Automedia
STIM: Brian Springer:
"How did you get involved in the satellite scene?"

"In 1985 the networks had not scrambled their programing on satellite (HBO, CNN etc) so there was a large dish culture which published a number of magazines which is were I read about feeds. I went to a satellite dealer's store and tuned in a feed of a profoundly bored technician staring in space while seated in on the set of the ABC Evening News. Here was this program with a $200,000 an hour production value linked by a geo-stationary satellite running on about 5 watts of power (about the same as a car radio) located 23,000 miles above the equator, which need a large parabolic lens to amplify its signal and in the center of it was profound boredom. To me this was a metaphor of the spectacular emptiness of broadcast television."
"And how did that evolve into the Spin  project?" "In 1991, I read that George Bush had hired the former executive producer of ABC's Nightline to orchestrate his satellite TV reelection campaign. The idea was to turn the White House into a TV studio from which the President could do hundreds of Nightline type satellite TV interviews with local TV news anchors. This would bypass the national press, which sometimes knows the issues and asks informed questions by linking the president directly to the kinder, gentler, local TV new anchors. So I decided to do a project about the political uses of satellite television as seen through these satellite campaign feeds.
"During this time I met filmmaker Kevin Rafferty who was making a film with James Ridgeway on the 1992 election. I provided them with satellite feeds from their film (which ended up being titled Feed ) in order to support my own satellite project Spin.  Both projects use entirely different footage and have different focuses. Although about 1/3 of Feed  is made of satellite material which I provided, the rest of the piece is comprised of film which they shot during the 1992 New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Spin  is made completely from feeds and covers the entire election year and the televised events which framed it, LA riots, abortion clinic blockades, etc.
"In 1993 I sold my dishes to pay the post-production expenses for Spin.  So I've been off the dish since then, but I am retooling for a new project now."
"What is your setup?" "Technically my receiving set-up was two C-KU Band satellite systems, cable TV, and some cheap VHS VCRs. I was looking for any material which revealed the hidden televised infrastructure of the networks or campaigns such as the whispers of a spin doctor; a candidate's video news release; a news anchor's candid comments. Satellite feeds are the connective tissue which tie the country into one televised nation, so there is always feed activity from the national morning talk-shows to Nightline.  The general rule is to always tape because this really is live TV."
"In the beginning of Spin,  in your voiceover, you discuss how getting the dish seemed really empowering to you because it gave you access that you were not supposed to have. You had become privy to a series of images that you were not supposed to see. These images which enabled you to unpack and decode mass media events, like the Larry King Show.  Do you think the feeds are a tool of subversion?" "Subvert is a pretty strong word. I think feeds do alienate the viewer from TV which helps them evaluate TV better. Comparing the packaged and unpacked elements of a news event does help achieve a degree of media literacy, which is valable for reading news television.
"The bottom line is that this is still the network's camera. It's still necessary to get a advantage point which is outside the viewpoint of the network.
In Spin  the more subversive feed information comes when a media personalities mike is open and they think there conversation is private (for example where Larry King tells Bill Clinton that he should hire Ted Turner to work for his administration after the election). These very candid moments are rather rare. But such windows of access do exist, especially during an emergency or disaster. During the LA riots, feeds were about the only way I could hear what the protesters had to say."
"One of the eeriest things about Spin  is when we begin to see how the campaigns themselves are using satellite feeds to manipulate the media. You hear about the Clinton campaign moving signs out of the way at rallies, and complaining about shadows on Tipper Gore's face. The viewer begins to realize that even live television, which has traditionally had this aura of unmediated truth, is very much a construct. What do you think about this? Is there a pure news event, or is everything to some extent staged? How can consumers educate themselves to get information in this kind of media age?"

"In the section with Tipper it is revealed to her that the Clinton election team is watching her off-air. This spurs the technican to tell Tipper that during the election the Clinton campaign used satellite feeds to monitor the pubic for crowd control. This section also talks about how the Clinton White House uses the Department of Defense's satellite system to intercept satellite feeds (they say reason for using the D.O.D. is that they don't want a big ugly dish sticking out of the White House). I put this section at the end of the tape because I wanted to complicate the ending. I wanted people to question if these were really candid moments or just part another performative stage.
"In media I don't look for pure news, but I look for a number of different perspectives. There is this repetitive perspective which flows from the New York Times,  to CNN Headline News,  to the local paper, to the local TV news. Then there are alternative information sources outside of this flow. In order to be an informed consumer of news one needs to actively search out a variety of perspectives and forums for discussion. For me using the redefined boundaries of public and private created by new communication technology provides as opportunity for revealing different perspectives."
"How has the advent of the internet as a mass culture experience affected the way people perceive news?" "There is an aura of truthfulness which comes with the potential loss of authority or control during a live interaction. This is an aura which some feeds have and which the networks use in a symbolic way through the live shot. Surfing the net has this aura of being live or at least active. You don't know if you are going to wipe out or discover a new meaningful forum for dialogue and information. I'd pretty much throw purity and the truth out the window and look for discovering a multide of tainted truths. It's a sticky situation. "
"What is your current project?" "I've been talking to a number of fellow satellite surveyors on the net. I'd like to use these connections to create "The Center for Non-Televison" which would be an ephemeral archive of contemporary history as revealed through satellite TV feeds from the Reagan years through the Gulf War to the present."

Video clips copyright © Brian Springer
Illustration by Bart Nagel

Brian Springer can be reached at bspr@buffnet.net



LINKS:
"Robert Smathers Satellite WWW Page" On this page be sure to check out Gary Bourgois' files including his article "Being your OWN News Director with TVRO."
"Welcome to the Void" This is Harry Shearer's page which has audio clips from his feed collection.
The Satellite TV FAQ by Gary Bourgois
Illustration by Bart Nagel