Using the master's weapons

Mitch Smith, Haldun Morgan, Roy Garza, and Adriana Garcia of the activist video collective RESET. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Inspired by Malcolm X and his heirs, RESET video collective creates propaganda they believe in

With the shock, awe, and relentless death going down in Iraq, local artist and activist Haldun Morgan believes he is engaged in a war on U.S. soil. He calls it an "information war," one waged not with bullets and bombs but with sound and moving pictures. Morgan is co-founder of RESET, a four-member "video-media-activist collective" bent on assaulting the status quo with a visual arsenal of art and ideas not necessarily embraced by the mainstream. "It's guerilla media," says Morgan with an incendiary look.

Morgan, 27, is a personable guy with a nonetheless volatile air; he appears ready to detonate if adequately provoked. President Bush's bid to invade Iraq in early 2003 proved adequate enough, inspiring Morgan and RESET member Roy Garza, 27, to drop their first bomb on San Antonio in the form of a "video magazine."

"We wanted to provide an outlet for other information," says Morgan. "We're patriotic as well. That's why we use our free speech to the best of our abilities."

Flexing the First Amendment, RESET has generated and disseminated three installments of a free video magazine - originally on VHS but now offered on DVD - featuring comedic sketches, artist profiles, and colorful tirades against the Bush administration. "It's a big collage of opinions and artistic showcasing," says Mitch Smith, 32, another member of the collective. In addition to its video magazine, RESET recently completed a feature-length documentary on San Antonio's third annual Clogged Caps graffiti arts festival, replete with hip-hop performances and break-dance battles.

RESET's members consider exposure for local talent equally as important as the airing of political dissent. Smith speaks of a "certain elitism" endemic to the San Antonio art scene, wherein "certain cliques promote certain arts" and people are "less concerned with homegrown stuff and more concerned with what they think will sell to a certain clientele." As a result, he says, San Antonio is home to a number of "little scenes" that are floundering because they are under-represented. "We want to promote a sense of community among local artists no matter what their medium is," Smith says.

RESET member Adriana Garcia, 28, says the promotion of art encourages free expression, and she envisions creativity and political activism as intertwined. "Hopefully your arts and your views are all integrated," says Garcia.

The visual spectacle created by RESET certainly integrates both. Employing motion graphics, archival footage, and documentary film, the self-professed "technical geeks" of RESET use computer software - including Flash Macromedia and Final Cut 4 - to fuse an eclectic jumble of art, political dissent, and random humor into a dynamic whole. In one episode, the video shifts from a vitriolic segment condemning the American education system as "training for obedience and passivity" to a piece featuring local hip-hop artist Acuaman dropping rhymes amid kaleidoscopic visuals.

Between each segment flash bizarre segues featuring the RESET logo, wherein the collective's emblem is superimposed over arresting images such as a gangrenous foot or the head of George Bush grafted onto the body of rapper Master P crooning, "Damn it feels good to be a gangster." Garza says they include such strange effluvia among the weightier issues to hold people's interest. "Once you get too serious, you just become another public access show," he says.

For all their gleeful absurdity, RESET productions can assume a somber, sometimes foreboding tone. One segment replays the eternally unreal moment of the first 9-11 World Trade Center impact over a soul-hollowing track by Nine Inch Nails before launching into a textual and vocal condemnation of the Bush family's ties to the Carlyle Group global investment firm. The following frame shows Osama bin Laden clutching a handful of dollar bills while the Twin Towers disintegrate in the background. Another sequence features the goofy countenance of Bill Gates morphing into the homicidal visage of Hitler. Another displays the emaciated body of a child and the accusation, "Over 500,000 Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. sanctions."

Not surprisingly, President Bush does not fare well in RESET's media universe. One segment displays a seated Bush addressing the nation while a voice-over declares, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence." The screen zooms in on Bush's face as his eyes hollow out, revealing scenes of murder and mayhem. Panning back to a full view of the president, the scene is edited so that Bush informs the nation, "The United States will attack the innocent."

Garza concedes that RESET's videos are "definitely propaganda." "We're using the same tactics as `the mainstream media`," he says. "We're taking the master's tools and using them against him."

Garza's words echo a political strategy once voiced by militant black leader Malcolm X, a personality featured prominently in RESET's video magazine. In one installment, Malcolm X is shown speaking to a reporter about the ability of the propagandizing news media to "make the American public love whom they will and hate whom they will.

"That same process," he continues, "can be used to re-educate the American public and show white people how to love black people and teach the black people how to stand on our feet and solve our own problems."

Reeducation is a major aim of RESET's members, who say the American public must gain knowledge and awareness before they can be incited to action. "We're trying to provoke discussions and questions and concern," explains Smith.

The visual bombardiers of RESET express one call to concern with a video of a warplane releasing a real bomb, the kind that kills, resulting in a massive mushroom cloud and apocalyptic devastation. It's an image that is certainly shocking and awesome, but that also moves the members of RESET to inquire in all caps: "WHO WINS?"

By Brian Chasnoff

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