of a something that is so based on replication.
Benjamin's perspective on the ritual/cult value of art is significant when attempting to parse this concept of origination. Reproduction, whether mechanical or otherwise, is directly linked to the origination, the original, the authentic. The significance of the original can then can be said to be altered by the capability of reproduction.


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The cult value of this art is that it is a nod to the spiritual/celestial. It's a The appellation to fluid ideas funneled through a singular creator that exists in its original time, place and conditions. This is opposite of hyperreal. It is a contrived expression of a particular concept or subject.

"With the different methods of technical reproduction of a work of art, its fitness for exhibition increased to such an extent that the quantitative shift between its two poles turned into a qualitative transformation of its nature."

Benjamin illustrates a concept of “aura” in relation to distance, which creates a flexible window to observe the transition of mediums today. As Benjamin states, technology and reproduction are a means to bring art both physically and “humanly” closer to the purveyor. This is particularly true at the beginning of the discussion on whether photography could be validated as formal “art.” The capability of mechanical reproduction introduces an even deeper demarcation of original or authentic, but at the same time reveals the original in a different dimension. Now, there is a reality that exists encapsulated in the time and various constraints surrounding a film or a photograph, the perceived version of that reality revealed through the lens, and the existence of the reality in the present time. Furthermore, the significance of the authentic begins to lose meaning when reproductions can be so easily created. Benjamin draws an analogy between a painter and a videographer that ultimately makes the point that the painter is only really interested in the product, a depiction of the real that is actively and directly generated from a conglomeration of subjective perspective. On the other hand, a videographer is focused on the act of presenting an alternate reality. This is the creation of hyperreality, but one that we have so grown accustomed to that we can parse the differences between them. These are early photos of Parisian street scenes by Eugene Atget. While they are a projection of reality, as Benjamin assesses, we are confined to the optical and psychological proclivities of the lens, while we view an image of the real world.


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In the classical mindset of what is considered art, reproduction holds a much more concrete value than in film or photography. I think this is partially why its introduction as a formal art medium was initially resisted by the “expert circle.” Perhaps, the audiences are different? It's functionalities different?

"For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitic dependence on ritual"

Today, we are faced with works of art that can be infinitely reproduced, yet we are still trapped in a framework that shuns mechanical replication as below the significance of ritual. This is the basis of copyright law, essentially a set of rules cleaved from an era of thinking where the significance of the first precludes others, even though the replicability of said art object is its real artistic demarcation. As Benjamin intimates, the culpability of replication changes the nature of an art object. Rather than focusing on cult value, photography, film, and music remix is even more representative of subjective reality, more so than classical painting, sculpture etc.
"All that was once directly lived has become mere representation" - Debord
The spectacle is depressing to talk about in Debord's viewpoint, so we are going to remix its meaning in our discussion of defining the art object. IF society has been reduced to the quiet workings of consumerist/religious/social colonization, what does that say about the art that springs forth from this environment?
Advertisements, Spectacle and Hyperreality

As one of our example’s from this week’s presentation illustrates, I was curious about exploring how Debord’s concept of the spectacle can be linked to fashion advertising, particularly to the portrayal of the body throughout these advertisements. Based on my knowledge of Michael Schudson’s “Advertising as Capitalist Realism” it occurred to me that the way in which advertisements, the images that we use precisely to maintain the capitalist system of production which sustains the spectacle society, are the clearest example of how images present us with a hyperreality that we see as more real than the real, or rather present us with the hyperreality that we use to construct the real as we know it, a real based on simulations.

Michael Schudson touches upon this issue by explaining that advertisements, as the representation of capitalist realism, presents us with an augment, perfected reality which builds upon our existing values and lifestyle, but that we come to see as more real than the images that we come to see in life itself. To this concept, I would add, according to Debord’s “Society of Spectacle”, that the images through which we represent the views and values of our society of spectacle are shaped in light of these views, but that they also reproduce these views amongst that which we consider to be more real, our day to day life, the image we have of our own body or the ways in which we try to shape our own body. Because as Debord states spectacle, “is not the supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society”(Debord,1967, 2). Spectacle invades our reality, which also absorbs the spectacular once it is produced.


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So when Calvin Klein presents us with the picture of two perfect tanned models, covered in oil, somehow that picture appears to us as more real than a picture of a wrinkled, pale, and slightly rounder body although this might in fact be the body that the majority of the population has. But beyond that, the worrisome fact is that these bodies are closer to representing the views promoted by the society of spectacle and serve to reproduce these view amongst our minds and to imprint these views upon our bodies.

Jessica Gesund and Lian Han


HYPERREALITY: FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND
by Alicia Dillon

During the course of the week, my friend asked that I read over her senior dissertation which was titled, “Modern Dystopia: An Exploration of Contemporary Fear Through Film.” Coincidentally, most if not everything in the Benjamin’s article on art in the age of mechanical production, tied in with her discussion of the aspect of film’s ability to capture reality.





Specifically, she argued using the movie Children of Men to draw parallels between the representation of reality in film, and its ability to affect people’s “real-life” understanding of their worlds as well as film’s ability to capture and or transform this world through its medium. Moreover, by aiding in definitions of reality through media, it informed how we might begin to think about hyperreality.

Continuing this discussion of parallel reality, in this video clip, Slavoj Zizek discusses Children of Men and elaborates on the way the visual elements of the film plays with foreground and background to create tensions between plot and setting. The concepts expressed in Zizek’s analysis are particularly interesting to the idea of containment within a singular (contained) piece and how the referential quality of images functions to construct and narrate a particular experience within and outside of history.

While Benjamin was writing much before the advent of CGI and other modern film technologies, much of his argument caries through, and poses important questions, regarding the role of the (still or moving) image as referent. However, in the same way that we are able to understand a larger narrative in film due to referents in our world-- the question of how we are able to read images and media which are self contained as an image arises. Is this ever even a possibility?

In other words, what is being called into question here is how does the space within which media exists affect the life of the image as well as our personal relationship with the medium? This comes in direct reaction to the fact that both still and moving images are coded as portraying some aspect of “reality.” Aside from moving images, the so called reality of film of course is rooted in a “truth” of the medium; a truth to which artists have reacted for many years. The idea that there is an inherent truth behind a still image, despite the reality of framing, cropping and editing of the artist or the human behind the camera has been an aspect with which many have played up in their work. Notably with portrait photography, truth in images has been a driving force behind the portraits of photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank (The Americans), and Diane Arbus.

Diane Arbus, Contact Sheet
Diane Arbus, Contact Sheet
Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus
As one can see from the photographer’s contact sheet versus the final print, the iconic still of the boy with toy hand grenade, the image of the little boy pictured represents a particular moment in time. However, due to our natural tendencies towards expanding out the dialogue of photography, a larger narrative is soon formed outside of the image still itself. While there may be truth in film, there is a life outside the film still which is often not addressed, or is simply disregarded. This is key to understanding the life of a digital or technically-mass produced image.

More importantly, through the evolution of the digital mediums, we can see that these technologies have both enabled as well as complicated our relationship with what we uphold as truth. Through the mediation of images and sounds, either directly through the technology itself, or subsequently through a layered history bound life cycle of the piece questioning the interiority and exteriority of digitally mediated narratives is an increasingly necessary task.

AMD




“Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible.”

--Jean Baudrillard



This quote from Simulacra and Simulations is disturbing for several reasons. First of all, it calls into question one’s own ability to discern what is ‘real’, from what is ‘illusion.’ If one cannot determine that there is a difference between truth and fiction, between theater and life, then perhaps no difference exists. This would give new meaning to Shakespeare’s assertion that “the world is a stage.”



But now the world isn’t a stage, at least not principally. It is a swirl of reproductions, facilitated by the camera—both photographically, as well as cinematographically. Walter Benjamin laments the facility of reproduction, for with out the ‘authentic’ work, there is the loss of that work’s ‘aura’. At the very least, when a work of art was in a certain place, it had meaning in reference to something. With the event of the camera, all reference points were lost. This “liquidation of all referentials,” as Baudrillard puts it, allows for simulations to become ‘reality.’



In the modern world, there are many examples of how the sign replaces the signified. For instance, the Eiffel Tower has become more than a mere physical place. It is now the symbol of France for travelers and visitors who go to the site with certain expectations and an idea of what they will see before they even arrive. What a tourist imagines the Eiffel Tower to be becomes more important than its actual physical manifestation. The sign becomes the signified.

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Other examples of how simulation may overtake “the real” are abundant in the reality TV genre. Two years after I graduated from high school, TLC decided to do a reality show about “__Texas Cheer Moms.__” The cheerleading team at my high school was filmed for a semester. One of the cheerleaders lived across the street from my family, and my mother was good friends with this “cheer mom.” In one of the episodes, Pam and Laura (cheer mother and daughter) have a fight at a restaurant. I heard later from Pam that not only was the fight clipped together out of context, but it was entirely unrealistic that she and her daughter would have gone to that restaurant on their family’s budget—the production crew had paid for it. So was the fight real? To thousands of viewers, that mother and daughter had had a serious quarrel, but to that mother and daughter they had only had a good meal on someone else’s dime. Which interpretation is “real”?


When Baudrillard’s thesis—that everything is real, and everything is illusionary—it becomes necessary to depend on what you believe. If everything is relative, it becomes important what is relative to you. When even that becomes questioned, insanity ensues. But is that really insanity, or the realization of a different reality? The problem is perpetuated.
Erin


Saaret Yoseph: I responded immediately to Guy Debord’s notes on the spectacle. The sense I got was very much a conscious invocation of “the moment,” an emphasis on setting and scene, and the illegitimacy of reproduction. So much emphasis is placed on the collective experience surrounding the spectacle; how our images anchor us -- the immediate image coming to mind being of people huddled around a TV screen. I can think of so many instances where I’ve huddled with others around a television to directly engage the material or just to have the moving images and sounds exist in the background. This mediated routine certainly calls to mind the sort of “reciprocal alienation” that Debord touched on.

Merrin’s reading was an interesting followup to Debord. These types of discussions always detour into Alice and Wonderland and/or The Matrix. They both have vivid dreamscapes and keep truth in question. How do we know the difference between the dreamworld and the real world? The main focus in both readings seemed to narrow -- not just on the idea of simulation -- but deception as well. The fallacies of our everyday reality. This train of thought led me to The Truman Show. I don’t think that movie needs much of an introduction, but I think it speaks to Descartes’ thoughts on the unseen manipulation of our senses by some evil, external force -- in this case, TV producers.