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The City That Was: Kill Your TV

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Last week I had dinner with my old friend and roommate, “Chad Mulligan.” Unlike a lot of my Cacophony friends, “Chad” likes staying out of the limelight, but then, he doesn’t write, either—a task for which you’d better get some limelight, or a day job. Hanging with him reminded me of one of his most fantastic events, Kill Your TV. (Just a few others are SantaCon and the Salmon Run at Bay-to-Breakers.)

A lot of the people who now spend half their lives on social media also grew up on television, the first media stranglehold of the 20th century. It eclipsed radio, which was a lot less passive. You could still do something else while listening to radio, but television created the couch potato lifestyle, which would devolve into the keyboard potato variant. “Chad” saw the writing on the wall, and decided, before the Internet finally got us, to kill some TVs.

It was more than a symbolic act. It was an event of epic proportions. Like a lot of the other events Cacophony produced, it demanded a lot of physical work, planning, daring, and cleaning up, so we would leave no trace. If you want people to turn a blind eye to your shenanigans, leaving no trace is a major help.

Watch it all go down in this video

One of the businesses that went the way of the dinosaur in the last century was television repair shops. There was one on just about every commercial street. Chad, John Law, and Danger Ranger stopped by every one of them in town, and asked if they had any abandoned TVs in their back rooms they’d like to get rid of. They hauled away 500 of them, and brought them to the big lot outside a friend’s warehouse space, and built a gigantic pyramid of them. After many, many months of preparation, we were all invited to the world’s first Kill Your TV.

The event was scheduled for September 22, 1994, which corresponded with the television debut of “Friends.” Instead of watching “Friends,” 800 of our friends gathered at the lot that night. John Law instructed the crew about the dangers involved and how to manage them. Survival Research Laboratories people were there, PeopleHaters, Seemen, and the band Sharkbait, which kept up an aggressive audio backdrop to the gleeful destruction.

People were invited to put on protective headgear and take a TV into one of the two crush cages with them and wallop it with a crowbar, or some other weapon of destruction, to the absolute death. People threw bowling balls and used whatever else they could get their hands on (cudgels, hammers, metal bars) to attack the enemy. Weapons of destruction were provided for people’s use. TVs plugged into a lot of extension cords flickered and quailed in the face of death. Then Jim Mason wheeled out the Vegematic of the Apocalpyse for the coup de grace, and John Law sped down a zip line through a burning ring of fire.

The Vegematic is a steam-punky apparatus made of old saw blades, a long drill, a flame-thrower, and a bunch of other bits and pieces of mechanical stuff. It belches gigantic blasts of fire. While the rest of the stuff going on was plenty loud, what with all the roaring and smashing, it could escape notice in the formerly industrial part of town. Once the Vegematic got into the action, escaping notice was out of the question. Not surprisingly, the authorities showed up soon after to inhale the environmentally unfriendly aroma of burning plastic. They weren’t amused at all, and ordered city cleanup crews to come at 8 the next morning.

By the time the crew arrived, they phoned in to say that they must have gotten the wrong address, because there was nothing to clean up. Almost all the 800 people there took something away, and those of us who remained picked up brooms and swept up every shred of broken glass and plastic. Cacophony always left places better than we found them—definitely a good policy.

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P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal is a San Francisco native, writer, therapist, and life coach. Literary agents have called her a clever niche writer, but none of them can figure out what the hell her niche is.