In his discussion of the televisual aesthetic in “Excessive Style,” Caldwell presents a stylistic spectrum that ranges from “cinematic” to “videographic” (12). The cinematic mode exploits the visual grammar, spectacle, and production values of film, ideally aiming for a softening of mediation and accentuating of immersion — the rich diegetic worlds of the artful HBO dramas that Anderson highlights are prime examples of this televisual mode. The videographic guise, however, is “marked by acute hyperactivity and an obsession with effects” (12-13), and ultimately heightens mediation through its aesthetic strategies of digital manipulation and imaging (i.e. the bizarre cyberpunk world of Max Headroom, and the hyper-awareness of the televisual apparatus in CNN news broadcasts). Both modes enable different kinds of televisual exhibitionism or stylistic embellishment, but I’m particularly interested in how the videographic mode can be exploited in jarring and self-reflexive ways.
Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job! on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim comedy block might just be the quintessential series that operates within this particular televisual aesthetic. Described by its creators as “the nightmare version of television,” Awesome Show is essentially a sketch comedy series that adopts its flow and aesthetic from the lo-fi world of public-access television, employing disorienting formal and narrative devices like glitch, faux-commercials, and telethon musical acts to create an atmosphere of surreal, uncanny, avant-garde, and self-aware camp. Each sketch is diegetically framed within the context of a fictional public-access channel called Channel 5 (although one can easily get lost or entranced in the hyperactive, non-sequitur progression and lose sight of this meta-framework), with fake commercial interruptions that use green screen and special effects to videographically mimic infomercials and commercials and promote useless products made by the Cinco Corporation (i.e. It’s Not Jackie Chan!: The Board Game, the Cinco MIDI Organizer, Sleepwatching Chair, etc.). Another recurring sketch where the videographic style lampoons or mimics a quotidian aspect of public-access TV is Uncle Muscle’s Hour, which features poor, decayed VHS-like picture quality suggestive of generation loss to evoke an uncanny surrealness and add to the discomfort of watching a sweating, crying, and salivating nervous wreck perform a telethon-style musical act — I’m still not quite sure if it’s funny, but it’s definitely visually arresting.
Honestly, there are so many more examples of Awesome Show‘s videographic eccentricity that I could link you all to. For whatever reason, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are “abso lutely” fascinated by the unpolished, unattractive aesthetic of bad public-access television, and hopefully I’ve started to illustrate how the series self-reflexively and comically exploits the hypermediated, stylistic excess of the videographic mode proposed by Caldwell to hold a (cracked, foggy, smudged) mirror to this lowly, oft ignored or merely glanced at televisual form.