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downloaded on may 23 1995 from //gopher.well.sf.ca.us/11/cyberpunk the author holds the copyright; none of the following may be reproduced in any medium, traditional or electronic, without written permission from the author ("markdery@well.sf.ca.us"). 336w

from Culture Jamming by Mark Dery

"My fellow Americans," exhorted John F. Kennedy, "haven't you ever wanted to put your foot through your television screen?"

Of course, it wasn't actually Kennedy, but an actor in "Media Burn," a spectacle staged in 1975 by the performance art collective Ant Farm. Speaking from a dais, "Kennedy" held forth on America's addiction to the plug-in drug, declaring, "Mass media monopolies control people by their control of information." On cue, an assistant doused a wall of TV sets with kerosene and flicked a match at the nearest console. An appreciative roar went up from the crowd as the televisions exploded into snapping flames and roiling smoke.

Minutes later, a customized 1959 Cadillac hurtled through the fiery wall with a shuddering crunch and ground to a halt, surrounded by the smashed, blackened carcasses of televisions. Here and there, some sets still burned; one by one, their picture tubes imploded, to the onlookers' delight. A postcard reproduction of the event's pyrotechnic climax, printed on the occasion of the its tenth anniversary, bears a droll poem:

Modern alert plague is here burn your TV exterminate fear

Image breakers smashing TV American heroes burn to be free

In "Media Burn," Ant Farm indulged publicly in the guilty pleasure of kicking a hole in the cathode-ray tube. Now, almost two decades later, TV's Cyclopean eye peers into every corner of the cultural arena, and the desire to blind it is as strong as ever. "Media Burn" materializes the wish-fulfillment dream of a consumer democracy that yearns, in its hollow heart and empty head, for a belief system loftier than the "family values" promised by a Volvo ad campaign, discourse more elevated than that offered by the shark tank feeding-frenzy of _The McLaughlin Hour_.


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