Crazy Like A Box

CUTV Wants You to Speak in its Corner

The new Box Populus will allow students to record themselves saying whatever they want to. Photo Gaul Porat

Media democracy will now be available at the push of a button.

Hit the bright red knob, speak into the camera and you’re online. Concordia University Television’s Box Populous is a virtual soapbox, where students can record what’s on their mind into an arcade-style console on the seventh floor of the university’s Hall building.

When they are done recording their piece, the video is screened for inappropriate content and is posted on CUTV’s website.

“CUTV developed a similar idea years ago,” said Noah Leon, the former CUTV member who created the station’s first box last year. “Except it was basically a guy sitting in a cardboard box with a camera. The technology has evolved since then.”

Before Box Populous, CUTV’s most dominant visual presence on campus was confusing. The station had set up about a dozen muted television sets between escalators in the Hall building.

Most students would walk by, catch a quick glimpse of a silent talking head and continue their trip up the escalators.

“There wasn’t any interaction between students and media on campus,” said Leon. “Obviously we recognized it was a problem and wanted to change that.”

Leon constructed the first box out of recycled wood he found in a dumpster, a mini DV camera and a laptop. He fashioned the wood to resemble an arcade console, slapped on a coat of paint and Box Populous was born.

“It’s almost like a polling station,” said CUTV station manager Laura Kneale. “But people get creative with their opinions too, like beat-boxing women in hijabs. It’s pretty experimental.”

The box has gone viral within Concordia, catching the eye of the university’s Dean of Students Office, which gave CUTV a grant to build a second one. CUTV’s second Box Populous is under construction and will make its debut at Loyola Campus some time this fall.

Since earning a 9 cent-per-credit fee levy increase during the Concordia Student Union’s November byelection, CUTV members have aggressively recruited and trained staff from both the university and the community at large.

CUTV also regularly holds workshops on editing, writing copy and shooting video that are open to the public and they have also lent their studio to special education groups, such as the Giant Steps camp for autistic youth, to teach filmmaking.

“The idea behind Box Populous and our general mandate is to make media accessible,” said Kneale. “We really want to connect with people through media.”

The station’s news team has also worked to established its presence outside Concordia’s walls, covering the coroner’s inquest into the Fredy Villanueva shooting, the police brutality riots, the G20 protests and assembling their videos into a weekly 22 minute show broadcast online.

“Our goal is to get two weekly shows going and eventually to produce five shows a week,” said CUTV production coordinator Laith Marouf. “We want to get something going on public access television but we won’t do it at the cost of giving up any editorial control. We have a good thing going and we don’t want to spoil it.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 03, published August 31, 2010.