Public Access Betrayed! The Museum of the Moving Image Does Robin Byrd

The video makes use of Mr. Baldessari’s idea of intentional heavy-handedness, but also recalls the twisted humor of Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture piece, in which five simultaneous screens display a man dressed as a clown writhing on the ground, screaming “no,” attempting (and failing) to balance goldfish bowls on top of broom sticks and other acts of self-flagellation. There is at once a sense that Mr. McMahon is being genuine–that the viewer has stumbled into the worst bar in the world to watch the most depressing singer alive–but also that his sincerity is calculated. He informs the public-access audience that they can buy his record at the galleries that highlighted the Pictures Generation during the late ’70s and ’80s: Mary Boone, Metro Pictures and Leo Castelli, the gallery that represented Mr. Nauman.

On the night of the opening, there wasn’t a chance for such historicism. The rest of the discussion saw the bizarre characters of early cable defending their work to the decrepit and cranky Mr. Stoney.

“I just want to say that a lot of hard work goes into doing a show,” said Mr. Lewis of The Scott and Gary Show in a thick New York drawl. Among the more famous performers on the show were the Beastie Boys, who appeared in 1984, entirely out of tune, still in high school and playing in a knockoff Joy Division-style punk band.

“I thought I should have my own TV show,” Mr. Lewis continued. “Why not? It’s out there. You just need a camera. If you want to do something, do it. Just don’t criticize someone else for doing it.”

No one dared to look Mr. Stoney directly in the eyes. Only Rapid T. Rabbit was unafraid to stand up to the father of public access, perhaps because he was shielded behind a bunny mask.

“Even though public access is not corporate, the rules have gotten more corporate,” said the man in the bunny suit, who had remained quiet for much of the night. “It’s harder to get onto public access. You have more paperwork, more hoops to jump through. The world’s gotten so much more corporate these days.”

Mr. Stoney’s face turned to fire.

“Is anybody here representing Manhattan Neighborhood Network who could respond to your accusations that it’s getting harder to get on shows?” Mr. Stoney barked, presumably aiming his anger at the man behind the bunny suit and not the furry bunny itself. “Anybody here who can speak to that?”

The panel’s moderator tried to cut in with a “Well, uh–”

“Dan Coughlin?” Mr. Stoney shouted into the audience. “Is he here?”

“Uh, we have to wrap up,” the moderator said. Mr. Stoney leaned back in his chair, his face now cold and anguished, looking like some forgotten television personality on late-night cable, cut off mid-rant by his show’s theme music, lamenting the 30-minute time limit.

mmiller@observer.com

 

Public Access Betrayed! The Museum of the Moving Image Does Robin Byrd