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Unstructured (Life) Style Draws Cult Following


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From LUX (IDS Entertainment Guide)
April 8, 1994


It is a show that will often go from a calm, almost reverent tour of the historic Wylie House museum to a dark basement ritual where one of the hosts of the show torches a Barbie doll's hair yelling "Burn, fucker, burn."

Unpredictability is the hallmark of "J&B on the ROX."

J (Joe Nickell) and B (Bart Everson) are the hosts, producers and originators of the show, which airs 10 p.m., every Tuesday on Bloomington Community Access Television. These self-proclaimed "funky young monarchs of self-promotion" are IU graduates in their mid-twenties, and as such, feel closely connected to the audiences they serve. And they appeal to IU students and residents by holding a mirror to life in Bloomington, and more specifically, to their own lives.

"I think they do a great job of depicting their lifestyle," said Michael White, BCAT station director. "From a folklore perspective, it's a good depiction of the slacker lifestyle in Bloomington of the early '90s."

Slacker, indeed. The stated purpose of "J & B on the Rox" is "the forthright glorification of alcohol and its responsible use. To this end, each episode finds Joe concocting mixed drinks with unusual names such as "Pap Smear" or "Snow Good." Upon tasting a new creation, Joe will often pronounce it as "distinctly potable," while his judgment is reinforced by the word "potable" that appears at the bottom of the screen.

But mixed drinks are just about the only consistent aspects of the show. What fills the remainder of any given episode is never even slightly similar to the ones before it. This spontaneity and inconsistency are characteristics Joe and Bart cherish.

"Being in a non-commercial setting gives us a lot of freedom," Bart said. "You can never tell what you're going to see on the show. You could be reasonably certain that it would begin with the 'J & B on the ROX' title and that both J and I would be in it, but that's about it."

Another rare constant is that the filming is blatantly amateur. Bart and Joe don't attempt to disguise the unprofessional, unstructured nature of the production. In fact, they seem to revel in it. The camera is handed from one person to another without being turned off, revealing ceiling tiles, carpeting or Joe and Bart losing their train of thought and staring blankly at the camera.

But in spite of the show's unstructured simplicity, a relatively large amount of work goes into editing it. Bart estimates that he puts in 40 hours a week editing and preparing an episode.

"A full-time job for which he gets paid no money," added Joe, who was recently laid off from an editing position at the Bloomington Voice. Bart earns enough money to get by as a part-time telemarketer with DialAmerica. But because Joe and Bart are not paid for their cinematic efforts they must invest money and time to produce episodes (the liquor costs alone can be staggering).

"It's just turned into something very important to us; We keep getting encouragement -- boosts along the way," Bart said.

One such boost was the 1993 award "J & B on the ROX" received in the Indiana Film and Video Competition. One of their episodes was voted the best film in the Indiana Film Society's "Independent/Experimental" category.

But they don't need an award to keep them motivated.

"It can be something small, like just getting a letter," Bart said.

Viewers have sent money, even though it is explicitly against BCAT policies to allow solicitation from viewers (as the hosts will gladly tell you as they flash their P.O. Box number on the screen).

"We're going on good faith, that if we put out the energy to do something of value for people, that somehow in the cosmic balance of things, we'll get compensated," Joe said.

In other words, they'll accept the money people send in. Joe and Bart have even sent out a flier, independently of the show, asking people to contribute to their video efforts if the fans feel they're getting something worthwhile from the show.

Whether they'll receive enough compensation to make the show a self-sustaining occupation remains to be seen. But "J&B" has captured a sizable cult following throughout Bloomington.

Freshman Lara Lasky has watched every episode of "J&B" since she came to IU in the fall. And she isn't alone.

"'J&B' brings my friends and I together every Tuesday night," she continued. "We all make sure we're in front of the TV exactly at 11 o'clock."

Last month, Lasky discovered where Joe and Bart live and invited them to watch the show with her friends.

"We were all walking around with smiles on our faces," she said. "We were glad to see that they were like that in real life, too."

Lasky and her friends are not an isolated case.

"It's the only show I watch seriously, religiously," senior Pat Isbey said."They're really funny and there's some serious social commentary going on in that show. Plus, it's a good excuse to drink on a Tuesday night.

But along with winning devoted fans, "J & B on the Rox" has also managed to stir up controversy and opposition in their quest to entertain like-minded Bloomingtonians.

In a letter to the editor of The Herald-Times, local resident Charleen Potter wrote of the show, "...I have seen it and it is filthy. Not only is it blatantly anti-Christian, but it also features such things as:

  1. non-stop profanity
  2. drunkenness
  3. glorification of violence
  4. lewd and immoral behavior."

To many local residents, such an evaluation would ring true and encourage them to avoid the show at all costs, but the audience that Joe and Bart appeal to would be hard-pressed to come up with a better way to advertise the show.

Joe and Bart said they bear no ill will toward those who object to the show. As far as they're concerned, dissent and controversy are all part of what democratized media should be.

"We've always wanted to talk directly to these people because we would be more than happy to entertain critical viewpoints," Joe said. "Words can't hurt us, and they can probably help us."

While the show might be merely offensive to some, it has come close to being illegal on other occasions, prompting action by BCAT. In one episode, the introduction to a segment called "J & B's Video Erotica" featured a close-up of two flaccid penises with a "J" written on one and a "B" on the other. That particular scene was deemed questionable by the station director and the show was not aired, pending a review process.

"But the review process took so long that we edited it out," Joe said. "It was a matter of expediency, not of principle."

In spite of any problems they have encountered along the way, the rewards of producing a show that so many people love keep Joe and Bart going.

"I can't go into public without someone saying 'Hey, I know you! '" Bart said. "It's nonstop. That happens every day."

It might not be a steady salary, but, he said, "It makes us feel like we can congratulate ourselves on doing at least something right. These people care."

Story by Jamal Kheiry
Photos by Kevin Stuart
Design by Alan Burchardt

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J examines a bud. This photograph by Kevin Stuart originally appeared in the Indiana Daily Student.

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Media for Unstructured (Life) Style Draws Cult Following:
Pix for Unstructured (Life) Style Draws Cult Following:
Jenny B, J&B, TBlack
Clockwise from upper left: Jenny B holds an umbrella over J's head while TBlack pretends to smoke through the arm of a recliner and Editor B videotapes it all. (Photo by Kevin Stuart for the IDS.)

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