J&B: LIFE ON THE ROX
For 70 episodes — that's two-and-a-half years of material — J & B on the Rox has aired on Channel 3, Bloomington's Cable Access Television Station. At once a revealing slacker diary and satiric tour de farce of the Bohemian lifestyle, Rox has captured viewers' attention across the subcultural spectrum in greater Monroe County.
The creators of Rox have also captivated the news media by smoking pot on their weekly show. This is not the only peccadillo Rox has portrayed. J (Joe Nickell) and B (Bart Everson), both Bloomington residents, frequently climb out on a First Amendment limb, presenting the viewer with scenes of alcohol, marijuana, foul language, and nudity.
J and B's mission is to connect with the audience, make a few political digs, and have some fun along the way. With their homeboy home movies, they hold their own lives up for scrutiny: the dirty dishes, the cracking plaster walls, the roaches, more roaches, and the rest of their raucous, sometimes squalorous, lives. As B says, "Rox is not a time slot, it's a way of life."
It's a way of life that's coming to Indy, beginning this month. Rox premieres at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, on American Cablevision's Indianapolis Community Access Network. Each episode will then rebroadcast the next day at 5 p.m. A premiere party will be held Tuesday, Jan. 24, at the Patio nightclub. You're invited, if you've got a buck to get in.
J and B's "way of life" involves a number of other cast members. Among the regulars are Christy Paxson, B's wife, and Jenny Beasley, J's fiancée. This family values aspect characterizes each installment. J and/or B have a bone to pick, an event to celebrate, a political point to make, but it's the people around them, the roommates, passersby, and local authorities, who give these episodes shape. Be careful: you, too, may get sucked into the Rox vortex — as on-air talent, or perhaps behind-the-camera technical help.
In their J & B Get Baked (airing Feb. 1 and 2), J and B and their high-as-kites crew get lost in the woods. They don't try to hide this foible. Obviously, they can be quite self-revealing — even at the expense of credibility. So much for trying to convince a skeptical society that pot-smoking is a responsible activity. J, in this episode, offers up a succinct and telling remark, revealing the core of the Rox agenda: "It's not planned activity, it's just experience." There are no scripts for Rox, just a loose sense of agenda.
One agenda leads to another. After watching the Get Baked episode, Joseph E. Mills III, director of the Governor's Commission for Drug-Free America, wrote a letter stating that the show was trafficking in the "overt promotion of anarchy." Rox's response was an episode called The Overt Promotion of Anarchy (airing Feb. 15 and 16). Mills' letter appears in this episode, along with the T-shirts J and B have made quoting Mills.
Contacted recently, Mills reiterated that he is "not going to do anything to censor them," but he "objected to the blatant disregard of the existing law." He does respect civil disobedience, he contends, but doesn't think that J and B "have the guts to do direct civil disobedience." Like, for example, going "into the police station, smoking a joint." (Mills didn't mention the Indiana Supreme Court Justice who took a pro-pot position before leaving office.)
It's not, however, the Rox style to walk into a police station, brandishing pot. At one point in the Anarchy episode, J laments that Bloomington's daily newspaper, The Herald-Times, has a pro-police bias when it comes to covering the Critical Mass bicycle protest. Rarely does Rox traffic in overt statements or actions. Their language is satire, subterfuge, subjectivity, and a refreshing dose of self-deprecation.
In their Indy premiere episode, Moving On Down (airing Jan. 25 and 26), J and B chronicle their downwardly-mobile status with deliberate directness. They literally open their closets to the camera. There's a yard sale segment which makes stars of numerous passersby, which displays items selling for "$1 or Free."
A brief foray into the national media scene (501 Jeans, MTV, Howard Stern) in the past year left both men feeling drained by bigwigs. They realize they don't really want big exposure, or the money it brings. Just last week, J began delivering pizzas. B still edits the show full-time at present, but J and B lament that their present predicament can't continue much longer.
It's a critical juncture for Rox. J and B have grown artistically and technologically since their first episodes. They are no longer tied to a strict editing schedule at Channel 3 and, with their co-op editing equipment, B's prodigious talents as an editor are beginning to transform the show. Rox episodes now run "29 minutes and 30 seconds," according to J. They are tighter thematically, too — a result of having nearly six dozen episodes under their belts. J and B are more savvy about pacing; rarely does their storyline sag. Fortunately, a feeling of spontaneity still drives their work.
They hope that a wider viewership can help them continue to produce high-quality, high-frivolity, and sometimes deeply moving work. J and B know they're walking an unmarked path into Indianapolis.
Unlike in Bloomington, the show probably won't feature full-frontal nudity on occasion; American Cablevision; standards for content are a bit more puritanical.
Censorship is a possibility; controversy is a certainty; financial ruin looks probable. But as B told Channel 6 last year: "We're poor. We've got nothing to lose."
Nothing to lose, that is, but their way in the woods.
• The producers of Rox can be reached via Internet E-mail at email@example.com. A World Wide Web page on the program can be accessed at: http://ezinfo.ucs.indiana.edu/-cpaxson/rox.htmI
"J" is Joe Nickell, a 25-year-old freelance writer who moved to Bloomington from Lexington, Ky. Joe graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Indiana University in 1991, in Anthropology and English. Joe is the Bartender and co-producer of Rox.
"B" is Bart Everson, a 26-year-old telemarketer who hails from Greenwood, Indiana — mall capital of the state. Bart graduated from Indiana University in 1990, with a degree in General Studies. Bart is the Editor and co-producer of Rox.
Rox is a reality-based program which endeavors to hold up a mirror to the community of Bloomington. — From the official Rox bio
SCENE: SETTING TEDDY ABLAZE
B: I have this teddy bear, and as a symbol of this transition, I'm going to burn it. Douses Teddy with lighter fluid. This is Zippo lighter fluid that I'm applying. As you can see, this is a bear which has been well-loved, and I burn him now not out of contempt, but in order to give him a fitting burial. Sets bear on concrete block. Bye-bye, Teddy. Sets bear ablaze; it torches. Holy shit! Bye-bye, baby teddy bear! Bye-bye, childhood! The bear, no doubt made of some highly flammable 1960s polymer, blazes away fiercely. This is a highly symbolic and profound thing that is happening here ... Good thing I didn't smoke in bed as a child, huh?
AFTER THE ON-THE-AIR POT EPISODE
B: We don't want people to peg us as the marijuana guys. The pot on that show was for display purposes only.
J&B: ON MONEY & SELLING OUT
B: Do not look for Rox to be around much longer into the future without some kind of sponsorship. I don't have enough money in my account to pay anything more than the grocery bill this month.
J: I got a job delivering pizzas out of bare-bones necessity. We don't yet have an Indianapolis sponsor. We can't even afford to mail the tapes of the show to Indianapolis.
B: When I first came to I.U., I attended a lecture in there [pointing to the Whittenberger Auditorium in the stu-dent Union Building]. This guy got up on stage and said, "What you need to do here at Indiana University is find out what you like doing, and then find a way to get paid for doing it." He said, "I'm into frogs, myself, and I go down to South America and hunt frogs in the Amazonian Rain Forest, and you, the taxpayer, pay me."
J: Do what you want and the money will come.
B: And we're waiting. Believe me, we're waiting.
AN ANONYMOUS LETTER TO J&B
THE ROX CAST: FRIENDS, WIVES AND HANGERS-ON
Literally dozens of friends, acquaintances and hangers-on have drifted in and out of the cast of Rox in the three years it's aired in Bloomington, but no one has captured the attention of the show's audience like Christy Paxson.
Paxson, a 4-foot-11 dynamo of energy, has been responsible for many of the program's most memorable moments, including a tour of the choicest dumpsters in town; a guide to off-campus living ("Get used to ramen, because you'll be eating a lot of it"); and dozens of others.
But Paxson, who also hosts her own Bloomington public-access show, is more than just a Rox cast member; she's also the real-life bride of editor Bart Everson. Their wedding, which included a puppet show depicting their courtship, was the slacker social event of 1994 in Bloomington as well as the basis for an episode of Rox.
Paxson's mastery of timing and character voices and her sense of the absurd have made her popular, but she still feels some pressure as the main female character in the show.
"I think a lot of things that may be controversial that I do, like I show my gut, or burp, are things that if any man did them would be standard fare," Paxson says. "But because I do it, and I'm a woman, it's a problem. It's the double standard that exists on TV."
Growing up watching The Flintstones and The Bionic Woman in nearby Ellettsville, Paxson was media-conscious from an early age.
"I used to think that everything was a skit or a movie. This was way before Generation X had taken off and all the dialogue about shared media experiences and the regurgitated culture," she says.
In college, she discovered public-access TV in Bloomington and, with a friend, began producing The Christy Paxson Show. "We found out that through BCAT we could get a camera for free, we for free and, best of all, get it on TV."
As a star on Rox, she's been documenting her life on camera for three years. It gives her strange ideas, she says. "Why should anyone care about me? What is it about our lives that makes us so interesting? That's not our point. Our point is, everybody's life is interesting. 1 think some people are content to sit back in life and just watch TV and think that they can't really be a player in life, that they can't enjoy life because it just wasn't meant for them. But they are doing interesting things. We all are. I think it's a noble tradition to start."
"It's a show about these people and their lives," Bart adds.
"If we could only edit our own lives..."
One of the more artistically complex moments for the couple came in the episode Head Jobz, scheduled to air May 3 in Indianapolis, when the two re-enacted one of Bart's recent epileptic seizures with comedic narration by Paxson.
"It was interesting when he said he wanted to do this seizure thing on the show," Paxson said. "I said, 'Bart, I don't see the comedy in it.' Bart said, 'Not every-thing has to be funny.' Oh yeah, I forgot."
"But it was funny, because you were telling it," Bart said.
"The first time we went out, he told me he had epilepsy, but I had never seen grand mal seizures before. The way I've been brought up, you just don't talk about something that personal. Humor is my way of dealing with a very strong condition. Humor is a functional outlet. Some people were really freaked out by the spot.
"The first time it happened, when we were dating, and he had a seizure, I thought he was [laughs] masturbating. I looked at the clock, and it was 5:30 a.m. I thought, 'Isn't it a little early?"
Other regular cast members on Rox, besides Jenny B., Nickell's fiancee, include Mr. G; sisters Rachel and Angela Whang; and T. Black, a self-described "anarchist clown" who produces a segment called Anarchy Diary.
In a phone interview, punctuated by the sounds of the illegal "phreak box" that he uses to make free payphone calls, Black says the free-spirited, grassroots nature of Rox appeals to him. "We're just citizens in Bloomington, Indiana, but now we have access to television. It's grassroots TV. They have an open door philosophy about the show."
Andy Warhol's Factory of the 1960s was another artistic enclave of improvisation, but the difference between J&B and the Factory is, according to Angela Wong, "There's no one Andy Warhol here. We're all Andy Warhols. We're all filming and taping and acting at the same time. There are no bosses, just us creating."
Photos: RACHEL WHANG
Media for J&B: Life on the ROX:
|ROX Ideas Index