This year is the 25th anniversary of Paper Tiger Television (PTTV), an alternative media collective best known for its verbal deconstruction of mainstream media programs, products and practices and its aesthetic deconstruction of television. This long running public access cable program pioneered a punk, DIY look that included painted backdrops, handmade and handheld graphics, a mix of black & white and colored footage, rough edits, meandering camera work, informal hosts, and irreverent cutaways.
PTTV has diffused its theory of aesthetics over the years through the training and participation of hundreds of video makers (myself included) and the exhibition of its programs. This clip, taken from the retrospective program, "Paper Tiger Reads Paper Tiger Television" (2007), left me with same exuberant feeling I had the first time I saw a PTTV show. I thought then, “Wow, television doesn’t have to look like it does.” You are viewing this clip on the Internet, where it no longer deconstructs television from within that very form. Yet, I think the clip retains its power to prompt viewers toward a more critical stance on mainstream media aesthetics.
In his book, Radical Media, John Downing appeals to radical media makers to pay more attention to the aesthetic dimensions of their work, to draw on arts movements (Situationism, German Expressionism, Surrealism, Dada) and art critics (Brecht, Benjamin) concerned with public communication, and to search for more innovative ways to engage people. Much alternative media is long on counter-information and short on aesthetic innovation. PTTV’s work asks us to think about how alternative media can expand its practices to convey aesthetic and intellectual impact, and how media educators might draw on alternative media to offer students both a critique of mainstream aesthetics and some tools for re-envisioning the look and substance of the media.