We no longer have roots, we have aerials.
—McKenzie Wark, Virtual Geography
Back now to Telestreet, I can present a network that bears the traces of the autonomist movements of the seventies—traces of Mao-Dadaism, of practices of self-valorization, of conricerca, of antagonistic social reproduction and its modes of resubjectivation, of its (partial) connections with the free radios’ cultural production and Radio Alice through some of its founders. Telestreet is also located in the humus of the decomposing milieu of the global justice movement and it grows at the same time as the precarity movement—their roots were fertilized by Indymedia practices; tactical media and informational guerrilla; the need to overcome organizing burnout; a strong technological and spatial infrastructure (open-source software, tech collectives, video archives, social centers, hacklabs); inquiries into social reproduction in post-Fordist economies; and desire, intimacy, energy, friendship, and strife, of course. Telestreet picks up some media-making work where others left it, not because the latter failed but because there was a reorganization of the forces and energies in the milieu—some things, practices, tools, and projects popped up elsewhere, for instance, in the pirate TV stations of the squats of Rome, Bologna, and Naples. The airwaves surrounding these spaces were squatted too.
There is continuity but no linear filiation between autonomist media experimentation in the seventies, the global movement that became media visible in Seattle, and those movements that followed. The continuity is important because it speaks to how movements recompose and how change happens over multiple cycles of struggle. It is also important because it draws attention to the becoming of movements within a milieu where forces build and destroy.1 The discontinuities warn that the recomposition of movements and activist formations is a differential and transformative mode of becoming that is always ongoing; it is not a force of serial reproduction. The Telestreet I present here is an assemblage that I watched grow, change, and lose momentum in the neoliberal-Berlusconian milieu, as it encountered other movements and fertilized other projects—media connectives, video co-ops, WebTV, and so on. I am witness to the change and I am also one of the countless vectors of its becoming (and becoming no more) because the act of telling a story is a process of subjectivation—and subjectivation is important in the gravitational field of struggle I was pulled into.
The environment that generates Telestreet is political and technical but also shaped by economic and policy decisions. The rise of Berlusconi showed how this milieu is tied to social subjection that creates the conditions for power to grow and for specific assemblages to exercise control and govern but also be opposed. In the neoliberal-Berlusconian assemblage, media function as agents of governmentality: media, particularly television, subjectify individuals and collectivities, allocating socioeconomic roles (the consumer) and political functions (the consumer-voter). Groups like Indymedia and Telestreet resist indirect forms of control through media that resubjectify. How do assemblages like Telestreet actually work and what are the processes of subjectivation involved?
Because governmentality deals with the creation of the conditions of transformation rather than transformation itself (Foucault 2008), here I focus on the sociotechnical environment and psychic and technical processes of (be)coming together in neoliberal Italy. Three aspects are particularly important: how the neoliberal-Berlusconian subjectivity is produced to govern, the entanglement of the technical and the social elements of the Telestreet assemblage, and how Telestreet sets in motion psychosocial transformations. Here is where the individual, the technical, and the collective come and become together visibly. Here is where perception is protagonist—that is, where the ability to become aware of something through the senses connects “the individual” to the technical and the social. Perception is the gateway to the contemporary battleground over autonomous subjectivity. Telestreet hacks into the senses: its technical hacks—across analog and digital components and networks—provide new forms of connectivity that resist the homogenization and standardization of common sense needed for governmental control. But in order to do this, Telestreet also has to set the stage for transformation to happen, reorganizing the media environment, creating the conditions to use its DIY transmission apparatus, and undoing the mediality of television that is dominant in Berlusconi’s Italy.
Television works as a governmental machine and its force has to pass through its material circuits before it is sensed. Television technology converts images into a field of varying electronic signals, storing the information in a television receiver and then sending out the signals composing the image. The television receiver reverts the process. Every second, twenty-five frames (or thirty in North America) are created and read as continuous movement, since the human eye cannot perceive fast changes of light and image (Runyon 2009). The connection between the transmission system of the television and the human reception system of the viewer is established via the flow of information in the form of both electronic signals and perceptual stimuli.2 Watching television fosters connection because it produces stimuli that constantly activate affects—the relational layer that is at the center of individuality (Combes 2013, 30). The relation between media use and sensation (mediality) runs in the backgrounds of the everyday uses of media orienting collective affects (Grusin 2010). This interaction-through-sensation places affective manipulation through media at the center of governmental control strategies (Grusin 2010). Television “primes” the environment in which affective reactions happen, blurring the boundaries between affectivity and rationality (Massumi 2015).
For this reason, the emergence of the collective (transindividuation) is tied to technical assemblages like television that circulate sensory stimuli and relay social practices. Here, technical assemblages individuate too as machines connect with each other (Simondon 1989). But machines are never only technical. Ultimately then, as an individuating “individual” in the (neoliberal-Berlusconian) milieu with its specific brand of television, one (perhaps me watching Berlusconi’s electoral campaign) partakes in a multiscale process that intervenes at the level of the technical apparatus of TV but also on the senses impacting sense making, the creation of a shared “common sense,” and everyday viewing practices (and leads to Berlusconi’s political victory). Telestreet provides an alternative circuit for the sense making of televisual stimuli by recombining technical and social components.
Television as an Apparatus for Interconnection
The sending and receiving of broadcast television images is made possible by assigning a transmission frequency and operating power to a mass media channel, which will be used to transmit video and audio signals, as well as other specialized signals (Hartwig 1995). The signal is carried through space by a wave according to the characteristics determined by the frequency assigned to it. The process used to carry the signal through a higher frequency wave is called modulation. Antennas receive the modulated carrier wave of a television station from a transmitter and radiate the signal into space following a designated pattern. After removing all unnecessary signals, a television receiver amplifies and converts the audio and video that will reach the viewer through a monitor for pictures and sounds (Runyon 2009).
This is also how Telestreet’s transmission system works, but unlike the mainstream media, which have powerful and standardized broadcasting systems, both transmission and irradiation patterns in Telestreet go through a network of assembled media and different spatial configurations. The Telestreettari and the viewers are plugged into this assemblage. Using Telestreet’s DIY broadcasting system, they transmit video material from a source like a VHS or DVD player, or a computer that has downloaded content from a video archive, through a small transmitter to an antenna. However, the DIY antenna connected to the transmitter works as a TV station, relaying the signal to other antennas in its proximity. The “organs” of the Telestreet system—the antennas, computers, mixers, and so on—connect it with other systems, such as the video archive, into ensembles that reproduce its functions but also enable its transformation. The Telestreettari are individuals connected to other individuals and to Telestreet’s transmission system, a machine bridging humans and the natural word (Simondon 2006, 262). One can follow the movement of individuation as it transduces from the technical to the social and back again.
Telestreet’s transmission apparatus includes a digital component, used in the control room—PCs accessible from an external network, a DVD player, video cameras and other equipment for broadcasting and editing, and an analogical component—consisting of a television and some monitors, the mixer(s) and the device for signal transmission (assembled from an amplifier), a modulator, and the antennas. All components were repurposed; they were tinkered with and combined in their specific way in order to maximize the goals of the project: to work at low cost and in the gray areas of legal access to broadcasting frequencies, to adapt to spatial and technical change, and to connect heterogeneous nodes and communities. A section of Telestreet’s old website read: “Two computers (not necessarily last generation ones), an amplifier, a modulator, an antenna and a few meters of cable. This is the basic equipment of our Telestreet. It’s not necessary to follow high technology and Bill Gates to set up a television station” (Telestreet n.d.).
The DIY transmission system was low cost even in the early twenty-first century: two panel-antennas (30 euros), a DIY power switcher (60 euros), a 12-meter pole (25 euros), a modulator with a 3-watt pilot amplifier (450 euros), a 19-watt signal amplifier (600 euros), and a receiving antenna (10 euros) was insu^tv’s initial shopping list. To this was added a gifted Pentium III as an archive, an external hard drive to store the downloaded and produced videos, and another refurbished PC working as a player. Insu^tv then integrated it with a DVD player (50 euros) and a gifted VHS recorder connected by a switch and a mixer to the transmitter (500 euros), and finally two preview monitors (another gift!). After struggling with the black-boxed stiffness of Windows Media Player, the collective was able to switch to Linux software to automate the scheduling and also adopted the free and open-source VLC media player to broadcast 24/7 (interview with Pog, 2008).
The properties of this transmission apparatus emerge when the potentialities of its various technical components solidify and become grounded at the intersection of sociality, culture, geography, and the economy. None of the technical components listed above were originally designed to be part of Telestreet’s transmission system, especially the obsolete ones that were donated, but each component’s properties could be folded into Telestreet’s TV station due to the social and political needs of the project, the geographical proximity of its nodes to networks of support, the availability of components and budget, and so forth. For instance, without the mixer and switcher it would be impossible to toggle between analog and digital systems. These parts were needed to juggle multiple inputs simultaneously, often live in the streets during events or in other makeshift studio spaces in garages, basements, squats, schools, and community centers.
Here is the genesis of Telestreet’s apparatus: it involves a (temporary) stabilization of the properties of each technical component—what they were initially made for and what they end up doing in combination. In this process the components retain or change their original function. I became involved in a kind of repurposing when I started working for Telestreet, together with the hackers, media makers, and technicians. This repurposing is not so much about recycling and more about allowing for new properties to emerge in connection with the technical assemblage. At a time when some technology is malleable and a lot of it is modular, the concretization of the assemblage is what makes the difference. The process of stabilization is transductive; transformation takes place gradually across scales and dimensions—in this case it is in the movement from the digital to the analog (from the web to television) that concretization takes place. Telestreet’s transmission systems broadcast from the internet and other outputs into the houses of people using analog radio frequencies radiating into shadow cones. This movement deliberately counters the common tendency of most technology to transform what is analog into digital, and it leaves noninternet users behind. One of the system’s emergent properties is that of connecting, against the grain, what is being separated in the digital divide.
In the individuation of Berlusconi’s media assemblage, the syndication “hack” put into relation technologies like VHS recording, analog editing of ads into the shows, broadcasting technology, with the postal services to synchronize programming and bypass national broadcasting restrictions. Not dissimilarly, street television channels place their broadcasting apparatus within areas where stronger transmitting carrier waves are not present—the shadow cones—facilitating the reception and circulation of their own signals. By not conflicting with already occupied frequencies, Telestreet reduces the white noise that could drown its own transmission and avoids getting into trouble for infringing communication regulations. Moreover, using a Berlusconian topological approach to spatial configuration, Telestreet connects all its nodes in a national network via web archive.
At the same time, Telestreet does not share Fininvest’s interest in strengthening the reach of its media through consolidation that maximizes capital accumulation. It steers away from the institutionalization and standardization of its transmission system because it is explicitly against the homologation of the practices of its producers and audiences. Even during the campaign to legalize Telestreet, this kind of standardization was never a goal. It is precisely the modularity and flexibility of Telestreet’s technical apparatus that makes it powerful. For now, suffice it to say that the project’s key modus operandi is interconnection, not standardization—and that the social and geographical spaces in which Telestreet activists work constitute the milieu for the concretization of its technical apparatus.
Despite its resistance to homogenization, Telestreet only achieves interconnection because certain features of the transmission system are standardized so that its components can clinch and its properties can be relayed. I see the standardization in the codecs (short for coding-decoding or compression-decompression) and container formats on the page of each video stored in the NGVision database. Codecs—such as MPEG or DivX—are protocols that standardize the encoding and decoding of the signal and digital data streams as well as the compression of images. Codecs enable video to be uploaded and downloaded regardless of the speed of an internet connection (Mackenzie 2008, 48). Like many other protocols, codecs are usually invisible and only appear when something does not work. A few times, when I tried to play a video, I got the error message declaring that something was missing and needed to be installed—it was the codec . . .
On NGVision, container formats like .avi or .ogg package what is compressed into video or audio formats and make it shareable though various media players. Without shared codecs and formats, video could not be edited or played back on computers with different capacities and software. NGVision’s codecs and formats were chosen to enable the broadest spectrum of technologies to read and broadcast video content, preferably using free and open-source software (F/OSS). They are a veritable means to connect the “organs” of a technical individual. So Telestreet’s aim is inclusive connectivity. None of the nodes has an interest in forcing users into proprietary formats. The use of these open standards, free software, and public domain technologies concretizes a technical object that is open and interconnective.
As a technical object, the codec itself is individuated through intellectual property struggles and cultural practices like conventions of spectatorship, embodied cognition, and media-historical forms. For codecs to be developed effectively, physical variables—screen dimensions, resolution and color models, network features, the clock rates and memory sizes of the semiconductor, and data storage technologies—need to be considered. Behind Telestreet’s television apparatus lies the connective force of codecs, which transmit light, color, and sound on screens calibrated to send psychoperceptual stimuli to the audience (Mackenzie 2008, 54). At this small perceptual scale, a connection is established between the bits of information compressed and decompressed through software and perception. One enjoys a Telestreet video on TV in their kitchen because these interconnected components broadcast it to the senses and one is able to appreciate how different it is from what screens on commercial channels.
NGVision was a key element of the Telestreet ensemble until the birth of YouTube and Vimeo. The archive was hosted by Isole nella Rete (Island in the Net), an independent service for the anonymous, autonomous, and not-for-profit hosting of websites, email, and mailing lists born out of the Europe-wide collaboration of cultural associations, social centers, activist groups, and independent cultural producers from the late eighties on.3 NGVision was created as a peer-to-peer (P2P) platform for sharing video on the internet. It is an open, and open-source, platform for all independent media producers whose work is antiracist, antifascist, and antisexist.
At the technical level, P2P systems, made famous by applications like Napster and BitTorrent, provide a kind of distributed architecture that divides tasks and workload among peers connected in a network where each node has the same relevance.4 These peers share resources like bandwidth, disk space, and processing power, and make them available to others in an autonomous, decentralized manner, without having to rely on external servers and hosts. P2P sharing cuts costs and facilitates exchange and collaboration among the different nodes of the network in countries with slow and limited internet access. It also makes it difficult for authorities to control the distribution of content.
At the time of its launch, around 2002, the NGVision platform was the gateway to sharing material that could not circulate in the mainstream media controlled by Berlusconi: for example, footage of Carlo Giuliani being shot dead by police at the G8 Summit in Genoa. Because of its properties—its distributed P2P system, its low cost, its information transfer efficiency despite scarce bandwidth, and its open publishing policy—it was incorporated in the Telestreet transmission ensemble. It is thanks to NGVision that Telestreet could function as a countrywide network until other video platforms and faster internet connections became available.5 In this sense, the network is composed not only of its channels but also of more subterranean distributed networks of (machinic) peers that concretize the transmission system and, for many years, made it possible.
The composition through P2P networks also locates Telestreet within a larger, transnational milieu of hackers and activists bending technology to their social struggle needs. Indeed, some Telestreet events were not simply meetings among local community television stations talking about content production and organization but also supported the discussion and experimentation with available and to-be-developed technologies. People in attendance came from the old guard of 1977 autonomist and free radio activism as much as from hacklabs and the new cyberpunk techno-art, VJing, and rave scenes of the social centers. When I attended the national convention of Eterea II in March 2004, I met tactical media practitioners coming from the Netherlands, Irish lawyers working on the Italian Creative Commons licenses, and media activists with ties to Latin America. At Eterea II, Telestreet was a site of experimentation for new technologies and patches, a project through which to implement practices and tools already developed as well as a place to connect and circulate technical knowledge. The Telestreettari often attended hackmeetings and presented their hacks (interview with Pog, 2008). In this sense, the Telestreet network is deeply entangled not just with social movements but also with hacker culture through a sharing of its infrastructure and a set of skills and attitudes that Gabriella Coleman calls craft and craftiness (2013, 2016).
Telestreet’s craftiness—its ability to think outside the box and its willingness to push the limits of technology in pursuit of craft, often beyond instrumentality—has old roots in the hacker milieu as much as in the free radio movement. These roots tie the bending of transmission systems to experiments like the ephemeral television station boicoopTV. In 1998 boicoopTV broadcast the first Italian hackmeeting, asking residents to oppose its imminent eviction from the square where it was taking place (Ludovico 2003). Between 1997 and 1999, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras were also set up by video artists at the CSOA Forte Prenestino in Rome to create a TV station during the Overdose Fiction Festival. From the festival, CandidaTV was born—a collective of video artists that joined and supported the Telestreet network and whose members were involved in developing NGVision (Trocchi 2004). Similarly, the adoption of the copyleft Creative Commons license, an alternative system of intellectual property inspired by the GNU licensing of open-source code, also reinforces this connection.6 The legal implications of intellectual property were often on the agenda of hackmeetings, resulting in the creation of the Italian chapter of Creative Commons, which media producers used and promoted in the NGVision and Telestreet networks. Creative Commons made the legal noncommercial sharing and reediting of broadcast content uploaded on NGVision possible while holding accountable the mainstream media that stole Telestreet footage.
Again, the properties of Telestreet’s receiver-antenna-turned-transmitter, the other repurposed technologies, refurbished machinery, and ad hoc software solutions are not those originally intended at the time of fabrication and are concretized in an ensemble within a milieu that is not simply technological but is also shaped by economic forces (e.g., costs), cultural forces (e.g., open source), and social forces (e.g., uses of technology). Such a heterogeneous and DIY ensemble is essential for street televisions, even though its glitches caused many to shut down for good. This ensemble keeps the technical in tension with its environment, ready to be reconfigured according to needs. The process of hacking and tinkering itself is an important one because it creates points of connection between the technical and the psychosocial. Many of Telestreet’s transmission systems were procured, assembled, and operated exclusively through the volunteer work of family, friends, and comrades with available hardware and expertise in transmission systems, programming, and electronics. They were a labor of love and friendship. The antennista (antenna repair person) from Naples who fixed insu^tv’s antenna and the naval shipyard workers who donated the antenna’s pole were never Telestreettari per se but were part of a milieu where the discourses on and desire for community media with a self-assembled transmission machine made individuation possible at the collective level. Energy and information transduce through the circuits of Telestreet’s DIY assemblage in many ways.
Finally, thanks to a series of international events, Telestreet shared its experience and assisted with the setup of street television channels in countries ranging from postwar Bosnia and Palestine to Argentina, adapting the project to local needs. Some nodes were also part of Transmission.cc, a transnational network of citizen journalists, video makers, artists, researchers, F/OSS programmers, and web producers developing and distributing tools for media democracy and social justice. Networks like Transmission.cc are important spaces where technology is folded into activism. In its reticular interconnection to technologies and spaces, Telestreet created the conditions for further becomings outside its immediate network.
The milieu of individuation of Telestreet’s transmission system constantly varied as new ad hoc solutions were developed. An unexpected recomposition was required when Disco Volante TV’s contributors and their national and international supporters fought together to reopen the channel closed by the communication authorities.7 In the year and a half while Disco Volante TV’s transmitter was seized, its members and allies continued to produce material, which was then distributed through the web and through local DVD delivery in the community. This configuration expands the very meaning of signal transmission from one of sole technological circuits to a sociotechnical one of a different kind.
The creative recomposition of Disco Volante TV emphasizes the inextricable link of technical individuation with the collectivities it is tied to. It is also a reminder that institutional regulations partake in the individuation of technical objects and concretize the technical properties of the components of an ensemble. For this small node in Senigallia, policy and legislation were also a contested terrain to continue to exist. After a hard-fought campaign, on May 10, 2005, the charges of illegal broadcasting were finally dropped. The judge recognized that “because of its very small broadcasting range, Disco Volante TV does not require a license. This is due to the fact that using a shadow cone in the airwaves, the channel does not create any interferences with other broadcasters or signals.”8 Although this victory did not regulate Telestreet’s status as a small-range media transmission system, Disco Volante TV’s case legitimized the existence of the network, with its technical solutions, on the basis of Article 21 of the Italian constitution. The article regulates freedom of speech and Disco Volante was able to claim the right to use the language of television to communicate: “There cannot be a democratic place where citizens are not allowed to use a language they can speak” (Disco Volante TV 2003). For Disco Volante TV’s lawyer, the language of TV has become a readily available tool for creativity and expression for everyone. The vernacular television language that they can speak through their low-wattage transmission and distribution apparatus stands outside the norm of broadcasting and contributes to distinguishing Telestreet’s mediality from mainstream television.
Telestreet’s transmission system also has an important environmental component: without shadow cones, the low transmission frequency of DIY transmitters would not have had the power to send images, or would have been shut down by authorities for infringing broadcasting regulations.9 Shadow cones are the CSOAs of the airwaves. As is the case for psychosocial individuation, the individuation of a technical ensemble is transductive: transformations seep from the small components to the larger sociotechnical assemblage. Shadow cones function as milieus where individuation transduces from the technical to the social. For instance, the shadow cone of OrfeoTv, broadcasting on the frequency of popular music channel MTV, roughly covered the surface of Orfeo Street in Bologna. Here, OrfeoTv’s open storefront window beckoned people to stop by, to bring their own videos, and to co-produce, tinker, or simply have a chat. As content was pieced together in its studios, on the street (Janković 2004; Pelizza 2006), and in collaborations with other groups (Luppichini and Metallo 2008; Angrisano 2011a), the technical stayed concrete because the individual and the collective emerged with it.
I find it difficult to consider Telestreet as a static object of study once all this movement and transformation comes to light. Both the humans and the technical objects in the milieu that generates Telestreet are not constituted individuals but phases in a process of individuation that involves a variety of human, social, and technical actors. All these instances of individuation are concerned with the transformation of modes of existence that seed further transformation. As I describe how technical individuation is neither exclusively technical nor completely social but transduces from one to the other, the technical/social dichotomy breaks down. Information circulates equally across the human and the machine, seeding sensory stimulation and transformation. There is continuity between the hacking and repurposing of technology and the airwaves, and the hacking and repurposing of sociality and collectivity to resist governmental control. I will say more about this in the following chapters.
Telestreet as Community Television: Individuation and Resistance
On a TV set in the early twenty-first century, one of the squatted Telestreet frequencies aired the images and sounds of an election campaign that did not involve Silvio Berlusconi. A series of small-scale political debates had made their way into the phosphorescent cathode tubes of many of the houses in the town of Gaeta, in central Italy. The creator of this street TV channel—TeleMonteOrlandoTV (TMOtv)—Antonio Ciano, claims to be the father of Italian pirate television (interview with Ciano, 2008). He started transmission in 2001, before OrfeoTv set up the official Telestreet network in Bologna in 2002. Ciano immediately joined in and enthusiastically supported a series of institutional attempts to legalize the project with the help of some left-wing members of parliament.10 I interviewed Ciano in the summer of 2008 shortly after he had won a number of seats in the local council, with his southern Italian federalist party Partito del Sud (Party of the South). For someone like me, investigating the political strengths and radical potential of Telestreet, Ciano’s wannabe-Berlusconi attitude was baffling.
His failure in the 2001 local elections led Ciano to set up his own television channel. He described to me how in seven years with TMOtv, which often broadcasts his as well as others’ political speeches, the Party of the South strengthened its roots in the town and eventually earned seats in the local administration (interview with Ciano, 2008). This seemingly parallel trajectory of Berlusconi and Ciano had initially led me to search for commonalities in the mediality of their campaigns, but while equating Ciano’s modest electoral success story to Berlusconi’s (and there are certainly some similarities!), I almost lost sight of some important differences between the two types of media and media moguls. These differences are not differences in the degrees of perfection of mediatized politics; they are differences in the kind of relations between media producers, viewers, and the television assemblage. In other words, they are qualitative differences that pertain to mediality and to the circulation of affects between the technical, the social, and the somatic.
Researching the function of modulation in a transmission system refocused my attention on these crucial differences. Modulation refers to the process used to carry a signal through a frequency wave. In the field of telecommunications and signal processing, frequency modulation (FM) enables the encoding of information in a carrier wave by varying the instantaneous frequency of the wave. In the case of Telestreet, one deals with ultra high frequency (UHF) radio waves in the range between 300 MHz and 3 GHz, and this encoding allows information to circulate through the transmission system and reach its audience, where the decoding makes the images and sounds intelligible to the human senses. Other forms of modulation are also at play in Telestreet’s transmission system, for instance during the compression and decompression of digital images and sounds through the codecs as well as in the coding and decoding of information uploaded and downloaded through a modem (literally a modulator-demodulator). But modulation is also key on the human side of the Telestreet assemblage, in the context of individuation, where it underscores the process that gives shape to—or informs—life and beings (Simondon 1964).11
In this sense, there is continuity between technological processes of transformation and those in living beings: according to Simondon, modulation allows information and/or energy to come in and out of a system; energy, which is continuous and unorganized, goes through this system and is organized according to the information that also goes through the same system (Miyazaki 2015, 221). I think of radio wave transmission, digital file circulation, the movement between analog and digital formats, and human perception as processes of modulation that are ongoing and that couple together many of the components of the Telestreet assemblage. Individuals are modulated through successive individuations as the equilibrium of their system is altered and reestablished at various levels of the larger system by sorting out the information received. An energetics of movements considers this aspect of modulation because it drives composition and recomposition on multiple scales.
When I watch—or, rather, what I perceive as an I watching—Ciano on television, the stimuli reaching my senses are amplified and resonate between my interiority (the preindividual) and the (transindividual) milieu where signs, symbols of popular culture, discourses on the economy, and social norms circulate. However, my body is constantly immersed in a chaotic flow of simultaneous stimuli, and only some of these stimuli end up producing individuations. This is because the resonance and interference of potentials that preexist “me” when I watch Ciano’s political speech modulate what will fade before unfolding and what will turn into affects that are felt as an effect (Massumi 2015, 108). The preshaped relation to TV watching, mediality, plays out here differently than when watching Berlusconi. The drama of potential is where affect is tied to modulation and plays out unfelt until bodily reactions and then emotions surface: the scene feels “uncanny,” I feel bafflement, I rationalize by searching for differences, I think of how the political show of this DIY mini–media tycoon reminds me of Berlusconi, I make sense of the kinds and qualities of these differences in the absence of spectacular sensory overstimulation, perhaps I turn off the TV, perhaps I walk to their studio, perhaps I write this chapter. . . . The signals and stimuli coming from street television broadcasting modulate affective orientations that produce different kinds of resonances and reactions to television viewing. Rather than immersing a subject into hyperabundant streams of disjointed stimuli typical of the spectacle, the Telestreet broadcasting station modulates a qualitative transformation of the personal relationship to television—an affinity of sorts, bringing television back into the everyday lives of viewers.
In general, I have engaged the medium already before, and independently of, my perception of Ciano’s content (Grusin 2010). TMOtv’s transmissions reorganize the relation of viewers to television as a medium because they involve the perceptual habits that precede a viewer’s engagement with the content of each show. The reinvention of the idiom and practices of television making independently from the models available in the mainstream challenges the audience’s habits of everyday media use. Unlike the United States, Canada, and many European countries, Italy does not have community television or open channels, where the gap between the world represented and the reality of the viewers’ lives is less perceivable than in professional, mainstream TV. Among the many street television channels, TMOtv came closest to fulfilling the function of community television.12
For this reason, it is not surprising that Ciano hoped to legalize the status of his channel and of the network. As part of a nonprofit and volunteer-run community medium, TMOtv members and collaborators were proud supporters and animators of Gaeta’s cultural and political life. They produced interviews with fellow Gaetani as well as with the numerous tourists visiting the city and its beaches. TMOtv carried out weekly studies of local food prices; it broadcast local sports tournaments, cultural events, and council meetings. TMOtv also ran live political and cultural debates with politicians and intellectuals on issues that directly affected the area. Like many community television stations, the channel provided its audience with media-making skills, wherever there was interest. Ciano was adamant that they were followed on TV by 60 percent of the population, which sustained the channel through donations and had often supported it during moments of crisis (interview with Ciano, 2008).
It may be true that Ciano had created his own voters like Berlusconi did, but he did it by harnessing the mediality of street television within the context of Gaeta’s local community, its vernacular language, and its desire for different relations to the medium of television. Community TV challenges the unified representation of members of a culture and provides citizens with a voice in the media (Rodríguez 2001; Howley 2010). The stimuli associated with the (production and) consumption of images in community TV stir affective reactions that are modulated, for example, through the resonances between notions and feelings of belonging and recognition, and discourses on membership in a local community, something Italians are otherwise not used to encountering in the glamour of their everyday television watching. Channels like TMOtv were able to affect those who encountered them through individuations that jostle the collective affectivity mobilized by a spectacular mode of publicity that is shared across the country, replacing it with a connection to the televisual medium that taps into the producers’ and viewers’ personal relation to Gaeta’s everyday life. This model of community television that TMOtv pursued is different from the Italian mainstream media; still, it shares with it a fundamental binary separation between producers and viewers, albeit with more openness to input and audience participation. This is community street television as quasi-proxi-vision, one could say.
From Modulation to Connection beyond Community Television
Other Telestreet channels, in fact most of them, also worked outside the mediality of community media, troubling its production processes and positioning of the producers toward the audience. The work of Disco Volante TV exemplifies this altogether different kind of media making—one that, in addition to using a very DIY aesthetics, also centers subjects who would otherwise never appear on television. The Telestreet node Disco Volante TV—flying saucer— was set up in 2003 mainly by people with various disabilities to connect with fellow citizens through programs that focus on local social issues and events, broadcasting documentaries and reportage but also local fairs and cooking recipes. Especially in Italy, where very little if any space is ever opened to different bodies and neurodiverse individuals, Disco Volante’s productions redefined who are suitable people to produce content and appear on the screen in a position of authority.
The presence of these self-defined “aliens on a flying saucer” troubles the ableist character of both mainstream and community media; it collapsed dominant assumptions about the abilities of individuals with Down syndrome or paraplegia. My own first encounter with Disco Volante TV producers at work in their studios shattered in a single blow my habituated relation to television making and watching. Disco Volante was also the host of Eterea II, moderating discussions and documenting the event. Especially in this context, it is important to stress that this project was not about taking action for the disabled but about the self-determination of people with disabilities.
My reaction to Disco Volante TV was caused by the short-circuiting of a complex set of background assumptions and relations to the medium of television rather than simply by the content of the program I watched during my visit, an episode of Barriere (Barriers). Barriere undoes everything I was used to when watching television and is the result of its producers’ intellectual interest in experimenting with the purpose and language of television, as my conversation with Disco Volante’s editor in chief Franco Civelli confirmed. Barriere, a television series written and presented by Civelli, examines architectural barriers for wheelchairs in Senigallia. Civelli, himself suffering from motor and speech disabilities, attempts to move through the town, struggling to cross bridges, enter buildings, or find a suitable public washroom. Civelli presents a jarring account of his experience as a city dweller and television producer who strives to break down both architectural and communicational barriers. His stories use a personal voice that never takes the victim role and adopt simple solutions like paper headlines and abrupt transitions between clips.
Barriere’s style is unconventional: in a home-movie-like approach that rejects the polish of mainstream journalism, it presents a new, personal point of view. The language recognizes that television “is unavoidably biased because of the limited way it can frame reality” (Disco Volante TV 2004). Barriere’s aesthetic and linguistic choices construct a shared reality that has yet to attain collective existence at the intersection between content and everyday viewing practices. Its production strategies and cultural recoding have effects that go beyond representation, breaking down established television conventions and cultural production codes.13 Barriere affects in a way that is not different from other forms of media experimentation, most notably in the arts, where cinema modulates viewing and perceptual habits, rearticulating lived experience (Deleuze 1986). Still, when the experimental register is brought into the television genre, the effect is amplified.
The expressions that challenge dominant codes and perceptual habits cannot be reduced to an unexpected, mediated encounter with a disabled person’s perspective. I read the work of Disco Volante TV and other channels with a comparable approach as challenging aesthetic norms and, through that, perceptual habits. The low horizon of a film shot from a wheelchair, the movement of a camera held by someone who moves differently, modulates a kind of free-floating sensibility that is not simply attributable to the encounter with the subject in the video (Shaviro 2010, 5). I relate this conscious attempt at expanding the narrative and aesthetic possibilities of the medium with a tradition of Italian experimental and underground media art. The work of Alberto Grifi, one of the foremost Italian experimental video artists, was often referenced during Telestreet’s meeting in Senigallia. At the same time, Telestreet is directly linked to media experiments like the installation Minimal TV by a group of Tuscan video artists working in the mid-1990s. Minimal TV deconstructed the medium of television through performances that exposed television’s hidden mechanisms, changing the programming according to the viewers’ wishes and broadcasting to a small group of households using local cable TV (Ludovico 2003).
In addition to pushing TV outside its genre and coded, standardized aesthetics, Disco Volante TV was able to establish a relationship with Senigallia’s inhabitants and with the authorities, using productions like Barriere to catalyze social events and develop templates for architectonic accessibility in the town (Renzi 2006). Once this relationship with politicians attracted the attention of the mainstream media, the Disco Volante TV team quickly ascended the Olympus of mainstream journalism, collecting national awards and broadcasting on satellite. Barriere received the prestigious national Ilaria Alpi award for journalism.
Nevertheless, Disco Volante’s explicit rejection of mainstream media’s canons is more than visible in an exchange between Franco Civelli and the Ilaria Alpi award ceremony host, who, handing him the plaque, asked him whether his bias as a person with disabilities got in the way of objectivity.14 This rejection has nothing to do with a need to adapt to the constraints of low-budget, grassroots media making: as Civelli disavowed any claims to objectivity, he was careful to underline that individual points of view are favored in his work as a way of finding value in diversity and heterogeneity. At the same time, Civelli underscored Disco Volante’s vision of television language as a tool to communicate within and outside its community, without claiming a privileged position for the producer over the audience and without needing to produce spectacular content to retain viewers.
Disco Volante TV’s presence in the community, the use of TV to bring about change in the town, and its battle for survival when its transmitter was seized tell a different story about television, even as a local, community medium.15 The work of Disco Volante TV laid the ground for new aesthetic language, genres, and making and viewing practices, engendering new compositions of bodies and technology—veritable systems for the circulation and modulation of information and energy. These practices of media making that create the conditions for new individuations are a source of resistance to governmental control because the individual and collective emerge through resonance between the personal and its environment, through aesthetic experiences that target the sensorium, unleash affective reactions, and then produce emotional responses. Affect is what triggers the ongoing reconfigurations, yet affect is not the content of what is transmitted through the broadcasting system; rather, it creates an exchange between individuals and media technologies that is distinct but not separable from the information exchanged in the interaction (Grusin 2010, 114). Modulation regulates the circulation of information and affects across systems—it connects from the technical to the collective through the sensory. Crucially, affect always escapes complete capture and its surplus remains as potential for resonance. This is one of the ways energy transfers and cross-pollinates movements.
Processes of individuation are subtle, pervasive, and, undeniably, facilitate insidious forms of control precisely because of how diffuse they are across multiple scales of psychosocial reality. The work of channels like TMOtv and Disco Volante TV is an example of how the modulation of affect is not just a process harnessed in order to govern populations top down through the mainstream media but also one where collective actors can hack into the circuit breakers of affective circulation and trigger individuations that resist governmentality. Many Telestreet nodes harnessed a sense of familiarity, interactivity, and participation when their transmissions tapped into a discursive field of street television, community, and locality, as well as opposition to Berlusconi. This hacking of the relationship between media and perception cannot take place without an intervention into the arrangement of the components and into the concretization of technical systems—modularity, interconnection, and inclusive connectivity instead of standardization and gatekeeping—that circulate affects and reshape the mediality of television. Technological experimentation, software development, and tinkering with hardware are fundamental and yet the notion of hacking, here, includes both practices of technical tinkering and the reorganization of the collective relation to media. Craftiness shines on more than one level.
The practice of repurposing media is built on the fusion of craft and craftiness, functioning as a driving force in the hacked sociotechnical assemblages that take on consistency as they connect different media ensembles, individuals, and groups. Telestreet’s resistance becomes more meaningful as one recognizes its ability to hack into television as a medium and shape an environment wherein precognitive and noncognitive stimuli trigger different individuations. When hacking the senses, Telestreet’s activists hack into “common sense,” understood as the shared meanings, languages, and practices that connect audiences to television’s content and mediality. From here, it is possible to expand on how the recomposition of (socio)technical systems fosters certain activist assemblages, types of repurposing, and practices of connective activism. The case of the longest-standing Telestreet node, insu^tv in Naples, will be the site to flesh out my provocation.