Thursday, October 12, 2006

My partner Rita Gonzalez and I wrote the "liner notes" for Animal Charm's compilation DVD, just out on Other Cinema. Check it out.

Open Sores

The heft of video tape weighs on the world. Stacks and stacks of Betamax, VHS, and ¾” tape sit on aluminum shelves and hang low in bargain bins. A world of images screened only in conference rooms, rec-centers, waiting stalls and training halls has been ejected from life. Who are the brave architects that will construct a Library of Alexandria for our long-playing motivational minds?

The answer, it seems, is Animal Charm.

But don’t take our word for it. Read what cultural critic and UC Berkeley film professor Niyoma Wataporn has to say: “Hypertrophic, hypnagogic, and hyperreal—these are the qualities of our times and Animal Charm brings them to us in all their damning splendor. Jim Fetterley and Rich Bott never allow their audience to simply smile while watching their videos. One must double up in laughter or weep openly.”

The only smilers are the sad figures that populate the motivational videos and training tapes repurposed by Animal Charm into uncanny works of art. These funboys smile at jiggling, aerobicized bodies; they smile at leaping lemurs; they smile at outdated technology; they smile at success; and, most of all, they smile at creeping corporate horror.

This sense of corporate horror is most evident in videos such as "Street Shapes" and "Mark Roth", where open industrial spaces vie with enclosed cubicles to become ciphers for psychological and physical threat. Banal everyday objects take on a menacing, almost animal persistence. Parking curbs, utility shacks, file cabinets, escalators, parking lights…in these short videos, such objects are raised to the indignity of a person since, like a person, these objects have nefarious pasts. Which Enron executive’s car did this parking space once hold? Whose house was demolished to make way for this illustrious business park? Who or what is watching you? Or rather, what are you watching? A business meeting, or the movement of a pen, can be as frightening as any horror show.

In his book Capitalizing on Culture, Shane Gunster writes, “the ‘facticity,’ the apparent utility, of most commodities makes it difficult for people to understand how most objects – or more precisely, a system that satisfies needs by producing more and better commodities – might actually constitute a barrier to human self-development.” Animal Charm, befitting their identity as video terrorists, answers: “A professional pleaser…what’s that?” Gunster writes: “The endless production of material objects helps foster the illusion that bourgeois society is actually delivering on its promises. As they are fetishized, these objects are worshipped as the realization of a wish, rather than simply its image.” Animal Charm retorts: “Imagine a dolphin. Bet you wish you hadn’t.”

In today’s online world of YouTube and Google Video, where video sampling and mixing has become all too common (and somewhat tamed), where strategies of social critique quickly become marketing tools, Animal Charm have emerged as sentries to the gods. For now at least, Animal Charm have made the world safe for curating the commons and drinking deep the banal, sweet Jesus-juice of animal husbandry. As their alter-egos Struthers & Fields lament, “Thank god, at least, they’ve not yet found a way to kill the wind. They’ve not yet found a way to harm the sky…but they will…”

1 comment:

stan said...

Lovely little essay Joseph. I've got to get a copy of this DVD. What's the best channel for ordering one?

I love the Shane Gunster quotes. These days all my poems are just fetishized images of wishes; I'm far gone, I guess.