Vol. 2, Issue #19 October 12th - October 25th, 2007

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Negativland: Our Favorite Things

“What do you know? See an ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A Repo Man spends his life getting into tense situations.” –Bob (Harry Dean Stanton,) Repo Man, 1984

The concept of culture jamming, rearranging media so that it makes a wry or opposing comment on itself, is just one aspect of a line that goes all the way back to the Surrealists and Dadaists in the early 20th century, and still pops up in things like Shepard Fairey’s “Obey (Andre The) Giant” spray painted icons and The Adbusters’ campaigns against the tobacco companies. There always seems to be some group of intellectuals who feel the need to take a beachhead on the sands of our mass consciousness. A concept like Andy Kaufman being beat up on Letterman’s show and not letting the audience in on whether it’s a joke or not was obviously a brilliant statement on how the masses cannot differentiate fiction from reality on the tube, yet at the same time there’s also a sadistic, annoyance level that comes with such acts. If history has taught us one thing, it’s that this Janus-faced duality of noble satire and sophomoric cruelty is forever entwined.

I first discovered Negativland on The Residents’ 1987 Ralph Records compilation “Potatoes,” which is a very important album that showed the direction industrial music could have taken, had The Residents’ “Mole Show” not thrown the group into financial chaos. The next thing I heard about Negativland were the law suits from sampling, and a lot of heat coming from U2’s camp. Their creative annoyances to the mainstream entertainment companies have made major statements on the media, yet at the same time they seem like a suicide runner taking an absurd lead off of second base, begging the pitcher to pick him off, or sue him at the very least. “Our Favorite Things” is a “greatest hits” of the group’s highly litigated video material.

The releasing company, Other Cinema, has made a name for itself as the label of culture jammers. Earlier releases have been the more danceable “video band” TV Sheriff & The Trailbuddies’ “Not 4 $ale,” the equally condemning stab against commercial propaganda, “Golden Digest.” by Animal Charm, and Craig Baldwin’s psychotic and apocalyptic mixture of news reel footage, religious films, and 50s sci-fi trailers “Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America.” But while Baldwin and Animal Charm utilize public domain material, and TV Sheriff seems to actually be sampling, Negativland blurs the line between sampling law and “The People vs. Larry Flint” decision, which gives us the freedom to use copyrighted material for satirical purposes. Their arena is the courtroom and their material is “borrowed.” That’s part of what makes me think of Negativland as being not just jammers, but inline with the Surrealists and Dadaists, who had ties to the political left; they have a love of anarchy with a goal for legal and political change. Yet they still seem to have a lot of fun annoying their prey.

One dark and notorious watermark in the band’s history came in 1988, when sixteen year old David Brom killed his parents and two siblings, apparently after an argument over his taste in music. Negativland canceled a tour around the same time, and issued a press release stating that they would be placed under house arrest if they performed their song “Christianity is Stupid,” from their “Escape From Noise” album, while the investigation was going on, implying that the song set off the murders. In fact Brom didn’t own any Negativland records and no one ever contacted the band, yet they were able to gain considerable media attention from journalists and editors who didn’t bother to check the facts. The song itself is heavily sampled from the Christian film “If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?” by the reverend Estus Pirkle, where the phrase “Christianity is stupid, Communism is good” is repeated over loud speakers in a totalitarian country. Negativland samples the phrase over and over. The song is included here as “The Mashin’ of The Christ (Christianity is Stupid,)” with video images proudly bootlegged from Biblical films rented from Netflix, followed by a local news story about Negativland’s Beatles/Manson like relationship with Brom.

Their 1991single, “U2,” had “U2” in large letters, with “Negativland” in a smaller font, on the front cover with a picture of the lockheedU2 spy plane. The song, “The Letter U and the numeral 2” is a mixture of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” played on kazoos with an infamous Casey Kasem “Top Forty” outtake where he cusses out his engineers for bringing him out of a happy song to do a dedication to a listener’s dead dog and he has trouble introducing a U2 song. While management for the group U2 sued, claiming Negativland was trying to cause consumer confusion (Duh!) and that the band never contacted them about using a U2 song, it brings into question as to who has the right to the name of an American plane from the 1950s? As Casey says of U2 in his outtakes “These guys are from England, who gives a shit?” A video to the song is included here.

“Our Favorite Things” features a whopping 175 minutes of Negativland audio interpreted by various experimental filmmakers, including “Favorite Things,” where the famous scene from “The Sound of Music” is reedited so that Julie Andrews has all sorts of things coming out of her mouth.

The DVD also comes with a 50 minute bonus CD, “180 D’Gs To The Future” featuring a capella versions of Negativland “hits” as reinterpreted and performed by the Detroit doo-wop, gospel, R&B group The 180 Gs, which is strangely entertaining. It deserves to go on the shelf next to “The Persuasions Sing Zappa.”

Of course this version of reality I’ve just written about is open to debate - with Negativland the whole point is to question all you see. For more information visit Facets.org.

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