Richard Serra b. 1939
Prisoners Dilemma (1974)
This is a rare Richard Serra Video from 1974 using the concept of "The Prisoner's Dilemma" from game theory as a video experiment to, in Serra's words, "expose the format of commercial TV." The video features Leo Castelli, Bruce Boice and Spalding Gray, among others. 40:11min
This a quotation from an article in the Guardian:
The host of Serra's 1974 parody game show, Prisoners' Dilemma, explains that the loser will spend six hours alone in a basement - "that's about the length of the average boring artist's videotape". Cue knowing chuckles from the studio audience.
The rules are simple. Or are they? Derived from game theory, Prisoners' Dilemma is a casual exercise in arbitrary power. In the first part of Serra's tape, before we meet the studio guests, an enjoyably clumsy amateur cop show dramatises how the prisoner's dilemma works in real life as a New York detective isolates two hippies and makes each an offer: sign the prepared confession. If you sign and the other "prisoner" doesn't, you will go free, and the other prisoner will get 50 years in Sing-Sing. If the other signs and you don't, you will get 50 years. If you both sign, you'll each get 10 years. If neither of you sign, you'll each get two years. What to do? The guests on Serra's game show face an evening in a cellar instead of 50 years in jail. They are, separately, given various supposed private information about the other. It is impossible for the participants, the studio audience or us to know if the guests really decide for themselves or are manipulated into doing what the TV show wants. At a deeper level, their very involvement in a joke at their expense, giving someone power over their lives, is a surrender to television's arbitrary authority. Prisoners' Dilemma is funny and possesses the sombre density of Serra's sculpture. It is a sculpture in which, instead of throwing lead or rolling steel, he moves people about like manipulable objects.
Prisoners' Dilemma is, said Serra in 1974, about Watergate. In an interview given in January that year, when it was not yet clear the president would resign (he did so in August), Serra explained that his game show was designed to reveal TV's mendacity, as epitomised by Nixon: "It's all a lot of shit. Listen, I know television consciousness was developed in the 60s. And yet, in 1974, people still accept what they see on their TV sets as valid information."