Whipped Cream, Percentages & Pink Noise

Steve Reinke

Forget hysteria, now we have erotomania.
pink noise, YYZ gallery, April 24 — May 18, 1996

It’s been said that the mental illness of the 20th century (and it’s close enough to the end that I feel justified in repeating such prounouncements) is not schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder, but erotomania.

Erotomania, in the classic Freudian sense, was linked to the repression of homosexual urges. The erotomaniac, unable to say I love x but x doesn’t love me instead said x loves me and this attention is unwelcome. Of course it is physically helpful if x is a famous person — the delusion could continue with litlle chance of resolution. But now, in the last half of the 20th century, the repression need not be homosexual. Instead the erotomaniac represses the shameful fact that they are not fabulous enough to have their own TV show. So its more of a class thing than a sexual identity thing.

The waiting room in Loser Central is populated by a particular type of erotomaniac: the celebrity stalker. They mostly watch video tapes of their particular star and then write long letters demanding to know why the star has become obsessed with them. They eat a lot of jelly donuts and smell faintly of sweat, or urine.

Clearly we do not want to become celebrity stalkers, but the danger is always imminent. Every Thursday I watch Geraldo’s “Celebrity Week in Review.” (You may prefer the glibness of Entertainment Tonight but I appreciate the unbridled schadenfreude of Geraldo’s assembled panel of gossip columnists.) And every Thursday I wonder why I am so hungry to hear the latest rumour or innuendo about Michael Jackson, or Madonna or even David Caruso. (I don’t even know who David Caruso is, but I feel confident that it was a career-killing mistake for him to leave his tv show — whatever it was — and pursue film work.) I may be blathering now, but its to avoid pronouncing the awful truth: this behavior is on a continuum with erotomania and any day now (it need not be a Thursday) I will become a celebrity stalker. I can only assume you are in a similar position.

Laurel Woodcock’s pink noise consists of five small pink television sets symetrically arranged on a white mantel attached to the gallery wall. A spotlight defines a circle on the floor in front of the mantel which serves to situate the viewer. Each monitor plays a video loop, a slow-mo appropriation of Roseanne with her head thrown back in laughter.

These are taken from the opening credits of the first five years of the sitcom. While the opening sequence is updated every year, the basic concept remains the same (at least until the show’s final season, 1995—96): the camera makes a circualr pan around the Connor’s kitchen table as they share a meal, always stopping at Roseanne, who throws her head back in hysterical laughter.

Roseanne, the fictional character, is informed (I could almost say inhabited) by Roseanne, the more-or-less actual person, to such an extent that the figures tend to conflate. I would suggest that the point of absolute conflation occurs when Roseanne (not to mention Roseanne) laughs. The laughter, whether scripted or not, issues equally from both Roseanne’s.

Roseanne’s laughter both attracts and repels. It creates a zone where the doppleganger Rosanne’s collide, matter and anti-matter vibrating slightly out of phase. These dual Roseanne’s are monstrous. The stars of eponymous sitcoms often play off the tension between their characters and off-screen personae — with Roseanne things are different. The relationship is more complex, each Roseanne being simultaneously self-aware and out of control. This can only be disturbing to all of us budding erotomaniacs. Woodcock would have us stand in the spotlight and subject ourselves to the tortuously slowed down spectacle of the Roseanne’s laughter. We will be left not knowing who to love.