“Hey Mom, I said am I coming in clear?” screams the shrunken Mike Teavee, having successfully become the first person in the world to be transported by television thanks to Willy Wonka’s revolutionary invention WonkaVision. In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan famously characterised television as “cool” like Jazz because the (then very) low-fidelity representation required active viewer participation to complete the experience and fill the gaps in transmission. “Hot” media, on the other hand, was characterised by hi-fidelity representation resulting in a passive reception, such as cinema and classical music. SlowTV is one of many new genres and uses of screen media emerging out of high-fidelity recording technologies, alongside farmyard camera feeds, ASMR guides, and a wide-range of relaxation sounds and scenery, to name a few examples.
SlowTV has been made possible by relatively low cost but high-quality digital cameras, remote broadcasting capability, and online streaming. Its success, however, has largely depended on networks of social media commentary and interaction. The hi-fidelity high-definition imagery of SlowTV offers a seamless representation of the landscapes and activities depicted. Yet the languid shot duration, lack of dramatic narrative, and familiar subject matter, provoke the audience to contribute their own interpretation. This unique lack of narrative and invitation to contribute aligns SlowTV with the contemporary paradigm of “participatory” media proposed by Henry Jenkins (2006) and others. Hash-tagged methods of participation are pivotal to SlowTV’s success, for marketing purposes and a sense of a collective viewing experience. But is this the same kind of active engagement and participation McLuhan’s “cool” was alluding to?
NRK’s SlowTV pioneer producer Thomas Hullum describes the hugely popular ferry ride Hurtigruten (2011) as five and a half days of “waving TV”. Seeing yourself, your personal experiences or cultural identity in any given SlowTV has proven critical to national viewer ratings. Unlike traditional documentary that tends to explore exotic subject matter, the most popular SlowTV iterations follow a familiar or “bucket-list" journey, such as the UK’s most successful All Aboard! The Country Bus (2016) or Australia’s The Ghan (2018).
Like Wonka, innovations in media and communication technology have continually sought to do more than capture reality – 2, 4, 8K resolution imagery, multi-dimensional sound reproduction, and the increasing demand for connectivity, anywhere, anytime. Roald Dahl supposedly got the idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because he and his boarding school classmates were used by Cadbury to test and rate new products before they went to market (BBC). In a somewhat ironic twist, the latest iteration of SlowTV on the Australian market is a “paddock-to-plate" journey into The Chocolate Factory: Inside Cadbury Australia (2019 SBS/Mint Pictures). WonkaVision achieves the ultimate innovation in representation, transporting the viewer into the world of television. The sacrifice, however, is the loss of your full-size self. I wonder if the imagination of a teenage Roald Dahl would have been ‘slowed’ by our contemporary television experience.
Jenkins, H (2006) Convergence Culture, New York University Press, New York.
McLuhan, M (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McGraw-Hill, New York.
BBC, ‘Repton School 'helped inspire Dahl' to write Charlie’, 13 September 2011
TED, ‘Thomas Hellum: The world’s most boring television... and why it’s hilariously addictive’, August 2014