10 YEARS OF FFFF
As I write these words in November of 2013 (almost ten years after the fact), I find it hard to believe that this video ever received the attention that it did (over 2 million views on just one of many YouTube posts that have appeared ever since the creation of YouTube, plus who knows how many views on other websites). To me, it seems obvious that this is a planned stunt (though Michelle Linn and KMIZ certainly didn’t expect it and were not “in on it”) but I have been curiously watching the diverse (normally obtuse) online reactions to this video (and to the Tosh.0 episode I was in) without any official comment until now.
Now that the Free Form Film Festival is ten years old (and still kicking), I feel like I should say something about this video, so here it is:
In December of 2003 I appeared on KMIZ in Columbia Missouri at 6:09 AM. The appearance was supposed to be a promotional interview for the Free Form Film Festival, an experimental film exhibition project that I started that year with Ryan Wylie. The interview was originally scheduled to take place two days earlier, but KMIZ pushed us back and that was a problem because our festival was only three days long so by the time I appeared on television, the fest was almost completely over and there was essentially nothing left to promote. Ryan and I had long been inspired by the media interventions of artists like Chris Burden, Ant Farm, The Yes Men, etc., so with no real reason to be on television we decided to seize the opportunity to do something unexpected during a live broadcast.
The original plan was this: Ryan and I would both appear on the morning news with Michelle Linn and, after a minute or so, Ryan would begin an extraordinarily verbose response to some question or other and then, just when it began to get annoying, I would suddenly vomit (I don’t know why, but I have always been able to vomit on command). When we arrived at the station that morning, the receptionist told me I had something blue on my face. I did. It was the Blues Clues vanilla ice cream I had eaten (a whole half gallon) on the way to the station. Ryan said it must be toothpaste and I wiped the streak off and then we were told that only one of us could be on camera because, for some inexplicable reason there was “only room for one of us in the camera frame”. Ryan suddenly made some excuse about why it should be me and then… well, just watch the video.
After I puked and they cut to a commercial, I didn’t even have to lie… everyone just assumed I was sick and rushed us both out of the studio. Michelle grabbed both sides of her head and screamed and some poor production assistant had to wipe up my blue puke with a rag. The show was on a direct feed to another channel and it played again a half hour later so we rushed back to the apartment we were staying at and taped the whole thing. KMIZ figured out what we did later on and called all the stations in St. Louis (our next stop) and told them not to have us on. This was just free advertisement since we had no press scheduled there anyway.
About a week later I had a friend post the video online (not many people knew how to get a video on the web in 2003). A few months later another friend started re-posting the video on other sites and soon I started getting drunken emails from fans.
I didn’t fully contemplate what it means to be an Internet meme until 2009 when I was asked to be a “Web Redemption” guest on a brand new (not one episode had aired yet) show called Tosh.0.
Seeing myself on TV with Daniel Tosh a few weeks later, I knew that this weird story had come full-circle. When I was on live television in 2003, I was in control, but when I was on the highly edited (Tosh never interviewed me. If you analyze the edits, you’ll see that it’s a joke compilation and not an interview) Comedy Central show, It was easy to see myself as nothing more than a product. In the end, I had no control of my own image. The only part of the show that was my own idea was my drinking red dye before the “gallon challenge” (I didn’t tell the producers I was going to do that).
Since appearing on Tosh.0, I have lectured several times on this experience and it’s relation to the study of media effects. I tell audiences and students that I once found the experience of being a YouTube meme oddly exciting, but now I just feel ambivalent about the whole thing.