Prurient Interest

Prurient Interest is one of self-proclaimed “first video disc jockey” Willie Boy Walker’s satirical video works of the 1970s that adopted the forms and genres of popular television as media and cultural critique. Deploying humor and parody, Walker crafted a distinctive fusion of comical sketches, narrative TV formats, and fictional characters, at once subverting and embracing television conventions. Produced at the Center for Contemporary Video Arts at the California College of Arts & Crafts in 1974, Prurient Interest is a low-tech, free-form narrative that poses a satirical view of censorship in the media entertainment industry, which was the subject of a heated cultural debate in the United States at the time. Several high-profile cases involving the censorship and banning of movies for violating local or state obscenity laws had exposed a cultural divide around definitions of pornography and sexual content in popular entertainment. Walker brings an absurdist yet pointed critique to this highly politicized argument, opening Prurient Interest with quotes from Chief Justice Warren Berger’s guidelines for determining obscenity. Unfolding with deadpan, improvisational humor, Prurient Interest follows members of a popcorn-and-pizza-eating local community standards board in New Jersey as they watch and discuss the merits and content of a film titled “Eat Me in St. Louis”—a pun on the classic Hollywood musical “Meet Me in St. Louis”—which is never seen; Walker reveals the movie only through its exaggeratedly “sexy” and overwrought soundtrack. Although the censors react with obvious titillation to repeated screenings of the “dirty movie,” they ultimately reject it as “unsuitable for viewing.” Fusing political and cultural critique with comedy, popular genre parodies, and quirky fictional characters, Walker’s rarely seen early works of the 1970s are prescient examples of video art’s interactive and often synergistic engagement with mass media entertainment.