The Flow

Paul Myerscough in the London Review of Books:

‘One night in Miami,’ Raymond Williams wrote in 1973, ‘still dazed from a week on an Atlantic liner, I began watching a film and at first had some difficulty adjusting to a much greater frequency of commercial “breaks”.’ Things didn’t get any easier for him. Trailers for two other movies began to appear as inserts; the one he’d started with, about a crime in San Francisco, was interrupted not only by advertisements for cereal and deodorant, but by a romance set in Paris and then the roar of a prehistoric monster laying waste to New York. ‘I can still not be sure,’ Williams reflected, ‘what I took from that whole flow’ – aside, presumably, from a sharp urge to lie down.

‘Flow’ was the term Williams introduced in his column for the Listener at the turn of the 1970s to describe the rhetoric peculiar to television, the ceaseless rush of unrelated fragments that presents itself when we ‘watch TV’. ‘Flow’ always contained a tension, suggesting the smooth progression of something essentially discontinuous. But it has come to seem more, not less, appropriate as the years have passed. The increased speed, fragmentation and disconnectedness associated with the rise of MTV in the early 1980s is now the norm, and we have no trouble assimilating it: the discontinuity is so complete that the fragments flow like sand through your fingers.

More here.