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.