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Review: Turkey Neck TV


       

They go by Vic the Prick, Lil Zay, Turk, and Aidan Fuller666. Shay, Tripp, Chubbs, Sloth, Pat Pouder, and Drunk Sean. But we don’t find this out until the credits roll on Turkey Neck TV, a video from a roughneck crew of Bay Area-based skaters. The rest of the video documents this underground network skating their local skateparks and DIYs, and only at the end, when the theme song from the 1980 teensploitation film, Skateboard Madness cues the handwritten title cards, do we learn their vulgar monikers. The gesture comes off as standoffish at first, the need-to-know basis of personal information demonstrating that the macho, locals-only mentality is still alive, in spite of a skateworld defined by greater inclusivity and diversity. But taken in a broader context of the Bay Area, where income inequality and a housing crisis have brought class and racial tension to a fever pitch, the group’s refusnik ethos puts forth a rather decent code of conduct: amateurs and pros, lurkers, park sharks, hangers-on, builders, and the guy behind the camera are all given equal billing. Access is granted so long as they contribute some kind of work. It’s like a union, this crew. To skating, every member pays their dues.

This is no grassroots campaign, however. Turkey Neck TV depicts a group of misfits, fuck ups, and nincompoops through and through. The video is fashioned after Real TV, a late-90s reality show on which skating often appeared sandwiched between car accidents, powertool mishaps, failed robberies, animal attacks, and other instances of idiocy—its scripted dramatization of events also situated it in a daytime, rather than prime time slot. Emulating the original, TNTv is broken up into segments, with each dedicated to a single skatepark: Berkely, Lower Bobs, Bolinas, and Chaka’s Ramp. The effect is to put emphasis on the session, rather than the individual skater, and though each segment comes off like a laundry list of who happened to show up that day, everyone rips. At Berkeley park, one guy snaps a backside blunt off the coping like a rubberband on a bare leg, making a quick exit to the other side of the bowl as if to avoid retribution. Later, another shirtless skater props himself on a frontside 5-0 with such precision that he resembles a stationary paper cut-out being pushed around the coping by some invisible hand. The segment includes plenty of dork tricks: a body varial rock and roll on an awkward two-foot section built on the side of a bowl. A clip of some old guy doing a Bertlemann is thrown in, too.
Given the reference to Real TV, it should come as no surprise that plenty of skaters also fall flat on their face. Slams range in severity, from aborted handplants to Baker-makers, from cartwheels and run-outs to the type of deck check that invariably returns the skater back to earth head first. The filming and editing, too, keep the video from approaching the heroic. At Chaka’s Ramp, one guy is shown doing the same handplant multiple times, in a display about the finer points of ramps with steep transitions. The repetition, however, dulls the sense of accomplishment. In other segments, a guy’s best trick is buried under a whole run, including its conclusion, when he heaves himself exhaustedly onto the deck. Overall, the video makes a good point about skateparks: filled with people just needing someplace to go, the scene often represents a distorted version of reality. In short, TV and the skatepark are both good ways to kill time on a bored afternoon.

Other facets of the video stage it more as a sketch comedy show, and lay bare the group’s mordant sense of humor. In the very first clip, two guys play stickball with a videocamera, accompanied by a voiceover from comedian George Carlin: “I think the very idea that you can set off a bomb in a marketplace and kill several hundred people is exciting and stimulating and I see it as a form of entertainment.” Skateboarding has always been considered a gimmick, sold on the basis of equal parts rebellion and destruction, something this group parodies in its practiced idiocy, bow-legged balletics, or, in one particular clip, confronting us with the image of one member as he strokes the blunt edge of a knife across his armpit and neck. By adopting Carlin, another free-thinking outsider who made a career of dissecting the language of power, this crew similarly sees skating as a form of “punching-up,” that skating is low-grade civil disobedience, a way to take the piss out of authority figures. Perhaps from within the group, that is the impact they seek, but taken out of context, like Carlin’s quote, their comic foibles come off as aggressive. As recent events illustrate, comedy is no sure fire pressure valve: its a fine line between grievances with the establishment, and posing an actual threat to others.

Later, Carlin is brought in to do the dirty work, again. “I don’t know which is worse: the jogger ass holes or the bicycle riding creeps,” he says. “They’re basically riding a toy, but they try to act mature by giving hand signals...I’ll tell you where you’re going. You’re going
30 feet up in the fucking the air is where you’re going.” It accompanies footage of uniformed cyclists climbing a hill, a common hobby of Bay Area technocrats, and is clearly meant as a jab at the city’s elite. It doesn’t take much imagination, as a later clip might suggest, that skaters and cyclists could find common ground in bombing hills, though cycling for fitness is a far cry from this crew’s more self-destructive ethos. Nonetheless, the joke brings some clarity to a rant by one of the crew members. Mid-toke, he complains about the inauthenticity of fashion—chiefly, a guy wearing chinos and low-top Vans—and argues that, though he’s not from Oakland, anyone coming to the spot and playing it safe—basically, not completely destroying themselves—doesn’t deserve his respect. “Trippin’,” he says, “trippin’.” It lays out the crew’s honor code and sense of sacrifice: go hard, because others put their money and labor into this. Or go hard, because others can’t: the video is dedicated to the memory of Thrasher editor, Jake Phelps, filmer, Preston “P-Stone” Margietta, and progenitor of the DIY skatepark movement, Mark Hubbard, all of whom died in the last two years. The rant also pulls back the curtain on what comedy lets the crew get away with, namely that tell-it-like-it-is insights mask a deeper, and more violent expression of rage.

Comedy does serve another function throughout the video: to steer the crew’s antics toward pratfalls and slapstick. How else would they feel comfortable putting forth a self-portrait? The video includes an infamous sketch from Saturday Night Live, in which Chris Farley plays Matt Folley, a motivational speaker who has been hired to talk sense into a teenager played by David Spade. The clip is best known for Farley’s eternal warning—“When you’re living in a van down by the river”—but it’s conclusion is no less noteworthy. Having worked himself into a froth, Farley fumbles over his own body, and falls onto a coffee table, completely flattening it. The pratfall seems like the perfect conclusion to something TNTv started in a segment focused on Lower Bobs, the Oakland-based DIY at the center of their operations. A burning christmas tree introduces the skating. Later, it reappears as a high-bar, and two skaters pull a doubles routine ollying over it. Obviously, these guys don’t suffer from lack of athleticism, as we might assume of Farley’s hey-fatso routine, but their skating does borrow something from the abject cast of his comedy. In fact, abjection offers a clue for why skaters would want to occupy overlooked public space, as Bobs is located on Department of Transportation land, and
insight into what is so fun about leaping over old garbage. Farley’s inclusion puts forth the idea that skating, too, is body comedy. The set up is that you don’t fit in anywhere. The punchline is to put your person where it doesn’t belong.

From within skating, Anti-Hero and old Thrasher videos are the most obvious influence on TNTv. It’s practically a Hollywood feature compared with Fucktards (1997) and Cow (1998), which register somewhere between spontaneous, careless, and slovenly (I might also call it whimsical and capricious, but god forbid, it’s straight white men I’m writing about). Similar to these earlier videos, TNTv only gets better when it veers away from its initial structure, seeming to get distracted by the skating itself. Toward the end of the video is Whatnots, a grab bag of footage from various skateparks. One skater is deservedly given a micro-part after he surgically disassembles a cramped, pre-fab skatepark, using speed to stitch all the wasted space—a defining feature of these types of facilities—into the connective tissue of a trick. Example: a backside powerslide that drifts blindly across the deck of a wedge ramp. It must have felt as good as it looks, because the skater shows no concern for anything but the screeching wheels until the slope of an adjacent ramp reminds him that landing it remains an option. One of those rare clips that adequately conveys the rewards of breaking from skatepark convention.

By the time the credits roll, TNTv has given plenty of reasons—good and bad—to want to know who these people are. Though the cast list is mostly made up of first names. The video closes on a blooper real, showing half-completed runs, bails, and other noteworthy outtakes. One guy trie to air between the two walls of a narrow ditch, but is left boardless, standing there, stupefied. The credits’ in-video sidebars are also the only time we glimpse the work they put into skateparks like Lower Bobs. Beers are passed between the guys, as is the jambox, while they mold freshly poured concrete into the latest addition to the park, or reshape some earlier segment that required reenvisioning or repairs. From the looks of it, build-outs are an occasion to celebrate. As the men work on, a party seems to grow around them, the disused grounds around Lower Bobs garnering a collegial atmosphere. They have a lot of members, but it must still mean a lot to be part of this crew. Now that I know their names, the only question I have is this: besides SNL and TNTv, how many groups can actually count Chris Farley as a member?  •••