S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 October 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A Fan's Footnotes

 

[sharks and killer whales?]

While pioneers of the

TV-for-people-who-are-sick-of-TV

genre like Mystery Science

Theater and Beavis and Butt-head

took a problematically honest

approach to the practice of

watching crap, VH-1's Pop-Up

Video skirts this flaw with a

simple act of graphic elision.

Instead of presenting mediocre

badinage through characters who

are at least as suspect as the

programming they deride, Pop-Up

delivers text-only commentary

via smart-looking help balloons

that appear on the corner of the

TV screen: The removal of

surrogate losers like Beavis and

Butt-head and MST3K's smarmy

robots means that the

banal-retentives who sit

transfixed by the show's steady

stream of snide trivia are no

longer faced with a constant

reminder of who the joke's

really on.

 

This seemingly obvious tweak has turned

Pop-Up Video into VH-1's

highest-rated daily show, which

of course is only a roundabout

way of saying it outperforms

well-guarded corporate secrets like CardioVideo and

Hollywood and Vinyl, but still ...

Pop-Up costs just US$30,000 per

episode to produce and regularly

earns a .5 Nielsen rating, a

return on investment which is

apparently so attractive that

the show's two creators, Tad Low

and Woody Thompson, have been

able to parlay it into no less

than four spin-offs for VH-1's

upcoming season. If that seems

like an overly optimistic medley

to milk from a one-note concept,

it's only the start. Other shows

like Sportscenter and The Tonight

Show have already appropriated

Pop-Up's annotative approach, as

has the increasingly fallow MTV.

And all this is happening before

anyone has begun to exploit the

technique for its true potential

- integrating commercials with

content.

 

[what iiiis this world coming to?]

So far, Low and Thompson have

been remarkably reticent in

regard to this obvious

application of their show; in

interviews, they prefer to talk

about how they're taking

"potshots at network culture"

and "popping the pretentiousness

of the celebrity myth." These,

of course, are assertions that

only the most docile or

indifferent entertainment

reporter would accept; the

notion that Pop-Up Video is in

any way subversive dissolves the

moment one video ends, another

starts, and the viewer keeps

watching. Sure, the show may nip

from time to time while it

tucks, but, like any parasite,

its subversion is merely an

aggressive form of supplication

- if its host dies, it dies too.

And even as parasite, Pop-Up

Video isn't particularly

debilitating. In affirming the

show's rebellious nature,

reviewers invariably cite its

outing of Adam Duritz's fake

dreadlocks - but that subverts

what exactly? Did anyone not

suspect that squat, mannered

tunesmiths resort to distracting

gimmicks to disguise their

frumpiness in these days of

mandatory telegenics? And

besides, Duritz already

admitted it all in Rolling Stone

in 1994.

 

The real measure of Pop-Up's

soft touch can be determined by

how many artists have truly

protested its attention so far:

Prickly bimbo progeny Jakob

Dylan, ever-fearful of any

filial slight, is the only one

in over a year of popping.

Despite claims of "ruining

[artists'] infomercials," the

Pop-Up duo, whose work on a

variety of jump-cut TV shows has

apparently left them with only a

vestigial sense of continuity,

also brag that artists are

already hoping to be popped,

because the exposure the show

provides - it airs four times

each weekday - can help

resuscitate flagging record

sales.

 

[real life Godzilla movie]

With a few minor adjustments,

the show could do even more than

that. An 800 number appended to

the pop-up about Duritz, for

example, could instantly turn an

innocuous dreadlocks dig into an

irresistible sales pitch: For

only $29.95, you too can achieve

the hammy angst of an authentic

singerman street poet. Hit

songs, with all the personal

associations they conjure, have

already revealed their

persuasive power in car and shoe

commercials; popped videos, in

which the artists were primary

and the products incidental,

would make the sales pitches

even more convincing. And in a

world where attention no longer

spans, Pop-Up Video offers the

only click-proof blend of

content and commerce: With pops

happening every ten seconds,

even the most jumpy

channel-surfer would catch a few

ads for rockstar convertibles

and Wu Tang sweatsuits.

 

Ideally, registered users

watching interactive TVs would

click on a pop-up to initiate a

transaction immediately. In the

meantime, an 800 number would

work just fine. Royalty schemes

for the artists whose videos are

popped would also have to be

developed, but that shouldn't be

too hard to accomplish. Current

sponsorships and commercials

from Sprint and The Gap and

Revlon suggest that there's no

shortage of grizzled

tambourine-shakers and

materialistic divas willing to

turn their hit singles into

jingles; in the not-so-distant

database future, one imagines

artists may no longer even

charge for their work at all.

Instead, every album, in

popped-video format, will reside

in a free public-access jukebox

on the Net; the Rolling Stones

and Aerosmith and Salt-N-Pepa

and everyone else will make

their money based on how many

transactions they help generate.

 

[free Willy huh?]

So why are Low and Thompson, a

pair of neo-Diller

dollar-chasers with a seemingly

sincere case of mogulomania, not

busy capitalizing on this aspect

of their show? Could it possibly

be that some inner,

unarticulated resistance is

blinding them to the opportunity

staring them in the face? Are

they hoping, however

subconsciously, that their show

offers something more than the

constrained irony of annotation,

that given enough time, their

pops might coalesce into

something with true explosive

power? Something that, if unable

to actually subvert celebrity

imperialism, might at least

effect their own personal escape

from it? Um, probably not -

commerce will no doubt come to

the show eventually. Because the

revolution already happened, the

revolution was televised, and

eventually, the revolution will

be rerun and it will be popped.




courtesy of St. Huck
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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