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Burn, Baby, Burn

by Ethan Tussey

by Paul Benzon for IN MEDIA RES

The second half of the July 12, 1979 double-header between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers never happened. That night was Disco Demolition Night: White Sox management had invited local shock jock Steve Dahl to destroy a mass of disco records between the first and second games. Standing in center field in a military dress uniform and a combat helmet, Dahl exploded a large box containing thousands of discs brought to the stadium by fans. After the explosion, the crowd stormed the field, and amidst the ensuing chaos the Sox were forced to forfeit the second game.

The politics of disco and of the antidisco backlash are both well known, and Dahl’s reminiscence in this clip links those domestic dynamics to the ambient trauma of Vietnam and American imperialism more broadly. But the camera’s tight focus on the exploding box also foregrounds the politics of demolition itself in relation to objecthood and materiality, particularly the fragmented materiality of the records exploded that night, and it’s those fragments that I’m most intrigued by here. In focusing such close attention on Dahl’s demolition box as a kind of archival crucible, I want to suggest the possibility of a politics of media archeology by way of extreme specificity—an archeology not of lost technology, but of particular lost technological objects.

Approaching the demolition at this microscopic level opens up a range of questions that bear on the politics of the archive, temporality, and materiality. How might we conduct an archeology not of the cultural politics of disco, but of the cultural politics of discs—discs that are lost, splintered, burned, warped beyond recognition? Reconstructing the demolition, we are faced with an event paradoxically premised upon the destruction of its own most crucial and visible evidence. What would a catalog of these discs look like, and what trajectories of consumption, possession, and disposal might we see within it? Many of the fans in attendance presumably bought records for the sole purpose of contributing them to the demolition, records that were never even played: how do we figure such an action into the gestural, economic, political, and material dynamics of the demolition? Ultimately, what does it mean to imagine the politics of media archeology not though the broad strokes of emergence or obsolescence, but in terms of a flashing, momentary destruction, a starkly material end where objects leave the archive rather than enter it?

Disco Demolition

Disco Demolition

from Disco Demolition (1979)
Creator: Steve Dahl
Distributor: Bravo
Posted by Ethan Tussey