Michael Smith Characteristics

Michael Smith is a video and performance artist who uses humor to comment on the impact of TV on everyday life, drawing attention to the bland consistency maintained and celebrated by the medium. His tapes mix commercial, music video, and talk show formats.

--Video Databank Catalog

Much of Michael Smith's work, both as a video and performance artist, deals with the triviality of television and popular/consumer culture. He uses comedy to show the impact of television and pop culture on society. From his tapes, it appears as though Smith shares the viewpoint of comic television pioneer Ernie Kovacs, who was quoted as saying, "Television is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done" (Video Data Bank).

Many of Smith's tapes incorporate a character he created as his alter-ego, named "Mike." Smith has been developing this character since his second video piece, 1979's "Down in the Rec Room." "Mike" (or "Blandman," as he is also known), is a "bland, post-modern Everyman who believes everything and understands nothing in his media-saturated world (Electronic Arts Intermix). Through "Mike," Smith is able to expose the boredom, isolation, and predictability of life cultivated by television.

Smith's video works use narrative, music video, narrative, and talk show formats. In his live performances, Smith often presents himself as a stand-up comic, although he has also appeared as a struggling artist and president of a lighting company, among other things.

Many of Michael Smith's most recent works have combined video and performance pieces, and have been collaborations with performance artist Joshua White. In QuinQuag, Smith and White portray a fictional artists' colony (named Quinquag), which Mike Smith (played by Michael Smith) became the owner of and turned it into somewhat of a tourist retreat. According to Joe Frye, aspects of QuinQuag "recall a more astringent version of SCTV, a Canadian production that spoofed the entertainment industry via a cast of impossibly naive characters." (Art in America).

One of the primary themes in many of Smith’s works is the focus on the bland, everyday American male. Smith often portrays a certain sense of failure, using his creation "Mike" to represent "a perennial but ever hopeful loser." (Frye, Art in America).

There is a sense of failure that shadows Smith's Mike character. It's worth noting that Mike maintains an uncompromising optimism in the less than ideal situations his creator places him in." (www.thing.net).

--Kevin Munn, 2003

Michael Smith