On July 4, 1975, the San Francisco art collective Ant Farm staged its highly media-savvy “Media Burn,” in which a revamped Cadillac would crash, Evel Knievel style, through a wall of flaming television sets in the parking lot of the Cow Palace sports arena and entertainment venue.
It was the perfect mix of Yippie-style anti-establishment protest and avant-garde art of the Nam June Paik type. According to a speech given by “Bill Ding” before the staged crash, “fifteen hundred man hours” had succeeded in transforming a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible into a preposterous “Phantom Dream Car” with an elongated hood and a massive tail fin with a video camera embedded inside. What made the event so distinctive, and perhaps utterly American, was the media circus Ant Farm managed to instigate around the event.
Scheduled to coincide with the country’s 199th birthday, “Media Burn” was larded up with a healthy dose of patriotic folderol. The overriding metaphor of an epochal space launch accentuated the general feeling of ridiculousness (this was actually a Cadillac crashing into a bunch of TV sets, remember), complete with a star-spangled tarp to cover the “Dream Car” before the event and a special appearance by John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated twelve years earlier, complete with Secret Service detail and presidential open-air limo. In the car, the Ant Farm “dummies,” as they were labeled, were wearing space-age outfits right out of the The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The act of destroying a bunch of TV sets was intended as a comment on our media age, but Ant Farm didn’t stop there—the entire afternoon was conceived as a mock media phenomenon, complete with self-important press releases and the issuing of “legitimate” press credentials, in an effort to sucker S.F. news outlets into covering the event. (It totally worked.) As the press release winkingly stated, “MEDIA BURN is NOT open to the public”—yet several hundred people did show up, and programs and hot dogs were happily sold to spectators.
One half-expects DEVO to show up halfway through and play “Jocko Homo” or something. “Media Burn” was so thoroughgoingly conceived that it almost precludes commentary. It’s enough to watch and enjoy it.
via Internet Magic