Sheila Cameron on Media Television

In all but one of the TV shows that have featured or included a segment on the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP), the show's producer was an "invisible" presence: he or she did not appear in the segment, and so remained faceless, even after the credits rolled. (The exception is CNN, whose coverage of the SCP was more about "reporter" Jeanne Moos's dubious sense of humor than it was about the SCP.) But in the installment of Media Television that aired on the Canadian Broadcast Company's City TV on 23 September 2000, the show's producer -- one Sheila Cameron (remember that name) -- was a very visible presence. Jeanne Moos without the putative sense of humor, Sheila Cameron appears on camera to introduce her own segment on the SCP; she also appears in the segment as an interviewer. (In the SCP's experience, it is more common, more "professional," for the interviewer to be standing off-camera and asking questions that are edited out of the final version, so that all the viewer hears is the interviewee's answers.) In all of the shots in which she appears, Sheila Cameron sports a large video camera on one shoulder. (And so the text on the Media TV Web site that says "Videographer Sheila Cameron adds her lens [hic] to the mix while talking to the protesters cum street theater types behind the SCP" is literally true!) After a while, one begins to get distracted by that camera, which one sees far more often than one sees through. If it isn't being used to tape the action (a performance or an interview), then what is that camera being used for? Is it a prop? a fashion accessory?

Unfortunately for the SCP, Sheila Cameron isn't very good at telling a story. Though she had plenty of material with which to work, she was unable to fashion it into a coherent narrative. Lacking context and continuity, the "finished" edit has a slap-dash quality to it. Both footage included in and footage left out of the show aired by N3TV -- which is the "sister-show" of Media Television -- are spliced in. (Some of this twice-used footage is so jumpy it can bearly be watched.) Without any explanation, shots from a webcam are mixed in with shots taken off of video monitors, despite the fact that the SCP has gone to substantial lengths to distinguish between these two types of surveillance systems: webcams are part of open-circuit television systems, and surveillance cameras are part of closed-circuit systems. (This difference was among the main points of the webcam performance that Sheila Cameron taped.).

(In a stunning echo of her inability to provide an adequate context for the SCP and its performances, Sheila Cameron didn't send the group a videotape containing the entire show that was broadcast on 23 September 2000. The show's opening sequence makes clear that the segment on the SCP is followed by segments on an advertizing agency (?!), a group that unironically gives awards to its favorite billboards on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, and the IPIX camera company. (What is the SCP doing among these people, none of whom are protesting against a damn thing?) But the tape sent to the SCP only contains the segment on the SCP, nothing more. In the past -- say, in its review of the way The Living Edge covered the SCP -- the group has found comparisons with the other, non-SCP segments in the show to be very helpful when it comes to evaluating the way the group was presented. And so, whether she meant to do so or not, Sheila Cameron's edited copy of her show deprived the SCP of the opportunity to use such comparisons in this very evaluation.)

Fortunately for all concerned, Sheila Cameron had interesting material with which to work, at least where the SCP was concerned. And so she managed to "add a dash" and slap together a pretty good four-and-a-half-minute-long piece on the group. We see the SCP in Times Square: Bill performs in front of a camera (the viewer is never told it's a webcam) and Miranda, Susan and Lisa talk to the passers-by and hand out copies of a map that indicates the locations of all the cameras in the area. We see the group in the 14th Street and Seventh Avenue subway station (no explanation as to to why): Bill and Lisa perform in front of a surveillance camera in a hallway, while Miranda and Susan talk to people and hand out flyers. In one memorable shot, the camera -- Sheila's? her assistant's? who cares! -- pans from Miranda to one of the TV monitors. On it, the viewer can plainly see Bill holding up the boards for Headline News. In a memorable sequence, Bill explains the motivations behind some of the newer images contained in Headline News.

By far the most significant sequences in the segment are those that feature SCPer Susan. Though she's a co-founder of the group and has played a role in nearly all of the group's performances, Susan has all-too-infrequently appeared on TV as one of the SCP's spokespersons. Though she'd only appeared on camera once before, she looked and sounded good as she handed out maps and spoke to Sheila Cameron about the importance of civil liberties and standing up to protect them.

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