It's about puppets against imperialism. It's about interviewing a business-suited statue on national energy policy. It's also about sporting underwear in public, skipping rope on the Carnegie Mellon campus until the cops come, and running for president while wearing a rubber boot on your head and brandishing a 4-foot-long toothbrush.
Imp Activism is the brainchild of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, a Pittsburgh-based artist who thinks that fun can be political and that political activism should be funnier. When he travels, he seeks like-minded souls making politically conscious videos with a sense of humor, collects their work, adds some of his own and edits it all into two-hour packages.
Tent will screen selections from the first five Imp Activism collections at the next Film Kitchen. The June 11 screening, part of the multimedia event Flux No. 12, also includes Window Shopping, a short video by Lucas McNelly.
A veteran activist who also has hundreds of experimental films and videos to his credit, Tent acknowledges that his fellow consciousness-raisers can be overly serious; protesting "mass murder, the rape of the environment, and corporate greed" will do that to you. But "[i]t's a good idea for activists not to be too self-righteous, because then they become tiresome proselytizers, just like fundamentalists," Tent says. "More positive things are accomplished by having a sense of humor sometimes than by being more serious."
On June 11, Imp Activism excerpts will include "Little Brother Gets Busted," by the Institute for Applied Autonomy, a collective that combines perfectly serious content with a bitingly funny approach. The video is a primer on police drug searches, the prison industry and prison labor -- done in the style of a classroom filmstrip and starring the titular cute little robot and a supporting cast of plastic toys.
Also screening: "Be Positive," a short puppet show; an installment of the locally made TV-news parody "Ski Mask News"; and "Civil Liberties @ CMU (excerpt)," in which a young man learns you can't skip rope for long in front of the university's defense-contract-fed Software Engineering Institute. There's also Tent's "We Are All UNEQUAL Under the LAW, and That Is Its Purpose," an acidic critique of an old Jackie Chan thriller in which a rich crooked businessman gets away with his crimes and is applauded for it. "I'm really disappointed in Jackie Chan for having the message be so stupid," says Tent.
Meanwhile, you might have to work harder to find anything serious in the adventures of Vermin Supreme, here sampled in "Paid Political Announcement." The Massachusetts-based activist and perennial presidential candidate wears a galosh for a derby, campaigns for mandatory tooth-brushing, and makes promises such as "I plan to make crime against the law."
It's a hoot to watch bearded, barrel-chested Vermin confront candidates including Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Dole. But Tent observes that Vermin's surface absurdity actually comments slyly on political doublespeak, like the way "tough on crime" politicians simply lengthen prison sentences rather than attempt actual reform of a broken justice system.
How unserious can activism get? Another Imp Activism title, "Undie-Pendance Day," finds Pittsburgh activists frolicking in their undergarments among summer crowds at Point State Park: freeing asses, freeing minds.
"Humor begets humor. Violence begets violence," says Tent. "I'm putting my vote in for tricksterism."