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Summary:

The Mena Show is a period piece, set in 1994, starring 30-year-old Six Apart co-founder/president Mena Trott as the 17-year-old version of herself. It’s “what my vlog would have looked like if I had the web tools available now … in 1994,” Trott says via the […]

The Mena Show is a period piece, set in 1994, starring 30-year-old Six Apart co-founder/president Mena Trott as the 17-year-old version of herself. It’s “what my vlog would have looked like if I had the web tools available now … in 1994,” Trott says via the clip’s YouTube description, but technically, there’s little evidence that it was made and distributed via modern technology. There’s a knowingness with which Trott address the camera that seems a bit too assured and normalized for the era, but other than that, The Mena Show could be plausibly played off as an actual antique, a 14-year-old VHS tape updated to YouTube on a lark.

In segments stitched together with title cards accurately recalling the stop-start MTV aesthetic of the time, a beret-clad Mena addresses the camera with a series of complaints and celebrations. She’s mainly concerned with credibility –– she calls out a friend for being a Rocky Horror Picture Show poseur, she complains about jocks dancing to Green Day even though they haven’t “earned” it. This (mostly imagined) fight for street cred was the fundamental culture war of the mid-90s, and the war was mostly fought by Doc Marten-wearing teens and 20-somethings wandering suburban and college-town streets. Mena’s earnest obsession with the stratified authenticity of cool is pitch-perfect.

Still, if I think about it too hard, the verisimilitude of The Mena Show falls apart. In 1994, I discovered the Internet, at the age of 14, and began using it to shape and broadcast my identity. Instead of blogs, I communicated with strangers through message boards and listservs. For about six months, I had a photocopied zine, which I sold for a dollar a copy by advertising on the Weezer message boards on AOL. The idea of communicating with other people by talking into a video camera would have been completely foreign to me, and I don’t think I would have known how to do it; I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it with the easy confidence on display in The Mena Show, as if the camera was a portal to a loosely-defined audience of friends and friendly strangers. This is how we talk into cameras now, with the gaze of YouTube on our minds.

Trott positions The Mena Show as an application of today’s technology to yesterday’s cultural discourse, but that seems slightly off. The Mena Show doesn’t play as though Mena circa 1994 somehow got her hands on the gadgets available to Mena circa 2008. It plays as though Mena circa 2008 is casting a post-YouTube style of address on the concerns of Mena circa 1994. On those terms, it works.

  1. “This is how we talk into cameras now, with the gaze of YouTube on our minds.”

    Not sure that’s necessarily true. Home video cameras were popular since the 1980s so it’s not inconceivable that by the mid 90s kids would acquire a comfort level with filming themselves on video to the point that it could substitute for a diary (much in the way this video clip fashions itself). David Friedman’s stark video confessions in CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS date back to the mid 80s – granted he was a young adult at the time, but it’s not hard to see a kid doing what he does.

    Having said that, I agree that the video, at least in its making, is informed by the spectre of YouTube – like the creator is reimagining what her teen life would be like if such an apparatus was available to her at the time…

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  2. “informed by the spectre of YouTube”

    isn’t that the point? She’s making the video as if youtube existsed in 1994. It’s allowed to be youtube informed because she’s positing “what if youtube existed in 1994″

    I feel like that point is more obvious if you read her post and not just the youtube description: http://www.dollarshort.org/ds/2008/04/wasted-on-the-young.html

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  3. “This is how we talk into cameras now, with the gaze of YouTube on our minds.”

    Not really. I moved into my first Manhattan apartment in 1994, and I spent more hours than I’d care to recall watching shows that looked and felt exactly like this on Time Warner Cable’s FOUR public access channels.

    (There is a fifth, “leased-time access” channel that showed porn clips and ads for phone sex services, and is best know as home to the Robyn Byrd show.)

    All of it was shot on home equipment, and edited linearly and cheaply via coupled VHS decks (or maybe 3/4″ video decks).

    One of the more notable (though by no means best) shows was SQUiRT TV, whose host went on to a brief career at MTV. The show included occasional celeb interviews, but was mostly Jake and his friends in his bedroom. The opening of this clip on YouTube gives a little of the flavor:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=vGg5oAf3WbM

    The more introspective and/or ranting moments of SQUiRT and similar shows played exactly like the Karina clip.

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