Friday, October 22, 2010

Unforeseen Consequences

William Wegman Deodorant (circa 1972-3)

The thrilling development of early broadcast television brought information and entertainment into individual American homes. A need arose for content and financing the production of content. The solution in America? Advertising. A flow then a flood of social anxieties filled the airwaves as products offered solutions to social nervousness, dull lifeless hair and body odor as seen in the vintage ads easily searchable on YouTube. The noted cultural critic Raymond Williams wrote in "The Technology and The Society" in 1972 of the crisis of "production control and financing" of broadcast television and contemplated at length the social consequences of advertisements. Rather than licensing or subscriptions, "commercial sponsorship" continued as the solution. Out of the cloud of spray deodorant came William Wegman and his video works contemplating the social fall-out of such ads. His early video works often took product claims to absurd levels. In "Deodorant" (1972-3), he applies spray deodorant to his armpit until it fills with a frothy foam while he talks about how fresh it keeps him feeling. In "I got..." and "TV Plunger", both from 1970, he demonstrates inventive and telling uses for common products such as plungers and dutch ovens making them absurd talismans of the complacent consumer culture that emerged mid-century. The advertised construct of high anxiety and worry about "deodorant cutting out" in tough situations may have unforeseen consequences that will take a century to sort out. While Modernists like Stan Brakhage took refuge in film producing sublime and transcendent works using amateur equipment and moth wings as in "Mothlight" (1963) or "Garden of Earthly Delights" (1981). Just a decade later, artists like Wegman confronted everyday experience and the influx of "products" directly and with dumb humor.

Body All anti-perspirant commercial (circa 1972)

As the 20th century closed and the anxiety of the coming domination of digital technologies grew, some artists turned back to earlier technologies to make their statements. David Lynch directed a 55 second film using 19th century filmmaking equipment in 1995 for the Lumiere & Company centennial anniversary project. The film, sometimes referred to as "Premonitions Following an Evil Deed" was shot in one take using a hand-cranked camera portraying an eerie world of cops, victims and survivors. It should be noted that Lynch, by 2010, has apparently moved all his creative activity to Twitter. Spike Lee used the antique Lumiere camera to film family related subject matter. Viewers hear a male voice repeatedly commanding "Say dada" to a somewhat oblivious toddler making his approach referential also to the "home movie" form increasingly popular throughout the 20th century and the Dada movement in art. As the 21st century got underway, young artists such as Ryan Trecartin embraced social networking culture, chatting and emailing along with the readily available off-the-shelf video production software and hardware. In his YouTube gem "Tommy-Chat Just E-mailed Me" (2006) he deploys the channeling surfing rhythms of the day interspersed with acid colors, effects and net culture buzz phrases to communicate life lived inside an email and punctuated by searches and referred to as "hysterical realism" by the New York Times in 2009. Perhaps it is this hysterical realism that is the "unforeseen consequence" of the technological progress ruminated upon by Williams in 1972.

Tommy-Chat Just E-mailed Me by Ryan Trecartin (2006)


  1. I checked out your link to david lynch's twitter site, and he does seem to be using it somewhat towards a "marketing himself end" as well and I still have an aversion to that. Do you know if his show is going on tour in the states? or how i could find out? I looked for it on his website, but thats not up an running yet, and the fan sites i looked at were all out of date. Also this link is funny and short

  2. Lynch is mystifying us. His website used to feature his near daily weather reports from his LA studio and also a project where he sent out a crew to interview people across the US. All of that seems to have disappeared and just the Twitter feed seems active.