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Tales from the Tiger's Den

DeeDee Halleck is a founding member of Paper Tiger Television and the Deep Dish Network. Paper Tiger is made up of over 100 producers, artists, activists, technicians, scholars and people-off-the-street who have made 300 (and counting) half-hour television shows investigating and critically analyzing corporate structures of the media and the information industry. PTTV programs are shown regularly on cable access channels all over the continent. Although she might disagree, I think DeeDee Halleck is one of the great mavens of alternative media, and she and I talked about Paper Tiger Television, the Deep Dish satellite network, oppositional and marginalized voices, "the code", bathing suits and technology, equitable access, capitalism, and passivity, among other things.

VE: Why donít you tell us a little bit about Paper Tiger and Deep Dish.

DH: Paper Tiger is a collective that was begun in 1981 as a weekly public access show to look at the media. Weíve made over 300 programs in the last 15 years, so we repeat a lot, but weíve been on every week since then! The idea of Paper Tiger was to find a kind of simple way of making a TV show that utilizes maximum content, usually working with somebody who was an expert on the subject whose voice wasnít being heard in the mainstream media. Also, to do some kind of graphics, an intervention into the whole seamless look of television. Very often youíd see the people with the cameras, hand-held graphics, weíd try in every show to let people view the process, which now has become a kind of popular thing, but then it was not quite so accepted.

VE: Thatís definitely important, I think, to debunk the projected reality, that concept that this is somehow just happening in space somewhere, so it must be true. That there arenít just people there, putting it together.

The Magic of Television DH: Magic. That technology is way beyond your meager talents. So one of the things that we did is put the budgets on the show so people could see that it doesnít have to cost thousands of dollars. Weíd put things like the subway fares to get there to make the show. It was also to promote public access, to try and encourage people, because public access is a resource that is under utilized. And the more it gets utilized, the stronger it gets. Even with all the new technologies and whatever, public access is a real interesting experiment in media democracy. Itís also an interesting experiment in taxing the corporations for the publicís benefit. Basically, thatís what it is: making the corporations who are making huge profits off these things pay for giving people the means to get involved.

VE: And Deep Dish?

DH: One of the things that happened with Paper Tiger was that all these people wanted to get copies of the programs, and wanted to run the series on their local public access. So we originally started doing research to see how much it would cost to lease a satellite because the mail was starting to get expensive.

Basically, it was about finding a cost-effective way of program distribution. We were surprised that it was so cheap. I think the first series we did, it was three or four hundred dollars an hour to lease a commercial satellite, and with one uplink, you could reach from middle Canada throughout northern Mexico. I think the right wing has utilized this technology brilliantly. And a lot of men. Like the Golf network or whatever. But you need to have progressive programs and womenís programs and you really need to look at issues around peace and justice et cetera.
I think the right wing has utilized satellite technology brilliantly. And a lot of men.
Originally, we were going to broadcast Paper Tiger shows but then we thought why should we privilege Paper Tiger, thereís all these other great shows. So what we did was we used independent producers from all around the country, public access producers and local talent from different places and did these compilation shows, magazine format, around particular issues: housing or women or labor issues.

What we didnít really anticipate is how many people would save their tapes and reuse them. In fact, I went to Tucson, Arizona last year, and at the public access station there, they said, "Do you want to see the Deep Dish closet?" They had an entire set of Deep Dish tapes, floor to ceiling. I think weíve done like 130 shows and they had every single tape. They said that every time they had a hole in their schedule, theyíd just pop in a Deep Dish tape because they like the programming and they feel that it boosts public access, supports the idea of free speech and the ideas that they, working at a public access stations are giving their lives to get across to people. You donít go to work at a public access station to become a yuppie. You work there because youíre dedicated and you really care about these kinds of things. We have a lot of allies in that field.

The spaces within the Internet and the WWW are also being manipulated to exclude marginalized voices.
VE: One of the things that Paper Tiger seems really concerned with, and Iím sure it reflects a concern of yours, is that the media is often manipulated to exclude oppositional and marginalized voices. Although people are often cynical about the media, this is not one of the things that comes to mind immediately for a lot of folks. And I think that process is being reflected on the World Wide Web and in other new technologies. The spaces that exists within that are also being manipulated to exclude marginalized voices. So, it would be interesting to know of any lessons that you have learned in doing this for fifteen years that could be useful to folks who are interested in the WWW and the internet and including these voices.
DH: Itís kind of like affirmative action. When you have two hundred years of slavery, itís really hard to change that, and itís certainly not by getting some kind of new tool that you change that. Itís a hard struggle. All these articles, about a year ago, about all the different mergers that were taking place and all the photographs, on the cover of Time or whatever, of Michael Eisner or whoever. Hands These guys! Which is really what they are. You didnít see any women in there being power players. If you look at the whole way that power is held in this society, you may have one woman on the board of the big telecommunications companies, but power is held pretty solidly in the hands of these white men.

I taught a class at UCSD, a huge class of 280 students, and they had a tradition of having computer accounts in the class, but what would happen is that because it was optional, only about 20 people would have computer accounts, and they would use the computers and would have a little club within the class. Well, I changed that when I started teaching the class, I said there would be no hard copy in the class, everything would have to be submitted via email. Which totally freaked out all these people, especially women in the class. But it was great because after two weeks, for sure they know how to do it, and they were fantastic. In fact, a few of my students went on to really major power roles in these alternative media organizations, one was head of EcoNet, and one was head of the Public Electronic Network that they have down in Santa Monica where they give computer access to everyone in the town. She said to me that she would have never gone into computers unless she was forced to do it. I think thatís happening now, that people feel like they have to be computer literate, and youíre starting to see women become more and more involved with technology. But then it makes you sick when you see a magazine such as Wired, which is such a boyís club.

VE: Thatís another thing I was talking about with the BLO, the concept of this kind of thing being so codified, and you feel like if you missed the first three issues of Wired, youíre never going to catch up. And thatís often cynically manipulated by people to make this not accessible to a lot of folks out there. Even when you talk about within the high-tech industries, womenís positions are often marginalized into "soft technology" jobs, but the code is written by, and held in the hands of, the white guys. Thatís something that really needs to be challenged in a serious way.

Something like 87% of the women employed at the conference were in bathing suits, standing next to the computers.
DH: Even like those damn conferences where they hire those girls to stand by the computers. I read recently a breakdown of the percentages at the Siggraph convention or something, and I donít know, something like 87% of the women who were employed at the conference were in bathing suits, standing next to these instruments.

Have you ever been to one of those "Virtual Worlds" places? They have one in San Diego, I took my class there. You get put in these boxes and you can drive your car, or fly your plane, or whatever. The whole place looks like Banana Republic, it has all these "explorer" tokens. They show you a movie before you go in, and thereís this woman whoís sort of like Wonder Robot Woman whoís going to take you on this trip. It was interesting to me that they used a woman as this virtual world person.

VE: One of the things I talk about in the editorial for this issue is that women are often seen as tools, so you get a lot of these metaphors going on, in the computer industry especially, about the computer being female, being a sexy woman, a lot of caressing of keyboards going on. Pretty much proves my point. This has been constructed as a place that just is not friendly to most women. Itís not the technology. Itís the space.

DH: The culture that surrounds it...

VE: Yeah. Even if youíre in a virtual space where a lot of the markers are supposed to be removed, markers like gender and age and race, people still carry all their baggage and I think you need to be really wary of that when youíre talking about this kind of stuff. Talking about this space, and Paper Tiger and Deep Dish, whose missions often are demystifying the process and showing people that you can make television a more democratic medium, how do you thing new technologies can be best demystified and opened to include marginalized voices?

Paper Tiger DH: Well, first of all, you have to make the technology available. Which is why the program in Santa Monica was such an interesting program. Itís called P.E.N. (Public Electronic Network). It was funded by the city, and they decided that their entire citizenry, not just the people who had P.C.s, should have access to the technology. The city funded putting up terminals in places like the daycare centers, the food co-ops, the homeless shelters. Itís really successful, they have about 7,000 logins a night. They hold different conferences, like a homelessness conference. For the first time, homeless people were able to communicate almost face to face with the more wealthy citizens of the town and interesting things developed. For example, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not having facilities for the homeless was encouraging them to move to Santa Monica, and then why is that problem? And one woman wrote in and said, "Well the problem is that theyíre always so dirty and smelly and I donít want them around my house." The homeless people wrote back and said, "The reason why weíre dirty is that we donít have anyplace to shower!" So then the whole discussion arose about well, maybe the city should provide showers. They ended up providing showers, and that was a direct result of that discussion and the fact that the homeless people were able to communicate their needs.

So it seems to me that it is possible to have these electronic devices distributed more equitably. Thereís a program called Playing to Win which has set up offices around in what are pretty poor neighborhoods, like Harlem. They provide P.C.s for people to come in and use. I think the lessons of public access in terms of video are being used by these organizations, because they find out that people do respect the equipment. You know, people think, "Oh, theyíre going to come in and break it, or steal it," or whatever. When actually, public access has proved that when people have equitable access to these cameras and microphones, they donít steal them. In fact, the more used they are, the less slippage and breakage you find. If people are respected, then theyíll respect the equipment in return. The Newark Public Library has also been very advanced in this regard, providing access for folks. Thereís no inherent problem in having more equitable access. The problem is, at this point, that our society is becoming more and more unjust and thereís greater disparities. Executive salaries are going up and the workerís salaries are going down. The gap is quite large, and Iím not sure that technology is going to bridge that gap.

One of the really interesting things is that people do want to interact with and be really active in all of this electronic technology.
It's interesting, though, like we were taking about Wired being such an exclusive little club and all that, but on the other hand, they desperately want to sell more issues of their magazine. Thatís one reason that user-friendly software has been the way to greater profits. Thatís because if they donít make it universally available, itís not going to be profitable. The same thing happened with video cameras. The more facile it is, the more people will buy it, and thatís certainly true of computers. One of the really interesting things is that people do want to interact with and be really active in all of this electronic technology. One of the biggest failures was, at one point, Sony was going to manufacture play-only VCRs, and it totally bombed. No one wanted a play-only VCR. Itís the same thing for these modems that you can put on your TV set, but the actual interface with those is very limited. Mostly like a radio or a cable switcher box to tune into Web sites. You canít really...
VE:...interact with it at all.

DH: Or the interaction is very limited.

VE: One of the big pushes right now by a number of companies is creating very, very inexpensive computers, four or five hundred dollars, but they donít have the kind of facilities to really collect information or to really communicate with other people. Itís more of a TV kind of thing...

DH: Passive kind of thing.

VE: Ooops, you see, Iím a victim of it, too. Thatís one of the myths that Paper Tiger is trying to debunk, that TV is necessarily passive.

DH: Right. I think, actually, just in terms of consumer popularity, that they will find that people donít want to be less involved, that people donít want to use the technology in less than effective ways. Although Walkmans are so popular, that didnít stop the sale of tape recorders, and it was just at the point that they began having Walkmans that Hip Hop and D.J.s and the kind of music, where people were taking and recombining this music and making it their own, became popular. So I have kind of abiding faith in the originality potential in the human spirit. Itís pretty amazing.

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Last Modified: June 1, 2001

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