Hotel Television Room Blues
Baggage: Hotel Room Television sounds as if it might be the title of a Ryan Adam or Johnny Cash love-struck ballad. A broken-hearted boy or girl returns to their transitory space to contemplate the end, caught in the slipstream of multi-channel viewing where every station reminds them of the lover just gone. The television becomes the escape that never fully materialises but instead carries the signification of a lover’s absence forward. The hotel room television becomes a heightened memory-affect machine.
The contexts in which we find ourselves viewing the television in hotel rooms are varied: for example, we might be on holiday, business, or touring. Or else some personal or domestic circumstance has driven us there, such as a wedding celebration, separation, court case, or illicit romance.
The hotel room television may explode in a moment of pure spectacle, such as when the fallen, crazed rock-star throws it out of their window, metaphorically shattering the emptiness they feel when faced with the banality of touring life, with the banality of transient programming. The death of the hotel room television is a resistant, non-conformist act, crafted out of the rage of the rule breaker. It gives birth to the rebel rouser rock star image that will now float in the cultural universe.
Each situational context impacts on not only what we might watch and whom we watch with, but also how we watch and for what period of time. Lived experience melds with this memory-affect machine, weaving itself into the fabric of one’s identity as it is presently constituted. One brings one’s personal baggage to hotel room television.
Screening Sydney: view from the most expensive room at the Park Hyatt Hotel, Sydney
The spatial and aesthetic coordinates of the hotel room determine to a degree what personal baggage can be screened. The room’s layout, where the television is positioned, the ‘feelings’ that it allows to manifest or help foster through its colour scheme, furniture and paintings all produce varying degrees of modes of affect. What one can see or view from one’s hotel bedroom is also pertinent to the way feelings emerge and can be translated. The television becomes another window in a series of inward and outward reflections, impressions, and precepts. Hotel room television is as much environmental and sensorial as it is a channel for communication.
The Museum Art Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand
The Museum Art Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand, has its own art collection, lush and idiosyncratic furniture and curtains, creating a ‘unique’ sense of place and space. Mostly visited by (international) tourists and business folk, the television emerges in a setting of opulent grandeur, glitz, and arty design. Its spaces create a sense of high-brow and kitsch culture, in which the screen sits as one of its representational and representing nodules.
The hotel room television can be on but not being watched; it can be employed as a source of information and news; it can, in ‘foreign’ contexts, render the strange familiar and the familiar strange through the way it embodies and translates the exotic and translocates the ‘home’ through those globally syndicated shows one already knows and likely loves. There is great comfort in hotel room television familiarity.
While abroad one can go in search of BBC World to sit comfortably with Eastenders no matter how far one has been transported. Similarly, one can employ the ‘tourist gaze’ on the television frames viewed, consuming the Other safely through a diet of their most ‘local’ of programmes. Alongside ubiquitous American sit-coms and British crime dramas will be locally produced shows with their own culturally specific reference points and generic inflections, translations and interpretations, and it is this heady mixture of us/them, there/then that deepens and complexifies the hotel room television experience since one can experience ‘home’ and ‘away’ simultaneously.
The Boleyn Hotel, Staines, UK
I am home – back in England for the first time in two years. I am staying at the (Anne) Boleyn hotel in Staines – very old England swish but full of ‘mocking’ contradictions and effacements. Its main themed restaurant is called Saffron and offers one the taste of ‘authentic’ Indian cuisine. The walls are adorned with reproduction paintings of Henry VIII but none of Anne. Mock Tudor beam meets modernist design. In my olde worlde-modernist room I reach for the remote and find myself channel surfing, stopping at each of those programmes I am familiar and want to spend time with. I am simultaneously home and away. This is my tourist gaze. And I had a full English for breakfast.
Each international hotel room will have its own branded aesthetic in terms of décor and interior design, and global and glocal realities will impact upon what is being aired. These environments are greasy meta any-space-whatevers, media-centred enclaves, and yet local cultures shape the style of the rooms as they do the programming and scheduling. While on holiday in a Bali hotel room one expects to meet local materials and traditions shaping the décor, the senses of the spaces encountered.
When watching hotel room television in far off places, the contemporary reality of television corporatisation, syndication, synergy, and mega-monopolies often become apparent as recognisable shows, series, and serials repeat and repeat, and yet they also sit within a ‘foreign’ or strange context – such shows maybe subtitled, transcoded or translated.
For example, The Suite Life of Karin and Kabir is a Disney Indian adaptation of the American show The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, set in the Raj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai and which centres on Karan and Kabir, trouble-making twins who live at the hotel. However, the translation here is moot, for while it pays attention to religious and patriarchal norms within India it also reproduces the individualist ideology of the American dream. Through shows like this one can make good use of Adorno and Horkhiemer’s mass culture thesis:
What is individual is no more than the generality’s power to stamp the accidental detail so firmly that it is accepted as such. The defiant reserve or elegant appearance of the individual on show is mass-produced like Yale locks, whose only difference can be measured in fractions of millimetres.
Television news programmes are indicative of this Yale lock effect, in this respect. In aesthetic and presentational terms, much of the lighting, camera work, editing, studio setting, and direct address repeat over from country to country and channel to channel. There will usually be two presenter-anchors, one male and one female, and they will embody the codes of professional authenticity, accessibility, sex appeal, and act as conduits of knowledge and understanding. The white heat of digital technology will swim in, through and around them, their newsroom always at the epicenter of news story-telling. The script they will read from, and regardless of the language it is spoken in, will have structural and narrative consistencies and certainties. Simple binaries and forms of extenuation and closure are necessary. Even news values will have weighted overlaps as each nation state reproduces the hegemony of the power relations it finds itself ensconced in. Hotel room television news is always so very familiar. News presented in this way always feels safe and secure. It helps lessen the foreign experience even if chaos reigns outside one’s window.
From my (Anne) Boleyn hotel room bed I am watching the BBC Six O’clock News, and yet in many respects it could be Australian ABC News at 7pm. Likeable and similar faces merge, blur, and converge. The pulse of the electronic media stretches from one television newsroom to another. She becomes he, he becomes them, and their authoritative voices rise up as one, a transnational news discourse in the making, in the unmasking. Here in my mocking any-space-whatever I turn the electronic key to my door, and remarkably it opens onto….
Sean Redmond is an Associate Professor of Media and Communication at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. He writes on stardom and celebrity, science fiction, screen aesthetics, and authorship. His latest book is on The cinema of Takeshi Kitano with Columbia University Press (2013).
Sean Redmond, Deakin University, Melbourne: email@example.com