Part of the allure of telemancy is how easy it is to penetrate and change culture. Don’t get me wrong, the amount of skill and luck it takes to become amongst the conjurers of your average television studio is a discipline all by itself. At the end of the day, like any old average dark art, it’s all in who you know, not what you know. But assuming you are already a part of the guild, then the barrier by which you can impose a new piece of culture is highly permeable. For example, consider the sitcom in its purest form. As long as the manifestations approach something recognizable as human and can mug appropriately for the audience, then half of the job is already done.
The challenge comes from making that matter on a weekly basis, engaging the public in a weekly ritual to watch the show and give themselves over to the punchlines and advertisements that drain people of their lives and their wallets. The truly lucky shows don’t just achieve success but also manage to embody a new element of the telenomicon. An avatar of some aspect of culture that represents a larger idea and becomes a new piece of how we communicate. There are many avatars, and as people age out after sacrificing their lives to the Screen means that there is always the opportunity to create a new face for the sins of humanity. The avatar reflects the darkest parts of our personalities and gives us a way to represent the horror that is us. Containing these sins allows us to lull ourselves into believing we are better than we are because at least we aren’t them. We create constructs that exist only for us to hold ourselves above them, securing ourselves that our life isn’t actually meaningless.
Some of the more famous examples of these constructs include the Avatar of the Fool. This particular creation is practically legion, a multifaceted monster that has existed hundreds of times in our canon. From Gilligan to Woody Boyd, The Fool never grows, never changes, and is always compelled to react in the worst way to whatever situation they find themselves in. It eventually reached its apotheosis when it subdivided into the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but that is for another chapter. What I want to explore in this article is one particular Avatar that has become relevant again after one of its facets reentered the culture sphere. I speak of the Avatar of Pain, a construct that occurs in telemancy to contain both necromancy and comedy. A character that is impervious to death no matter how many times it maims or mangles its body, never able to find the sweet release of being written out of existence. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor is one of the most prominent facets of the Avatar of Pain.
Episode after episode of Home Improvement features Tim as someone who is doomed to always feel pain but never escape it. Tim must suffer because otherwise there is no reason for the show to exist. It a perpetual state of agony that allows a character to not even have the scars to show for it. He should have died by the end of the first season for the amount of abuse his body takes on. No matter how many times he learns a valuable lesson about how he really shouldn’t be a host of a show giving anything approaching meaningful advice. His family must reckon with a someone that fails to provide anything positive in their lives, staying around only because his role as Avatar grants him a bottomless pit of resources to prevent insolvency.
Telemancers early on learned that shows must never have characters lose their homes so a protection spell is granted to forget that anything like utilities or rent is a meaningful concern. They work even though the show won’t let them face any consequences for not doing so, since homelessness is not an easy thing to use to make the audience dull witted and placated. Tim’s only real skill is the plasticity of his body and mind, where no injury leaves him any worse for wear. Electrocution, impalement, fire, and all manner of horrific violence is simply brushed off like a cartoon character. He always picks himself up, misinterprets the advice of his faceless ghoul of a neighbor and continues on self-satisfied that his world still exists for the next episode.
The Avatar of Pain provides a means of vicarious living for the Culture, a way to exercise our anxieties of self-destruction and our fear of the unknown. A man who is competent and attentive as a husband and father is unsustainable on television. There must be a heightened flaw that allows us to separate him from us while still being recognizable as a human. Plenty of shows try to provide this in the form of the Foolish Patriarch, but that kind of show is hard to exist in a world with an increasingly flimsy grasp of masculinity. Which meant for Home Improvement that Tim had to ascent to be an Avatar of some sort to latch on to the hearts and minds of the culture. He is encased in a stasis of masculine ignorance, leaving him immune from escaping the manufactured world his family is doomed to stay in. He begins every half hour as a blank slate, never having learned that he is terrible at his job and wholly incapable of being a meaningful provider.
Characters around him are also bound to maintain his delusion despite the fact that they clearly shouldn’t. His friends, his wife, and his children are all clearly more intelligent than him, except maybe Brad. But they must continue on in the Sitcom illusion until the Syndication ritual can be performed and the actors can free themselves from the nightmare of repetition. As an avatar he can embody our own sin of ignorance and complacency, since we never truly learn the life lessons we are supposed to. The most important one is that of simply not watching television, but we continue on, further burying our lives in a excremental pile of popular culture. The character can be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams so long as he does not insult the intelligence of the Culture. His only education for the Culture can be as the dispense of the Very Valuable Lesson or the Veval. An important element of any sitcom to convince the people watching that they didn’t truly waste another half hour of their lives in front of a television.
The WILSON construct is the vessel for something approaching the Veval. Nearly every episode allows the hermetic shaman who must constantly provide advice for the empty-headed Avatar, to fulfill the quota of education necessary for the format. The Wilson is designed to be a cypher for the world’s knowledge, cursed to understand the world but not to have a form that allows him to exist in it. His visage is unknowable, perhaps to protect the Audience from the raw form of pure intelligence. Even in glimpses provided by the show of a live studio taping, Wilson must remain concealed, much like Gnostic Christianity hiding the form of the true Logos. Only Wilson can hope to channel the blinding ignorance of Tim as he continues his damned existence as a walking wound. He is the true god that hides behind the false deity that Tim exists as, taking in the truth and failing to live it except occasionally as an accident.
The symbiosis is necessary, for the lack of a counterbalance to the chaos element of the Toolman would lead only to Cultural rot. The patrons of Television need to be made to feel that they are helping the Culture forward even in incremental ways, and Family television cannot exist only to derive pleasure from a man’s never-ending pain. Full House sustained itself for years by using piano tones to denote an important lesson to be learned by its patriarch, convincing the culture that something worth learning was happening.
Tim is incapable of providing anything approaching a moral lesson except as an example of what not to do. Hence Wilson must bear this burden, unassuming and trapped behind his fenced prison, dispensing advice but never allowed to live as an individual.
Much can be gleaned over what the power of becoming an Avatar can entail for all involved. The Collectives at the network can feel secured that they have an anchor spell ready every week to draw in the Culture and keep eyes on them. The Advertising Patrons have a safe spot to sell their wares and continue to fund the further machinations of both themselves and the Network. The makers of the show and the actors can continue to bleed their lives into the show for the promise of Syndication, their sacrifice being rewarded in the form of residuals.
The Culture itself has its own reward in the form of content that allows their time to be occupied for another half hour away from the pain of actually trying to live. The Avatar himself faces a trickier path once the show ends and everyone is released from their ritual. The stain of typecasting is at a heightened risk, and they must find a show that allows them to exist in a similar role or the whole spell collapses. For Tim Allen, he has found himself struggling to find that role, as the Avatar of Pain loses prominence as a viable trope. His diminishment has led him to the bland wasteland of the modern Network sitcom which is hardly existence at all. The Networks do not have the pull in the modern era that they used to, having been usurped by the new art of Streaming. He is merely a shadow, existing simply because there is nothing else for him, except to rant about how little he actually matters. But that does not mean he has not learned a thing or two about how to use telemancy to carve out a niche in the Culture. Recently he has been able to get involved in the recent rise of Tele Necromancy, resurrecting his show “Last Man Standing.”
So long as he hovers outside of anything approaching relevance, he can continue to draw life energies from the retirees of the world as they find themselves increasingly unable to work a smart TV, let alone change the channel. How that will play out remains to be seen, though I doubt anyone will notice how it plays out one way or the other.
Follow Rick’s spiral of dark magic on Twitter, and until the next Telenomicon…don’t touch that dial.