Stand-up Theorist

Jim Pomeroy, stand-up theorist, 1945-1992.

The technological watershed of the 80s initiated the inexorable merging of media that served to commodify “information” and “knowledge” as visual. Representation, the representable, the symbolic, the imaginary, the real, and the true, became sites of contention during that decade. For the art world, the discourses of visuality became crucial to delegitimating the image as anything but ideologically situated. For the electronic industry, the opposite strategy was evolving; the image wasn’t discursive, it was unquestionable. Video games, computer graphics, digital photography, image enhancement altered the way images were experienced as well as how they were recorded, produced, and transmitted. Fetishized technology has come to obscure the roots of the historical production of knowledge. The violence and shock of the political montage of the 1920s has been replaced by the aesthetieization of shock in the media of the 1980s. Novelty has dislodged substance.

Rooted in Heartfield’s disruptive montages, Höch’s (re)imag(in)ing of subjectivity, Brecht’s “refunctioning” of theatre, and provoked by Herbert Marcuse’s critique of technology, Marshall McLuhan’s quotidian glohal village, and Jean Baudrillard’s nihilistic euphoria, the work of “stand-up theorist” Jim Pomeroy emerges.

Pomeroy hacked away at the technocratic and militaristic master narrative of unquestioned “progress.” That trope has managed to insidiously infiltrate every crevice of culture and the body. Play (the “game” of war), communication (the desire to be “connected”), education (the learning of “necessary” skills), and research (the “mastery” of knowledge), were swept up in the mirage of progress. Pomeroy’s skepticism and activist resistance ruptured the illusions of this narrative.

Pomeroy was both a self-proclaimed “militant pessimist” and the ‘militant populist.’ He fused the theatre of montage with the “toys” of technology. His weapons were puns, irony, farce, countermastery and fun; his medium was a fusion of sound, performance, video, writing, and installation; his tools were the debris of culture-gasoline cans, plastic Godzillas, inflatable globes, Bunsen burners. monopoly tokens, stereoscopes, and Spuds McKensey. Circulating amidst this repertoire of parodic paraphernalia, the performing body of the jester inserted himself into techno-ohjectivity. As the ideology of technology attempts to erase
the last hints of subjectivity and agency, Pomeroy’s body, situated as the “male hysteric” was poised on the tightrope between immanent critique and political warfare. In this theatre of operations (a cross between Brecht and the Marx Brothers), the pun is disguised as humor, the scientist camouflaged by madness, fact unhinged by nonsense, mastery exposed as farce.

As the visual world is increasingly virtualized by the spin-off technologies of militarization and by the violence of entertainment, the significance of Pomeroy’s work increases. Undaunted by inaccessible state-of-the-art equipment, he made do situating creative criticism in the demystified objects of the kitchen, the garage, and the omnipresent Radio Shacks.

Timothy Druckrey and Nadine Lemmon, “Theater of Operations,” For a Burning World Is Come to Dance Inane: Essays by and About Jim PomeroyCritical Press, 1993.