How to Talk Back to Your TV Set: Films that Challenge the Boob Tube Currated by Jennifer Bisch
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 7:00 PM
Please join us for the opening night (post screening) panel discussion on Wednesday, September 23 with Jenny Bisch, Gene Walz, and Brenda Austin-Smith.
Take the TV Turnoff Challenge! Walk away from the tube! Television is one of the greatest inventions in the last hundred years, but most of us have a love/hate relationship with it. TV provides blissful escape from the daily grind into a world where products work miracles and people are effortlessly beautiful. While it is an effective communication tool in some cases, it can also obscure the truth and trick us into buying things we really don’t need. Love it or hate it, one thing’s for sure: too much of anything can really bring you down.
Dear TV kicks off the program with a PSA announcing television’s dismissal from its job as purveyor of modern culture, followed by Allyson Mitchell’s amourous tribute to the tube in TV Did This to Me. Demons of Bars and Tone also depicts one viewer’s obsessive relationship with the TV, but with unsavoury consequences. Plato’s Chair invites us to rethink the world of illusion that resides in the medium television (and where we all too often reside, ourselves). Lexi-Con and Btv satirize the supposedly neutral format of news reportage, while Final News Report abstracts the presentation of one night’s news coverage in 1973 by juxtaposing it with game show banter and sound
samples from advertisements to show a synthesis of disparate messages we become accustomed to as viewers. In 10th Avatar, worship of a fading deity is revived when it becomes manifested in the television. Closing the program, Tale of a Televisionary is a redemptive story for the television who takes on a human form but was sadly too naïve to survive in the human world.
The TV Turnoff Challenge asks us to try to live without this medium for only one week – and it truly is a challenge for most people because TV is a part of daily life. Part of the Challenge is to find other things to do with your time, where normally you would watch television (or YouTube!). The films in this program show how prevalent TV is in modern life and remind the viewer that not all moving images are mindlessly wrought.
Dear TV by Rodrigo Riedel (1:00, 2005, video)
Dear television: We regret to inform you that your services may no longer be required.
TV Did This to Me by Allyson Mitchell (3:00, 1999, 16mm)
Some people are too attached to their televisions. This film uses photocopies to animate one girl’s intimate afternoon with her TV set. As the world around her explodes with excitement, she remains plugged into the main drain. This is a love letter to a girl and the boob tube.
Demon of Bars and Tone by David Zellis (8:00, 2001, 16mm)
A man is tortured both mentally and physically by his television. As the man is suffering, the television plays commercials representing his life, both past and present.
Plato’s Chair by Paul Couillard (7:00, 1990, video)
Plato’s Chair is an adaptation from a video installation originally produced as part of Programs, a performance work about social conditioning. Through an authoritative voice-over that recalls the Friendly Giant (storyteller to a generation of Canadian children), viewers are taken on an adventure to the world of Plato’s “Theory of Ideas.” In this hypnotic, ethereal reality, we are told idea and form have a real existence outside the world of sense. The “ideal” chair floats against a flickering backdrop as the voice-over conducts its inquiry into the nature of virtue. Here, at last, the viewers are given a chance to view a perfect world where all objects are reduced to their ideal; the world’s name is television.
Lexi – Con by Don Alexander (4:00, 1999, video)
Produced as an entry in the Ed Video Media Arts Centre’s Don’t Bank On It project. A mockumentary of TV business and market reporting. The hype and style of TV business stations belies basic market information and is akin to sports and lifestyle reporting. Numbers are everything and reporters rely on forecasting tools like chicken-entrails and numerology. Stories ignore social consequences of market action. In the programme notes of the project, Lexi-Con is described:
“Switching channels, but they all seem to be connected to the same television network. Newscasters report in serious monotone on the stock market and their overly economic lingo makes it seem like a language all its own. The mock imagery makes reference to silliness of the business culture and the eeriness of
it manufacturing the economy. The viewer is bombarded by the business control of TV stations.”
BTV by Al Rushton (6:30, 1994, video)
Btv is a video comedy that explores the rich language of television manipulation and media dependency. The program features an industrial control room, a bouncing flock of sheep and a four year old, who finds herself caught between the roles of a roving reporter and an anesthetized fan.
Final News Report by Raphael Bendahan (11:00, 1973, 16mm)
In this film, one evening’s TV news broadcast from an American channel is juxtaposed with the soundtrack of daily game shows, commercial messages and other found sounds from television viewing. How and what events get capsulated into the 30-second clip? What are the messages of such reductions?
Certain themes of militarism, arms use, and the deployment of new weapons recur as symbols of American manhood and popular culture. The film suggests that the choice of news events and the way they are reported reveals more than mere facts. This reductive process necessarily contains the hidden ideology of our times, how we see ourselves, and larger social issues.
10th Avatar by Charuvi Agrawal (2:00, 2007, video)
Television’s influence is so great that it has left us completely mesmerized and has become our new form of worship. Our faith in the divine power has been challenged several times, through the ages. According to Hindu mythology an avatar appeared who relieved man’s distress and re-established the belief in God and the avatar. Nine incarnations of God or avatars have appeared thus far and the 10th avatar appeared with the fusion of mass media and formal worship. This is the story about the challenge divine worship faced as cable TV encroached our “idle” time.
Tale of a Televisionary by Curtis Wiebe (14:00, 2006, video)
A television, unexpectedly reborn with the body of a human, clumsily embarks upon a quest in search of companionship and spiritual fulfilment.
- Jennifer Bisch
From The Manitoban September 22, 2009:
TV in the cinema
Shorts program tries to keep you from reaching for the remote
TV is often hailed as the greatest mass communications advance of the 20th-century, but viewers worldwide are being challenged to do away with it this week. To tie in with “TV Turn Off Week,” the Winnipeg Cinematheque is presenting a program of short films which critique our growing dependence on the “boob tube.” The program, How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, was curated by local filmmaker and TV non-owner Jenny Bisch after she came to realize the insidious effect television has on our lives.
“Television is so appealing because it strikes people as a good thing to do when you have no ideas,” she says. “My goal with [How to Talk Back to Your Television Set] is twofold. First, to showcase films that grapple with the pervasive topic of television, and also to give TV Turn Off Week participants something to do!”
It’s a statement that begs the obvious question — why is going to a movie theatre a preferable alternative to watching TV? Bisch believes that even “the simple act of just buying popcorn” offers a genuine human interaction that sitting down on the couch and watching The Hills could never hope to achieve. Moreover, Bisch believes that there are fundamental differences between the ways short films and television shows engage people.
“Short films are more intimate, challenging and engage the viewer on a higher level,” she says; “Televisions shows tend to appeal to the lowest common denominator and want us to get off on seeing people fall down.”
That said, How to Talk Back to Your Television Set shouldn’t be a dour sermon on the evils of television. Bisch is a fan of some programming, like Arrested Development and irresistibly trashy offerings like Paradise Hotel. She believes that the medium “lends itself to humor because it’s so easy to mock”, and, accordingly, many of the shorts programmed have a distinctly comedic, universal appeal. One prominent theme explored in the program, which includes local fare such as David Zellis’ Demons of Bars and Tone and Curtis Wiebe’s Tale of a Televisionary, is how transparent the television medium is in its desire to sell the viewer products, and how willing it is to talk down to us in that pursuit.
Another modern technology that Bisch believes people should try to do without for a week is their internet connections — another thing touched on by the program. Indeed, consider that the average World of Warcraft player spends 892 hours staring at their computer screen every week. Bisch believes that the greatest harm of these modern technologies is that they ultimately hurt institutions like the Cinematheque and other arts and culture venues around the city. In the end, she says, they rob everyone of alternatives to the “fast food entertainment” offered by television and video games.
- Ryan Simmons