Anarchy TV (1998)

“I’m sick of paying taxes so you can sit around and play counterculture.”

The comedy film Anarchy TV directed by Jonathan Blank pits five anarchists and a prostitute against a religious wanker in a struggle for Public Access TV.

When the film begins a group of five anarchists manage their own Public Access channel called Anarchy TV, lampooning religion and government with a series of parody advertisements and programmes. For example, the programming includes a parody version of Jeopardy. One of the questions to pick from is “Conspiracy Theories” and the game show prize is to collect as many Prozac pills as possible.

The five anarchists are:
Natalie (Jessica Hecht), the daughter of a hypocritical and sinister TV evangelist
Jerry (Jonathan Penner), Natalie’s lover
Frank (Matt Winston) techno-phile and conspiracy theorist
Katie (Moon Unit Zappa), the most serious of the bunch
Sid (Dweezil Zappa)

Outraged by the content of Anarchy TV and to ‘protect’ public morals, Natalie’s father, the corrupt Reverend Wright (Alan Thicke), buys the station, disowns Natalie and turfs the anarchists out of the building. The anarchist group attempts traditional, legal methods of protest and end up in jail for their efforts. In jail they meet bubbly prostitute Tiffany (Tamayo Otsuki). Entranced with the anarchist message, she joins the group.

 
After the failure of legal protest, the group decides to move to Direct Action. Storming the station, they take a newscaster hostage and begin broadcasting their message on “God’s Station” on the “Christian Unity Network.” Mink Stole appears in a small role as Stephanie’s employer: (“schoolteachers can’t appear in a nudie carnival.”)

The anarchists look like a bunch of yuppies for the most part. Tiffany ends up being the most radical of the group in many ways, but that’s mainly because she’s a strong character and not afraid to take her clothes off: “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m here with the cast of Anarchy TV. We all met in jail. It was my 8th bust for solicitation. Prostitution is illegal. I thought this was a capitalist country. If some horny bastard wants to pay me 100 bucks to jack off all over my face who the hell is the government to interfere in my business.”

Tiffany’s actions on Anarchy TV put her into direct conflict with Katie, but her tactics also gain an interested audience. It’s a sad yet bitterly funny comment on society that nudity is one of the few things that can wake people from their stupor.

Since this is a comedy, there isn’t too much serious here, but the film illustrates the powerful and toxic power relationships between established institutions. Anarchy TV’s broadcasted parodies manage to be accurate and bitingly funny at the same time. One of Reverend Wright’s religious programmes is “Countdown to Armageddon” with the “top 7 deadly signs that the world is coming to an end.” One of those 7 signs is that “sodomites are given equal rights as citizens.” When Anarchy TV takes over and starts broadcasting parody programming, some of the audience can’t even tell the difference. Plus the film also shows Anarchy TV’s audience reaction–and this ranges from sloth to outrage.

Most of the anarchists’ message unfortunately seems to congeal around the rhetoric of democracy and liberty–although one scene shows Katie smashing a vending machine and after gauging the disapproval of the group, she states “Property is Theft”–a phrase that seems to be thrown in for authenticity. Ultimately Anarchy TV  isn’t about anarchy at all; it’s more about the Bill of Rights and the erosion of the U.S. Constitution. The film’s subtext, however, is that our television sets transmit meaningless rubbish, conditioning us into herd behaviour, fear and complacency. And I can’t argue with that.

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Filed under Comedy, Political/social films

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