Hollywood Childhood around 1990
Scott Ferguson

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Artist Statement

To the child it is self-evident that what delights him in his favorite village is found only there, there alone and nowhere else. He is mistaken; but his mistake creates the model of experience … that will end up as the concept of the thing itself, not as a poor projection from things.      —T. W. Adorno

Hollywood Childhood around 1990 is a video essay about growing up in Hollywood. But it is also a pop auto-portrait, a distress signal from the recent past, and a foreboding communal lullaby. The piece takes its inspiration and title from Walter Benjamin, whose essay “Berlin Childhood around 1900” uncovered renegade rhythms and filiations in the crevices of the turn-of-the-century German bourgeoisie. Similarly, Hollywood Childhood rouses historical deposits from my own upbringing as a professional screen actor in Los Angeles to unearth ulterior impulses at the century’s neoliberal end.

The video repurposes forgotten sounds and images from an idiosyncratic personal archive of photos, video clips, and industry documents. But in so doing, it forgoes the reflective narrator that would anchor this archive in tales of rise and fall, or in a subject to be envied or pitied. Instead, tired plots yield to enigmatic montage sequences and the self becomes a fraught social matrix. Refracted through five loosely structured chapters (“origins,” “seductions,” “forces,” “exchanges,” and “returns”), the I emerges through headshots, jingles, and payment schedules, as much as through tender mes and yous voiced by mom and dad.

Hollywood Childhood plays at the limits of the era’s vision of White middle-class youth by evoking, and invoking, the scrambled television porn that precipitated a cryptic sexual awakening for a generation of clandestine viewers. Initially an effect of censorship, this porn’s anamorphic distortions become means for re-envisioning 1990s media culture as a disorienting seduction. Meanwhile, hyper-saturated color, extreme slow motion, and peripatetic typography charge washed-out commercial images with an erotic indeterminacy that opens them to fates other than those originally intended. Along the way, unsettling coincidences of love, aggression, and longing suggest complex relations of care and compassion in the same garish artifacts.

Benjamin’s essay sacrificed the physiognomies of friends and family to inoculate its author against homesickness and the insularity of private memory. Plunging into commodities, built environs, and other obscure thresholds, his poetics released a fertile, even nurturing, metaphysics that remains alien to the epoch from which it grew. Hollywood Childhood’s biographical detours aim at an analogous estrangement of history, only they do so for a thoroughly market-driven media culture in which the “performance outcomes” and “family values” it peddles now spell the difference between abjection and survival.

My wish: to recast what may seem an exceptional adolescence during a period of intense social divestment as the shared spectacle it was from the start.


† T.W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum International, 2005), 373.

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