America Strikes Back
Single channel digital video, 6 mins, 2008.
Using Richard Serra and Carlotta Schoolman’s 1973 video work ‘Television Delivers People’ as a template, ‘America Strikes Back’ explores the power of entertainment. An actor jovialiy reports a seamless flow of information while scrolling white text over a blue screen background both condenses and shifts the emphasis of what is being said. Over the original muzak soundtrack of ‘Television Delivers People’ subjects such as Harald Szeemann, chronicles of the abject, self mutilation, copyright protection and The Bible are all made equivalent in this examination of the relationship between art, media and the flow of info-tainment.
Though America Strikes Back openly takes its format from Richard Serra and Carlotta Schoolman's video piece 'Television Delivers People' (1973), utilizing the same jovial background muzak and white text scrolling down a blue screen, its subject is far more elusive. Between an ethusiastic voice-over narrator and the text slowly passing before our eyes, the piece moves like an erratic infomercial that somehow spans to include figures like artist Robert Gober, newspaper photographic editor Robert Stevens, and the Bible. What holds together these disparate topics at first seems the Venice Biennial, then the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the U.S., before a description of the World Trade Organization's intellectual property rights seems to throw any connection whatsoever.
'Television Delivers People' made broad, confrontational claims, using the medium of television to make statements like, "There is no such thing as mass media in the United States except for television." When the narrator of America Strikes Back matter-of-factly describes Serra and Schoolman's original 1973 video work, the on-screen text provides a more critical perspective: "Art galleries and museums often curate exhibitions of video art that include early video works which are critical of the mass media. Their aesthetic can appear dated." Deignan's re-working is technically smoother, less dogmatic, and in taking on their 'dated aesthetic' acknowledges its own role in a format which claims to provide information as entertainment, and vice versa, and in a society in which mass medias, such as the internet, are the pervasive norm. Deignan closes on a seemingly irrelevant fact, describing an audio version of the New International Bible, which features Cuba Gooding Jr. as Judas, and Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of God. Her highlighting of this attempt to popularize the Bible, however, looks straight into the ambiguous territory in which mass medias can influence us. Serra and Schoolman's statement, "Popular entertainment is basically propaganda for the status quo" has become updated to, in the words of America Strikes Back's textual conclusion, "Contemporary cultural production is often entertaining."
from the essay, 'What's New? - Televisions Mutual Contract', Chris Fite-Wassilak.
Voice: Anil Kumar.
© Michelle Deignan 2008