Alan Bigelow’s Flash-based “What They Said...” presents an ironic look at the “conventional” wisdom of post-9/11 America. The interface appears at first glance to simulate an AM/FM radio with analog controls, but closer inspection reveals that the tuner moves from AM to PM, suggesting a passage of time, from day to night, metaphorically marking the time of the piece as twilight.
As readers drift across the spectrum, static appears on the screen, and readers can tune in or out of “channels” which feature images, sounds, and text. Each “channel” is a brief looping video consisting of a simple statement, revealed one word after another over a fast-paced montage, to an audio track. For instance, the statement “Freedom of speech is not free” is backed by images of individuals posed playfully, with their index fingers pressed to their closed lips or palms clasped to their mouths. The declaration “Poverty is a detour on the road to wealth” is backed by images of gracefully outstretched hands leading to images of swimming pools and a happy couple. Aesthetically, Bigelow’s approach, the bold statements backed by flickering edits, implies a tension between the declarative statements and the human subjects that waver beneath them.
The content of the piece, from title to conclusion, invites scrutiny of the fundamental shifts in thinking that have touched the American political and social landscape since 9/11, attributing these statements to the ultimate other, “Them.” Formally, in its simulation of residual media forms and its skillful deployment of digital editing, “What They Said...” also contains an embedded critique of media and manipulation, its sounds and visuals mimicking aspects of contemporary mass marketing.
After all the channels have been viewed, the implied movement from day to night is reversed, providing a shred of hope, as a cacophony of human voices and moving images of children playing in the surf give way to static and the concluding parenthetical statement: “(While we were sleeping).” This final aspect of the piece completes the narrative arc of the piece, and points to the possibility that we might awaken from this slumber.