On Video: the birth of happy talk | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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On Video: the birth of happy talk


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Like a media archaeologist, Canadian artist Stand Douglas came to Chicago to excavate and re-create a key moment in TV history--the birth of "happy talk" news. Media consultant Frank Magid prescribed the format for ratings-hungry station owners in the late 60s and early 70s. Douglas hunted for old footage at the Chicago Historical Society and interviewed local witnesses in the news business. He says he thought the interviews would reveal the changing motivations behind the scenes, but found these insiders entertained simplistic theories about their craft, revealing "a very transparent relationship with their audience."

Douglas's Evening is a three-screen video installation simulating evening newscasts on January 1, 1969 and '70, on three fictional Chicago stations--WAMQ, WBMB, and WCSL. Douglas used actors to read scripts based on actual newscasts, including light banter with news of the day. "It sure feels good to be out of the 60s," chirps the anchor on "your good news station" in his 1970 New Year's Day show. "The only good thing that happened last year was the moon landing."

In another video installation, Hors-Champs, Douglas examines mainstream packaging of minority politics. Projected on back-to-back screens, a simulation of a French TV show presents African-American expatriates playing free jazz in Paris. In the late 60s and early 70s, these liberationist licks, with Chicago ties to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, appealed to the beret and barricade crowd.

Evening is on view through Saturday, and Hors-Champs can be seen starting Sunday at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. It's on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall, 5811 S. Ellis; admission is free.

Jazz saxophonist Douglas Ewart, who appears in Hors-Champs, will play a solo concert in the gallery at 5 PM Sunday; admission is $5. Call 702-8670 for more.

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