Thursday, January 19, 2012

Puppets versus censorship

Posted By on 01.19.12 at 11:09 AM

DWPW_Poster_Chicago_web.jpg
It’s the best of times and the worst of times for Everything Is Terrible, the prolific Chicago collective that remakes abandoned cassette tapes into sometimes funny, sometimes unnerving video art (full disclosure: I’ve shared office space with them for several years). On January 27 at Lincoln Hall, the group will premiere its third feature-length project, Doggie Woggiez! Poochie Woochiez!, before taking it on a three-month tour. They describe the movie as “an all dog VHS remake of [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult classic] The Holy Mountain,” compiled from literally thousands of tapes. “It seems the dumber our ideas get, the harder they are to realize,” Nic Maier, a member of the group, explained to me in an e-mail.

On the other hand, the group was recently involved in a fracas with Michael Pearl, leader of the religious group No Greater Joy Ministries. Pearl lodged a copyright infringement complaint against EIT! when he learned they’d reedited an old video of his about disciplining children. In response to the complaint, YouTube terminated the group’s channels, which contained roughly 1,000 videos altogether and had received over seven million views (the Everything is Terrible! website is still running, however, and the group is working to move their archives to Vimeo).

The group has been hit with cease-and-desist demands before, though they’d resolved those situations by deleting a few offending clips. This recent episode differs in that YouTube shut down all the content on EIT!’s channels before the group had time to argue its case. In that same e-mail mentioned above, Maier wrote that “some videos may have been lost forever. And sadder, of course... are the implications all this has. It is clear that YouTube/Google has [sic] little interest in fighting for artists and others who are legally protected under fair use to make video collages and other work. It is terrifying and depressing for us to watch as ownership and power on the internet becomes more consolidated.”

In typical Terrible fashion, the group took what others find ugly as a source of inspiration, producing a clip in which a puppet explains the rights of fair use as defined by the US Congress (imagine Damon Packard directing a Sesame Street segment). In another positive turn, numerous sympathizers showed their support for the group by reposting the video that so offended Michael Pearl. The three-minute clip, taken from a video titled “A Seminar on Child Training,” opens with Pearl’s wife insisting that a father be “the authority” in the home, then shows Pearl encouraging congregants to discipline their children with extreme corporal punishment. The sound bites find Pearl speaking in colloquialisms (“If ya have fun, it’ll be a lot easier training ‘em”; “feel like a winner!”) that make his tips on discipline sound particularly unenlightened.

As the puppet in that recent clip reminds us, “critique” and “satire” are protected under current standards of fair use, and the “Seminar on Child Training” remix certainly qualifies as both. Yet by the end the clip doesn’t feel like either, rather something more slippery and surreal. Shots of Pearl whacking a doll with a plastic rod are reedited in EIT!’s arrhythmic style; divorced from context, they take on a weird integrity, like Andy Warhol’s screen print portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald.

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