The film, Media Burn by Ant Farm was designed to satirize society’s obsession with the media by holding a mirror up to them and creating a ‘media stunt’ which would attract people but bear no real implication on that day’s real event: the 4th July, America’s Independence Day. The film takes on a form of documentary make which Bill Nichols refers to as ‘The Poetic Mode’ (Nichols, 2001, p102), as it detaches itself from a defined space in time and location (other than America, as a whole) and instead, it presents a series of video clips and ideas which may seem somewhat exclusive from one another whilst actually presenting a very defined idea.
Ant Farm were a “radical, countercultural collective” (Earle, 2010) who regularly participated in large-scale art projects and were part of the ‘Guerrilla Video’ movement of the 1970s. The aim of this movement was to produce video that provided the public with an alternative view of the world or media events and to have their work aired on television (Boyle, 1990, p56). The project of Media Burn was an excellent example of such a piece of work: in the film itself, we are first shown the media circus that surrounded Media Burn, we are even presented with one news anchor giving a definition of what a ‘media event’ is, detailing that it used to be referred to as a “publicity stunt” but that now “whenever the President shakes hands with someone, it’s a media event” and adding, that these things are designed to attract the media (Ant Farm, 1975). The aim of Media Burn was to demonstrate how ridiculous the vulture-like media are and how easily the mass public can be lured into spending money and using their time, when the media are involved – the underlying message being that everyone is a little bit fame-hungry.
Media Burn is an example of Nichols’ term ‘The Poetic Mode’ which is a documentary that detaches itself from defined terms and presents a message through a series of images and instead, it explores the different juxtapositions and patterns which evolve naturally through it. In Media Burn, we are presented with people being asked why they attended the event and buying programs. There is a close up shot of a man holding out his wallet and producing a dollar, which he then hands over to the woman behind the counter. His money blows away and his wife chases after it whilst he stands still and questions “Oh, my dollar blew away?” (Ant Farm, 1975). In accordance with Nichols’ theory, these people do not take on the “full blooded form of characters” (Nichols, 2001, p102) and instead, they represent the unintelligent masses who are simply attending because there is a media presence – they are happy to hand over their money (his wife even chases the money, quite ungracefully, around the floor) – all in the name of something which nobody seemed to understand, further highlighting the juxtaposition between the meaning of the piece (the lack of understanding with regard to media events) and the demonstration of the public who do not understand this media event.
The initial video clips show that it is the 4th July – Independence Day – and the media are buzzing about the various events happening nationally. We then cut to the Media Burn event: a Cadillac is driven into a burning pyramid of television sets. The media are drawn in to cover the events on the understanding that it is to celebrate the 4th July: “Every film and electronic media within 20 miles was present at the event.” (Ant Farm, 1975) But, they seem confused by what they see: one reporter states: “It may not have been good art, at least in some people’s heads, but at least it was good entertainment.” (Ant Farm, 1975). Another states: “I think it’s over our heads” and another, “I don’t think I wanna get it.” (Ant Farm, 1975). Ant Farm are drawing attention to the media’s own inept understanding of itself, and in turn this demonstrates the lack of real importance that the media presents. Ant Farm subtly mock the media and its adoring public by allowing them to present themselves as ridiculous figures – one woman even stating that she came because she knew the media would be there and because “she heard programs were only $1.” (Ant Farm, 1975). The film is a very clever piece of satirical work that demonstrates the lack of understanding of the media but presenting the public with its own lack of fundamental comprehension. Subtle, yet effective.
Nichols, B. (2001). Introduction to Documentary. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Boyle, D. (1990). A Brief History of American Documentary Video. Fifer, S. J. & Hall, D. (Eds.) Illuminating Video (pp. 51-69). New York: Aperture Foundation.
Ant Farm. (1975). Media Burn. Retrieved from http://www.mediaburn.org/Video-Preview.128.0.html?uid=4574
Earle, E. (2010). Ant Farm Presents Media Burn and Eternal Frame. Retrieved from http://museum.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/ant_farm/introduction.html