This undergraduate student essay was written in Fall 1999 for English 165CI, "The Culture of Information," in association with student online team projects. (Disclaimer)

The Dadaists and Radiohead: The Distribution of Ink-Printed Text Versus Hypertext

by Patrick Jensen
(English/Drama major)

While browsing Radiohead's website (www.radiohead.com) one particular page of hypertext caught my eye. This page displayed was what looked to me like a scanned-in copy of ink-print text, which read: How To Construct a Dadaist Poem by Tristan Tzara. I had heard of Dadaism previous to this discovery, but hadn't the slightest idea about the man who had authored these simple instructions on how to construct a dadaist poem. So with the help of my mouse and keyboard I quickly erased the Radiohead URL (Internet address) and typed in that of a search engine called Hotbot (www.hotbot.com). After arriving at the homepage for Hotbot I typed my inquiry into the empty "search" box and the search engine immediately displayed a list of related homepages and topics on Tristan Tzara. I clicked on the first result entitled "Tzara" which led me to the homepage of The International Dada Archive.

In reading-over the summary and history of the Dada artistic movement of the early twentieth century I began to see that many of its distinctive characteristics are the same characteristics found at the core of Radiohead's artistic movement; both groups, the Dadaists and Radiohead had/have an affinity for assaulting cultural values through live performances, and the distributing of leaflets, magazines, and newspapers. However, Radiohead has recently replaced the older method of distributing leaflets, magazines, and newspapers with the newer method of simply posting a website on the World Wide Web. Now, if an admirer or audience member wants to read Radiohead's poetry or view their latest artwork they only have to type Radiohead's URL (www.radiohead.com) into any browser and instantly it is delivered to the screen of their personal computer.

The Dadaists and Radiohead both had/have an affinity for assaulting cultural values or in other words presenting their audience members with present-day cultural values in a way that made/makes those cultural values appear mundane. The Dadaists attacked cultural values through different types of live performances. "The real spirit of Dada was in events: cabaret performances, demonstrations, declarations, confrontations, the distribution of leaflets and of small magazines and newspapers... and actions which today we would call guerrilla theater." The Dadaists used a combination of live performance and the passing-out of ink-printed text on leaflets, magazines and newspapers to accomplish what they termed "...undermining and exposing what they saw as the stale cultural conventions of a decayed European Civilization..." (Shipe, International Dada Archive IDA).

Radiohead like the Dadaists also use live performance and events to accomplish this same kind of attack on cultural values. The favorite type of live performance used by Radiohead is the rock concert, which has had a history (especially in the 1960's) for, "undermining and exposing stale cultural conventions..." (Shipe, www.lib.uiowa.edu). Another way that Radiohead reaches its audience members is through the use of the Internet. One of the writings posted on Radiohead's website reads,

We listen to the radio sometimes and the politicians and the generals all seem to be okay. They can't commit and often they can't comment either but we often have to do both. When the this is over we will watch the news. Then the politicians will... have novel ways of arranging events. Everything will be okay, and that will be official. It would behard, otherwise to tell what had happened" (Anonymous, www.radiohead.com).



In this hypertext poem the anonymous author (presumably one of the band members of Radiohead), through the use of satire, is exposing a rather mundane and even dangerous cultural value that we have come to accept. It is this poem written in hypertext which marks the major difference between Radiohead and the Dadaists. Instead of using ink-printed text like the Dadaists, which was distributed in the form of leaflets, magazines and newspapers only after exhausting manual labor, Radiohead has begun using hypertext, which is distributed in the form of digital bits to personal computers (PC) everywhere only after the stroke of a few keys on the PC's keyboard.

In conclusion, with the advent of the Internet and its flow of information in the form of digital bits, distributing your ideas and beliefs to audience members has been made much easier. Instead of having to physically distribute your ink-printed text on leaflets, magazines, and newspapers like the Dadaists did you now only have to post a website composed of hypertext on the World Wide Web and let word leak about its URL (location). Now people can access those thoughts and beliefs of Radiohead whenever they feel compelled to and at the same time Radiohead can update those thoughts and beliefs whenever they feel compelled to. Radiohead has been one of the first groups to utilize this new form of distribution of ideas and beliefs and it would be interesting to see if the rise in popularity of Radiohead has had anything to do with the increase in users of the Web.

Opinions contained in this essay are those of its individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of the course, the Transcriptions Project, or the University of California. This essay cannot be reproduced except with the explicit permission of its author. In no circumstances can this essay be reproduced to fulfill requirements in any other course or institution.

(revised 11/30/99)