What is "guerrilla television"? The term may conjure up American hostages looking haggard and coerced in clumsily produced ransom tapes or propaganda diatribes, what the mass media often characterize as hostile takeovers of the airwaves by Third World provocateurs. Some may think of tapes produced in former Eastern Bloc countries, the Philippines, or maybe Central America, tapes designed to rally morale during a labor strike, document the death of a patriot, or launch a people's revolution with the seizure of government broadcast studios and transmitters. Still others may think of the historic camcorder tapes of police beatings that galvanized viewers around the world, raising issues of racism, institutional abuse, and the legitimacy of citizen video to serve as a weapon and a witness.
Whether typified as media terrorism or as amateur video, whether seen as a boon or a threat to democracy, guerrilla television has been a part of our information landscape since the mid-'60s when the arrival of lightweight, affordable consumer video equipment made it possible for ordinary people to make their own television. In today's multichannel television maze, it is difficult to imagine how different things were twenty years ago when three broadcasting corporations controlled all of American television and the only power viewers seemed to have over television was the power to turn it off.
Guerrilla television was part of the larger alternative media tide that swept across the country during the '60s, affecting radio, newspapers, magazines, and publishing, as well as the fine and performing arts. Just as the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century made books portable and private, video technology did the same for the televised image; and just as the development of offset printing launched the alternative press movement in the '60s, video's advent launched an alternative television movement in the '70s.
In 1971 the movement got a name and a manifesto with the pub-