“Guerilla Television” by Michael Shamberg

This book is not about public access television. It was written just a year or two early for that. Rather, it is a guidebook for how to create, operate, and distribute “guerilla” television using portable video equipment and a variety of distribution methods outside of broadcast TV which was the only large scale TV format of the time (1971). The first section called the “meta-manual” offers Shamberg’s view of what he calls “Media-America,” which is the information/media obsessed America of the present. He explains Media America’s problems, dependence on corporate centralized 1-way broadcast streams of information, how that medium is negatively affecting Media-America, and finally points to Guerilla Television as the solution. The second section, simply called the “Manual” is truly a guidebook for how to create alternative media. It covers everything from using Sony Porta-Paks, to techniques for video production, to funding methods, to distribution networks. While in some respects it is highly specific to it’s time, in others it provides the reader with a fine guidebook for the theory and practice of alternative (and sometimes community) media.

Shamberg begins by explaining how Americans are “information junkies”, obsessed with media of all forms. In his view, humans biologically require feedback and 2-way communications. Since broadcast television, the most pervasive medium, is only a one way stream, it is one of the root cause of the largest social upheavals. In the broadcast era, people have no viable way of expressing themselves, of feeling validated, and of ensuring that their democratic will is understood by the government. Guerilla television, decentralized video networks made by regular people is the solution. Whether or not Shamberg’s grand ideas of society are correct, his advocacy for democratically controlled and produced media flows are powerful. Ultimately, what good is freedom of speech if no one can hear anyone else? What’s the point of a free press if all it does is ensures you the right to be a passive consumer of centralized information? Most importantly he points out how new technologies are here to stay. “Destroying technology or running away from it are our only accepted technological strategies other than unchecked growth, and they are especially prevalent among my contemporaries who should know better.” We should be the ones who structure and relate to technology. “It should be remembered that pollution is not a product of man in general, but of men who are already into killing other men” (6). Technology is not the enemy. Rather, centralized control, and the profit motive is.


Shamberg, Michael & Raindance Corporation. Guerrilla Television. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1972. Print

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