GBH Openvault

New Television; Ritual Clowns

Part of New Television Workshop.

Approximate date: 1988

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New Television
Ritual Clowns
Series Description

"New Television" began as a local pilot production of WNET (New York) in 1986. In 1987, WGBH signed on as co-producer, and the shows were aired in Boston and New York. In 1988 and 1989, KCET (Los Angeles) and WETA (D.C.) became producers in association. In 1991, PBS picked up "New Television," and it was broadcast nationally. The following year, the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, replaced WNET, WETA, and KCET as co-producer with WGBH. In 1993, WGBH ceased to be a co-producer for the series, and the "home base" moved to Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) in Hartford, CT.

"New Television" commissioned, produced, and acquired programming. In its early years, "New Television" broadcast works commissioned by The Contemporary Art Television (CAT) Fund. Increasingly, experimental films as well as video works were broadcast as a part of this series. Many of the later episodes of "New Television" contain works that play with and deconstruct the documentary genre. Series release date: 1986

Program Description

In this work by Victor Masayesva, Jr., the tradition of clown figures in Native American ritual ceremonies is examined. Part collage-style work, part animation, and part documentary, "Ritual Clowns" opens and closes with a view of an ocean horizon. Images of animals and natural settings appear, and animated figures dart across the screen as narration and subtitles tell a sun myth. Following this, a narrator speaks about Native American beliefs on the interrelatedness of natural forces, and the evolution of a ritual song and ceremony incorporating clowns. At one point, images and sounds of violence and warfare overpower the speaker. A riot squad is shown, beating a crowd. This segues into a section of the work in which contemporary and archival film and photographs of native peoples' ritual ceremonies are accompanied by voiceovers that present the observations of anthropologists studying rituals, who reductively describe the ceremonies as ridiculous, immoral, and dirty. Footage of clowns in other contexts, including rodeo clowns and Chaplin footage, is incorporated. The narrator suggests that clowns exist partly to admonish and reflect back on people. They are associated with the concept of judgment day. Music is by the Harvest Festival Singers and was recorded at Bear Tracks Studio in New York City.

Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Indians of North America
Rites and ceremonies
Documentaries and factual works
Film and Television
Masayesva, Victor ()
Chicago: “New Television; Ritual Clowns,” GBH Archives, accessed April 20, 2024,
MLA: “New Television; Ritual Clowns.” GBH Archives. Web. April 20, 2024. <>.
APA: New Television; Ritual Clowns. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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