by John Bresland
The Split Lip Blurb
by J. Scott Bugher
Not long back, Split Lip contributor Nicholas Reading turned me on to John Bresland, an outstanding essayist and fiction writer who works with and in a variety of media: film, radio & print. He also teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and works as Film Editor for TriQuarterly.
After Reading played me one of Bresland's essays––many of which can be found HERE––I was triggered to contact the author to see if he would mind Split Lip sharing his piece, "Seinfeld Analog," an essay that does what every good variety of text does: It asks big questions, huge questions in this case. Such questions might specify the smaller concerns of the west. How grateful are you for your car? Is it enough that it can get you from point A to point B? Or maybe you're upset that your car doesn't have heated seats and a cognitive touchscreen. The essay asks broader questions as well. What is your reality? How would you measure your awareness of other realities coexisting with your own? Are you even aware? Do opiates interfere? That's what this essay is about: interference, apathy and detachment. Of and toward what? Watch and listen to this surreal and braided essay. You'll figure it out.
I am thankful John was willing to allow "Seinfeld Analog" to appear in this issue of Split Lip. After checking it out, and once you're hungry for more, you can find additional work by Bresland at the fine publications posted on the right.
The Split Lip Synopsis
by Michael J. Soloway
You’re a nesting doll—inside your car, inside a car wash, underneath a canopy that’s supposed to keep you dry and safe in your America. You’re being washed clean. Soapsuds fill the screen, until they’re washed away, like all other misconceptions you’ve been told. You’re sanitized.
“Once upon a time I drove a very fast car,” are John Bresland’s first words of narration in his short video essay, "The Seinfeld Analog." From this innocent opening to innocence shattered. From the symbol of American ingenuity and power: the automobile. Bresland doesn’t create a world, or even take us into one. Instead, each frame of "The Seinfeld Analog" is the world—the world of 1994 and the gruesome attacks that took place in Rwanda. The Rwandan Genocide was a mass slaughter of ethnic Tutsis by ethnic Hutus. Over the course of approximately 100 days, Bresland estimates that 800,000 people were murdered, or as much as 20 percent of the country’s total population—8,000 people a day, for 100 days. “In American math, that would be like 9-11 happening twice a day, from Christmas through Easter,” he says.
"The Seinfeld Analog" keeps its pace with interesting action, but it’s inaction that is Bresland’s main focus. An indictment of the United States government, the Pentagon, and others within this country who could helped—who could have ended the genocide without war or sanctions, but by simply jamming radio transmissions by the Hutus that were broadcasting the whereabouts of the Tutsis people. After all, the United Nations was spread thin in 1994, with 70,000 peacekeepers involved in seventeen other humanitarian efforts across the globe, including food relief to Somalia. Bresland admits, “Really it was hard to keep up. I’d have had a much easier time remembering seventeen episodes of Seinfeld.” Yes, it was 1994. The same year Seinfeld overtook 60 Minutes as America’s number one TV show and became a measure of our nation’s “cultural literacy.” To its credit, Bresland tells us, that 60 Minutes aired counterprogramming to episodes of Seinfeld on NBC about masturbation contests, but lost 3-million viewers in the process.
Nonfiction cinema: John Bresland has created a new genre. His own art form that molds movie and nonfiction narrative. Some might call this documentary. But they’d be mistaken. So many of those films are more docudrama than docu-fact. Bresland even calls his own short film an “essay.” That’s not to say he ignores traditional film technique. There are dissolves and voiceover, creative editing and a supporting score; this is no video diary.
Back in your car, surrounded by airbags, a cocoon ready to pop in an instant, you drive fast: “…It felt like getting close to death,” says Bresland. In "The Seinfeld Analog," for nine minutes and nineteen seconds, Bresland quietly beats you with truth. And perhaps that’s what we all need, what we say we want in a “free” America. You can handle it, you tell yourself—even if it’s simply knowing your car’s true horsepower or how much gas it will take to get to work. I’m sure there’s even a Seinfeld episode you can quote, just to prove your point.