Posted on my site michel-foucault.com
What bothers me is the quality of French television. It’s true! It is one of the best in the world unfortunately!…
What bothers and irritates me horribly in France, is that you are obliged to look at the program in advance to know what you can’t miss, and you have to arrange your evening as a result.
And then there is Le Pain Noir on Mondays. Result: every Monday is booked up … It is this which is the strength of television. People end up living according to its schedules. The news has been delayed by a quarter of an hour: well, you know that restaurants will see their diners arrive a quarter of an hour later.’
Michel Foucault, (1994)  ‘A quoi rêvent les philosophes?’. In Dits et Ecrits vol. II. Paris: Gallimard, p. 705. This passage translated by Clare O’Farrell
Foucault talks about having to program one’s life in terms of the television schedule. Of course he was saying this in the days when there were no cheap ways of recording television and there were only three television channels in France – all government run. Foucault also talks entertainingly about a trip to America where he was able to sample the vast range of ten channels on offer, all showing rubbish (‘it was somewhat degrading using your brain to watch that’) – but with the advantage nonetheless that he could pleasantly surf from channel to channel.
Foucault waxes lyrical in the best fan traditions about Le Pain noir – a lavish high quality historical miniseries with a cast of thousands, based on a multi-volume saga by Georges-Emmanuel Clancier. This series traces the life and times of a female rural peasant who is forced to become an urban worker. Her life plays out against the backdrop of a number of major historical events in France from 1880 to 1936.
In 2009, however, the musician and artist Brian Eno claimed, indeed militantly declared, that television was dead because its rigid programming had been superseded by the current possibilities for on demand delivery of content. In my view, however, the fixed schedule of television is precisely its advantage. It connects people through a shared sociability of common and simultaneous viewership. It also exposes the viewer to things they might never otherwise have come across locked within the confines of their own choices and opens their eyes onto a wider world. There is still a role for television as it currently stands in terms of these social functions.