shell shocked during the events leading up to the Gulf Crisis,
I sought the most immediate therapeutic device within reach:
my camcorder. Sometimes the best way to deal with reality
is to document it. So I charged up my arsenal of six batteries
and began shooting reactions to the approaching war. I was
far from alone in this endeavor. People all over the country
were taking their camcorders into the streets to document
local responses. And just as political organizing has promoted
wakefulness in a country of zombies wrapt a trance of war,
so too has video activism. Most notably, the Gulf Crisis TV
Project, a joint venture between Paper Tiger TV and Deep Dish
Sattelite Network, created to send out a decentralized, passionate
voice of opposition from all parts of the country.
series (a half hour each) promote activism and resisitence.
Part I: War, Oil and Power addresses economic and environmental
issues. Part II: Operation Dissidence exposes the role of
the media in manufacturing consent and deconstructs television
tactics. Part III: Out of the Sandtrap shows community- based
grasssroots responses to the crisis and offers alternative
solutions. Part IV: Bring the Troops Home highlights war resistors
and offers specific tips on how to become a conscientious
objector and resist the war. The series is an organizing tool.
To produce the show, coordinators linked activist producers
with anti-war organizers and community activists.
began with the usual Deep Dish process of calling for tapes
from around the country, but in this project the level of
response was unprecendented. The anti-war momentum that has
been building steadily across the country, in big cities as
well as in rural towns, is reflected and legitimized in the
two hour, four-part series. Coordinators of the series edited
kamikaze-style for three straight days, followed by a speedy
satellite uplink, sending the program via sattelite across
the country just before the beginning of the war. The role
of public access television as a site where issued can be
debated openly is crucial to the effectiveness of the show.
The series was sent to cable stations all over the country
where people created their own local wrap-arounds for the
show, infusing the already decentralized series with a local
The Gulf Crisis TV Projects call for tapes resulted
in over 100 submissions from 40 states. A guide, "How
toTakeControl of Your TV Set," was sent out with the
call for tapes, offering possibilites for practical uses of
the show and ideas for local media initiatives. The vast participation
of camcordists-- from the casual enthusiast to the well-versed
video artist-- resulted in a chorus of images from ultra slick
to cheap and dirty-- from places like Honolulu, Bloomington
IN, Athens, OH, Castlewood, VA, Whitehall, WI and Ames, IA
and many others. Martin Hallanger of Cambridge, MA submitted
a chilling pixlevision video, with a deteriorated black and
white image of himself wheezing and holding a sign saying:
"I'm an Iraqi war vet. I have respiratory problems and I can't
speak." In Athens, Ohio, Nan Merkyl, an elderly camcordist,
shot a series of anti-war protests. Narrating off-camera,
Merkyl humanizes her footage with commentary and questions.
The project also received poetry, original rap music and experimental
video works like "Stuck between Iraq and a Hard Place,"
by Eric White. Whites contribution is filled with lines
such as: "having a feast in the Middle East," "Lets
put the nation out of focus with aviation hocus pocus"
and "Easter Europes finally free-- free as MTV."
bathing in the glow of t.v. objectivity: Since the build-up
began, there have been a handful of personalities dominating
the television screen spewing information directly from the
Pentagon. Unlike the mainstream medias tired use of
the same guys spouting the same stuff, The Gulf Crisis TV
Project had folks like media-bannned Daniel Ellsberg alternating
with coal workers in Virginia and war resisitors in Honolulu
as diverse spokespeople for the shows. At the start of the
war the great need for alternative representations became
even clearer, as military officials and tired commentators,
Nintendo graphics and official censorship, rendered human
realities absent from the antiseptic coverage.
back TV: Distribution of the Gulf Crisis TV Project went beyond
its goals when a PBS affiliate picked up the series and distributed
it. This move surprised the producers as well as the viewers
of the show who were shocked to see a radical view of the
war, but as Cathy Scott, one of the coordinators, recognizes,
"its taken something as drastic as a war to get
community voices on PBS." Hopefully, it is the beginning
of a movement toward the democratization of the media. Beyond
PBS, the series, as with every Deep Dish series, expanded
the network of public access users and local access groups
distributing the project. Organizers set up a bicycle system,
whereby one station would pass the tapes to the next, for
stations that did not have sattelite dishes. In addition,
the series acheived its goal of generating local programs
in relation to the national show. In Iowa City a video wrap-around
was created on a college campus with students from a black
students organization commenting on the disproportionate number
of black and latino people in the Gulf. A Cape Cod public
access station accompanied the national show with an anti-war
teach-in conducted by a Womens Peace group. This war
is to be generating a new from of protest organizing: the
TV Teach-in, complete with call-in responses, live debates
and intensive community programming. Using TV interactively
to organize local actions and to generate opposition is becoming
a real possibility for regular people to talk back to their
TV set. Public access is a site where the things can be debated,
where people can create their own dialogue. And by democratizing
the media, perhaps we can democratize the country. The Gulf
Crisis TV project embodies a sense of hope that individuals
can be subjects of history. And making their own TV and contributing
to alternative representations is the first step in that process.
As phone were
ringing off the hook in the Paper Tiger TV office after the
initial airings of the Gulf Crisis TV Project, the most profound
and repeated responses were from people who were overjoyed
to find that they were not alone in their feelings of opposition.
One woman called from Gordonsville, Va whose entire town thought
she was insane for putting a coffin with flag on it in her
front yard. Harassed by neighbors and distressed by the war,
she called Deep Dish, crying with joy that she was not alone.
From places as far as the Virgin Islands, says Simone Farkondeh,
an organizer of the project, "people were amazed that
it was on channel 13 but noone was as amazed and we were.
When they see the shows they begin to realize how restricted
their viewing has been." Of course, there were some enraged
reactions. One hysterical man called up and ranted about the
obsenity of criticizing the news and the audacity of putting
information into a non-rigid structure.
a strange feeling came over me in the first week of the war;
a feeling of hysteria was embracing me which I was receiving
from my normally dormant TV set. The images and sounds filling
my brain were cold and clinical, a slew of new vocabulary
words all related to military weaponry, a series of macho
spokesmen in uniform, sophisticated War logos and Nintendo
graphics that seemed to be marketing the biggest product ever
sold in my lifetime on TV: War. The slick graphics were being
developed weeks before the war and TV producers were glad
that Bush stayed on schedule because it made them look good.
Now, entering the second week of the War as I write this,
there are more products being marketed, most notably, Patriotism.
The military, having sucked up a million low income youth
looking to expand their horizons beyond McDonbalds,
is now advertising patriotism, and ironically, the images
in these ads are virtual replicas of those that have filled
news broadcasts since the build-up began: the Top Gun-thumbs-up-victorious-pilot
shot, USA flags waving on top of aircraft and weapons of destruction
silloueted against sunset backdrops that could double as a
Club Med ad.
The Gulf Crisis
TV Project, produced during the simultaneous arms build-up
in the Gulf and the image build-up on TV, provides some visions
of the hideous side of war, but if the upcoming episodes are
to function as effective counter-propoganda, they must find
a way to show the kinds of visual representations that are
being censored from TV: body bags, massive destruction and
human suffering-- in the U.S., Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait. Since they have no current plans to send camcorder
crews to the Middle East, an effective way to do that would
be to draw visual parallels to past wars.
At the same
time, the most significant issues that have vanished from
the News lately are the severe crisis at home that Bush
would like us all to forget about: AIDS, homelessness, environmental
devastation and a collapsing economy, and the list goes on...
The AIDS activist movement, one of the most powerful movements
begun in the Reagan Error, has armed itself with a level of
media awareness vital to any contemporay activist movement.
And everyone living in the AIDS crisis knows that the devastation
must constantly be brought to the eyes and ears of the public.
Hence, the slogan "Silence=Death." On January 22,
1991 several AIDS activists infiltrated the factories of centralized
corporate representation: the major TV networks. One ACT UPer
succeeded in breaking into Dan Rathers video frame on
the live six oclock news shouting "fight AIDS,
not Arabs" and "healthcare, not warfare." That
historic moment of video intervention sent out a loud message
of clever defiance and desperation. It said "the AIDS
crisis is not over" loud and clear. The continuation
of the Gulf Crisis TV Project will emphasize the the pressing
social issues at home while encouraging media intervention
into the War propoganda.