It started out as a co-worker joke, the kind you make “at the party after a couple of beers and then you forget about it.” Except they didn’t forget and actually did.
The “it” in this case is to tie a camera to the front of a train and document the seven-hour journey through Bergensbanen, Norway, to the bergen line 100th anniversary.
Thomas Hellum and his team at Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (known as NRK) brought the idea to the public broadcaster and the executives responded with two questions: “What is the most dangerous thing for a Norwegian broadcasting company, putting a crazy program one 365 days in a year or (to say) no to some crazy idea from your own employees? “
It became the most watched show for NRK (1.2 million Norwegians tuned in) and a lot of reactions on social media followed its broadcast in November 2009. Norwegians were ecstatic. One tweet stood out for Hellum. It said, “Why be a chicken and do seven hours when you can make the coastal trip from Bergen to Kirkenes? It’s five and a half days.”
Challenge accepted: they made the coastal trip and gave way to the phenomenon that is Slow TV.
Slow TV is the retransmission documentation of ordinary activities over a long period in real time. It’s seemingly mundane content with no story. In recent years, Slow TV has adapted to platforms like BIGO, TikTok, YouTube, and more, with influencers and content creators recording themselves traveling, doing housework, painting a picture, and much more.
Amidst stay-at-home orders from the pandemic, viewers have pushed to play this type of programming as a way to distract themselves, create a normal environment and keep them connected to the outside world.
But human behavior researchers are still trying to understand the desire to observe commoner behavior on our screens.
John Eastwood, a clinical and cognitive psychologist who studies boredom, is one of those researchers. Eastwood is fascinated with Slow TV because he says it has all the components that often lead to boredom, but people are incredibly engaged. He believes that one element that attracts humans is cultural pride.
“There are cultural differences in how boredom is experienced, so I think that’s probably true for Slow TV,” Eastwood said. “There was a certain nationalistic pride associated with its creation, which is perhaps history.”
This pride Eastwood alludes to is exactly what Hellum and his team saw during their 134-hour live boat trip. Not only did it become the network’s most-watched channel during the broadcast, but Hellum said Norwegians were eager to get involved.
“They showed up at the ports in disguise. They went water skiing and played in bands on the mountain tops. They waved their flags, ”Hellum recalls. “No commercials, no nudity, no political demonstrations; nothing like that. It was pure happiness. “
Even though Slow TV grew up in Europe in the 2010s, Canadians indulged in an earlier form in the late 1980s and early 1990s until Global TV series “Night Walk”, a broadcast of Toronto residents walking around town at night. No story, no narration, no context: just jazz music and life on the screen.
Inspired by “Night Walk” YouTuber Johnny Strides, which creates Slow TV content but with a twist: it adds narration for viewers, providing interesting information about your surroundings. His reasoning behind this remix comes from cultural differences.
“I think (Europeans) value time much more than (Americans),” Strides told the Star. “They’re not that ruthless,” he said, noting how society’s attention span is shrinking and how gratification Snapshot affects how we consume media and content.
In Strides live videos, give viewers interesting facts or information about their surroundings.
Eastwood says there has been a “rise to more narrative Slow TV,” but adds that there is a fine line between art and propaganda.
“Art is open; whether it is a great literary work or a visual work of art, there is a piece that invites you to participate in the act of creating meaning, ”said Eastwood. At the other extreme, advertising tells consumers what to pay attention to by telling them what is important. “Most of our media are like that, like they grab your attention and give you a tug on the back of the neck. It’s loud, cheeky, it’s in your face and you become passive as an observer.
“Slow TV doesn’t appeal to you that way,” Eastwood continued. “He invites you to participate now in the process of making this valuable in your own way.”
This could have been the meaning of the 1964 film “Sleep” by artist Andy Warhol, which showed the poet John Giorno sleeping for five hours and 20 minutes. At the time, it was considered an art form but, in recent years, The Warhol film has been referred to as an earlier version of Slow TV..
Strides content is somewhere between art and propaganda. He allows people to visually make Canada what they can, but he also narrates the juiciest parts.
“When I walk around town, according to the people I see in the comments section, there is a sense of community, of seeing something together in real time, that people connect with,” said Strides, adding that platforms like YouTube and Twitch foster that community and contribute to the globalization of Slow TV.
In the end, community seems to be what makes Slow TV such an artistic way of storytelling, because it is exactly the mindset that encouraged Hellum and his team to install cameras on a train and ship traveling through Norway.
“It’s not just about watching paint dry or ice melt. It is not a meditation that you can get on YouTube. For us (Norwegians) it’s storytelling and it’s a story worth telling and rooted in culture. “