Operative TV: Closed Circuit Images from World War II to the Cold War

Television’s history has predominantly been told from the perspective of its broadcasting institutions and domestic practices; the major bulk of television scholarship traces the story of a mass media and its audience. Doing so, it neglects a parallel regime of televisuality developed simultaneously to the broadcasting dispositif and built upon a visual closed circuit, the miniaturization of machines, small-scale audiences, and alleged universal operability. Distributed under the name of Industrial Television and CCTV (for closed circuit television), this prevalent but overlooked form of televisuality was developed for military uses during World War II before it was adapted to industrial, commercial, educational, and bureaucratic spaces in the Cold War era.

Titled Operative TV: Closed Circuit Images from World War II to the Cold War, my new project designs an analytical and historiographical model to examine this “other” of broadcasting TV. It unfolds the visual, material, and epistemic dimensions of a medium defined in terms of audiovisual instrumentality and operability, and running in multiple spaces outside the home. It draws upon media theoretical discussions of operative media that have gained traction in relation with scholarship on useful cinema and sponsored film (Vonderau and Hediger 2007; Acland and Wasson 2011; Zimmermann 2011), Harun Farocki’s work and his notion of “operative images” (Farocki 2003; Eder and Klonk 2017; Hoel 2018), as well as cybernetics and educational media (Druick 2020), and brings this scholarship in discussion with media archaeological work on TV (Uricchio 2008; Keilbach and Stauff 2013; Galili 2020). Adopting a transnational framework and building upon important archival research, Operative TV is an intervention in media historiography that revisions not only television’s own history, but sheds new light on media operations and their specific “logistics of perception” (Virilio 1989).

I have received a NOMIS-Fellowship at eikones. Center for the theory and history of images to pursue this research during the year 2021-2022.