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November 1, 2005

More Than Meets the Eye?

The commercial breaks during last night's Colbert Report saw a couple somewhat peculiar ads, both bearing the mark of "Optimus" (which I'm thinking might just be these folks, though I certainly wouldn't swear by it).

The first was an animated agitprop number featuring sullen, wind-up business drones going about their morning commute, ending with the motto: "Beware the trappings of leisure."

The second, a tad less strident, offered nothing but a lone banjo player picking on an urban rooftop.

Both had the feel of either short-form art (if only by virtue of having little immediately discernible raison d'être from a strict marketing perspective) or MTV-style branding exercises.

Perhaps these are just the mysterious first shots in some sort of slow-reveal, buzz-marketing campaign but, whatever their agenda, they did get me thinking about the potential of media art and television as a public space—particularly in terms of the pay-to-play 30-second world of television advertising.

So, a question... I'm aware that a slew of artists have tackled the very public medium of the billboard (both with licit support and without). And I know that our good buddy Chris Burden logged some NYC broadcast airtime of his own back in 1976, on his own buck. But, is anyone aware of any public art groups that have done serious TV ad buys for art's sake?

I mean, it's one hell of a public forum, and one that's ripe for exploration/exploitation (though no doubt soon to be on the wane)... if someone's got the bankroll to foot the bill.

Update 11/2, 3:15 pm: A "hi" and a "howdy" to the horde over at Optimus... I see you (seeing me).

"More Than Meets the Eye?"
Posted by Dan at 11:57 AM


Richard Serra's "Television Delivers People" was shown in 1973 on a Chicago TV station under an "anti-advertisement provision" that gave ads and anti-ads equal time. I can't find the actual name of such a provision, but it doesn't seem like such a thing exists any longer.

Posted by: Jason on November 1, 2005 at 03:39 PM

Yeah, I can't imagine a statute like that could have possibly survived intact into the third millennium. Indeed, if it was still alive in '87, I'm sure it would have gone out with equal time and the Fairness Doctrine.

Today, something as flatly oppositional as a reprise of Serra's approach would certainly be welcome, but it would probably never find air, even given cash up front.

Kalle Lasn, of Adbusters:

I've spent dozens of hours arguing with network executives about why they're censoring us. Here's what some of them have replied in their own defense:
"There's no law that says we have to air anything—we'll decide what we want to air or not," said ABC New York station manager Art Moore.
"We don't want to take any advertising that's inimical to our legitimate business interests," said NBC Network commercial clearance manager Richard Gitter.
"This commercial (Buy Nothing Day)... is in opposition to the current economic policy in the United States," said CBS Network's Robert L. Lowary.
"We don't sell airtime for issue ads because that would allow the people with the financial resources to control public policy," said CBS Boston public affairs manager Donald Lowery.

(The United Church of Christ learned this lesson in fairness the hard way, themselves, fairly recently.)

Indeed, it might very well be a case of having to sell a network on the Redemptive Virtues of Art (and the virtue that would silently accrue to them for airing it), so it might be necessary to follow a more politically innocuous route.

This is why I'm interested in considering it more in terms of traditional public art (and the necessary compromises thereof), even if it's in a mostly for-profit context.

For what it's worth, even such a thing could be somewhat "oppositional" in it's very independence, offering 60 seconds in which we're not being sold a thing (even obliquely). A model or a breath of fresh air and aesthetic caprice that, to a certain extent, contrasts against the expected conventions. (Need I bust out the Adorno?)

Posted by: Dan on November 1, 2005 at 07:51 PM

Referenced in this post:

Amazon: Billboard: Art on the Road—Laura Steward Heon, Peggy Diggs, Lisa Dorin
Billboard Liberation Front
Creative Time
Guerrilla Girls
Iconoduel: This and That—An Institutional Burden
Media Art Net: Overview of Media Art: MassMedia—Page 25
Media Literacy Clearinghouse: 2005-2006 Prime Time TV Season 30 Sec Ad Rates
Them.ca: BCBF
Wikipedia: Digital video recorder
Wikipedia: Jeff Koons
Wikipedia: Video on demand