The Oral Thing


2001, 00:08:00, PAL, color, sound, M001 09

While during the early phase of German video art, television was primarily subjected to an ideological critique as “state television,” Melhus—as a member of the first generation in Europe to experience private television—analyzes in his video works the commercialization of television and its impact on the relationship between the medium and its spectators. Based on the assumption that a virtual media reality is increasingly penetrating or replacing our lifeworld, Melhus refers in his works to various TV figures and television formats, revealing by way of exaggeration how they are calculated to achieved an emotional impact. In The Oral Thing, Melhus refers to the primitive and repetitive nature of certain television programs. In a surrealistic-seeming scene, he parodies the (typically American) phenomenon of the TV evangelist, but also the constant advertising and the talk show. All the dialogs come from the US daytime talk show Maury Povich, just as Melhus borrows the behavior of the grotesque figures, the staging of audience reactions, and the dramatic form of the jingle from talk show practice. In this “episode,” in which the delicate subject of incest is to confessed within socially desolate surroundings, Melhus takes on the role of the talkmaster, playing the part like a televangelist, also embodying the child-like talk show guests and the uniform audience: in so doing, he confronts us with the ambiguity of gender roles and the almost obscene brutality of television normality. Bjørn Melhus’ video works examine in an ironic way the content and form of trash and mass culture, but also the stagings of news, which in approaches from the standpoint of ideological critique. By taking on various roles and characters from television shows, children’s films, and the world of toys from the 1980s, he refers not just to the exchangeability of clichéd television identities, but also to the “I am many ” of the virtual age.