Academic journal article Afterimage

Guerrillas in Our Midst

Academic journal article Afterimage

Guerrillas in Our Midst

Article excerpt

DEEDEE HALLECK

That guerrilla video is now the subject of historical reflection is probably a sign of its demise. There has been a recent flurry of archival and publishing activity centering on experiments made in the '70s. In 1997, the Chicago-based Video Data Bank released Surveying the First Decade, a compilation of work from the early days of video, and Oxford University Press published Deirdre Boyle's Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited, the definitive study of the video movements of the late 1960s and '70s. These reflections on the utopian impulse in early video provide an opportunity to think about the present state of media in this country, in particular those movements that have attempted to create electronic space for non-commercial views that run counter to the mainstream.

Critical media studies in this country have been curiously ineffectual. What do we have to show for our myriad studies of media violence, our volumes of feminist readings, and our seemingly endless critical diatribes? Action for Children's Television, the one institution that actually effected policy formation, seems to have collapsed into the V chip. It is possible for theory and praxis to collaborate for structural change, however. In Britain, for example, there has been a closer affinity between those who reflect on television in a critical way and those who make it. One can draw a line from the work of Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, Peter Wollen, Steven Heath, Laura Mulvey and others to the inception of Channel Four, which for all its current shortcomings, is still better than anything in this country. The prolific field of cultural studies in the United States has focused on mass culture, rarely considering marginal or experimental television. Little of this effort addresses alternatives to commercial TV. The works reviewed here are a welcome exception.

Boyle's meticulously researched and well-written book brings cultural studies, broadcast history and critical media scholarship to bear on "guerrilla video." Boyle concentrates on three strands of the video movement of the late '60s and early '70s: Broadside TV of Johnson City, TN; University Community Video (UCV) in Minneapolis; and TVTV, whose trans-geographic crew were from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. Broadside was one of the first organizations to regularly produce community programming for cable, though under the aegis of "local origination," rather than public access. It was initially set up as an equipment resource center modeled after the Highlander Center in New Market, a leadership training center that had a major impact on the civil rights movement. UCV was a unique collaboration between a university, public television and local media activists. Community organizations worked with video producers at UCV to make programming on important local issues for regional broadcast on public television. TVTV was perhaps the most famous of the video collectives that roamed the land with lens covers dangling from their ever-ready portapacks. Just as TVTV provided the entertainment value to the alternative video community with their amusing videotapes, so the group provides the excitement and drama for Boyle's book.

Boyle has garnered fascinating stories of program snafus and transcendental moments from TVTV's prolific work. Spunky, restless and iconoclastic, TVTV's tapes were a breath of fresh air in the '70s, in stark contrast not only to stodgy commercial fare but to the overly earnest tapes of the New/Old Left with their documentation of interminable harangues at demonstrations. In Subject to Change, the interviews with TVTV members are lively and humorous, revealing the times in quirky historical documents. Although never willing to take a specific ideological stance, TVTV made the media their critical object - even their instruction sheet - for camera people who defied the standard broadcast mores: "We're not into declarative, explicit action or statements. …

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