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Eric Michaels


Eric Michaels (1948-1988) was born in Philadelphia, USA, and in the 1960s lived on a hippie commune near Taos, New Mexico. After Temple University, Philadelphia (BA, 1973), he attended the University of Texas at Austin (MA, 1979; Ph.D., 1982), where he studied anthropology. For his doctoral thesis he examined Christian fundamentalist media protest groups in Texas. Early in the 1980s he collaborated with the Chilean video artist, Juan Downey, in a study of the Yanomami people of Brazil. Advocating ‘handing over the camera’, he stressed the potential for radical inversion of the usual subject-object relations in anthropology.

In November 1982 Michaels began a three-year fellowship at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, researching the impact of the introduction of satellite television on remote Aboriginal communities. He worked in Yuendumu with the Warlpiri Media Association (now PAW Media), David Batty and Francis Jupurrurla Kelly. He was also active, with Philip Batty, in CAAMA's bid to win the AUSSAT license.

He completed the field research in 1986 and made a video report (by Michaels & the Warlpiri Media Association) on the Fellowship. A 159pp written Report was also published in 1986.

He then worked as a lecturer in Media Studies at Griffith University in Brisbane, and published his findings in a number of scholarly and popular outlets: he was most known for two monographs, The Aboriginal Invention of Television in Central Australia and For a Cultural Future: Francis Jupurrurla Makes TV at Yuendumu.

When Michaels discovered he was HIV positive he began to keep a journal that was published posthumously as Unbecoming (1997 Duke University Press). In 1990 an edition of Continuum was published, devoted to explorations of his work, and in 1994 s collection of his essays including For a Culture Future was edited by Paul Foss and published as Bad Aboriginal Art.