Sam’s Cafe: A Media Inversion

This tape documents the activities of and media response to the Sam's Cafe Three (David Schier, Marc Keyser, and Terri Keyser), a group that created several dramatic publicity stunts in order to demonstrate that the new way of protesting effectively should be by utilizing the media itself. The group sent out fake utility collection notices to 20,000 people in the Bay area with the return address of a local TV station and also sent excrement to local news media offices. Sam's Cafe member Marc Keyser explains, "This is a work of art and it's a sample of the inversion of mass media. Now this has begun and it stopped. Next time when the inversion of mass media begins, it will not stop." It is an exciting and humorous look at a moment in time when the one-way flow of information through television was under heavy critique and the new technologies of portable video cameras and cable television seemed to offer an alternative.

00:00Copy video clip URL This tape begins with static.

00:18Copy video clip URL Less than a minute’s worth of a TV program.

00:55Copy video clip URL The members of Sam’s Cafe are in a TV studio for a question and answer session with journalists on the show Newsroom. The members of the news media are a bit testy, perhaps because they were the brunt of the joke (sending excrement to Bay area TV stations). This footage was perhaps accidentally inserted at this point, as it begins abruptly and is a direct repeat of the last two minutes of the program. David Schier talks about their new experimental technique of protesting by directly manipulating the news media. Several journalists attempt to interview Terri Keyser, wearing a wig and clown makeup, who will only respond with two planned jokes about the excrement being hers and wanting to “get it all out.” This is followed by footage of a toilet flushing and a reading of the credits as a person destroys a television set with a wrench.

03:16Copy video clip URL Marc Keyser stands in front of the camera adorned with a jacket that reads “Sam’s Cafe.” The camera pans out to capture all three Sam’s Cafe members, followed by a TV being smashed with a wrench. This is followed by footage from a TV news report summarizing the group’s activities. The newscaster explains that the group sent out 20,000 fake collection notices to the general public stating that they owed $76 dollars. The notices were on Sam’s Collection stationery with a return address on the envelopes for the KRON-TV station. The reporter then shows footage of the three being taken into custody. Captain Charles Hansen of the Oakland Police explains that the three had broken federal law by sending excrement through the mail and begins to show samples of the illegally sent materials.

04:32Copy video clip URL After a shot of a newspaper article on the three, the three members sit in a room across from the camera to introduce themselves to the viewers as they prepare for their “media inversions.” Schier spends the time stamping and labeling the 20,000 letters. As Terri explains, “It’s a never-ending, never appreciated job.” Terri explains that they will interview themselves and attempt to guess what questions the viewers might ask if they were present. Terri asks random questions about Schier’s hair and explains why she chooses to wear clown-like makeup and not use soap. The camera operator suddenly pans to the right to reveal a collection of containers, each with a small piece of fecal matter inside, stacked on top of a dinner tray. Terri explains that the group refers to these as “religious excrement,” and explains that they will be sent to members of the media along with a press kit and a Bible. Terri explains this by claiming that Marc is a religious fanatic–“really bongo”–and then states the purpose of the stunt: “Well, we’d like to pawn off our shit on other people, that that’s really what it’s all about… So we’re like literally getting our shit out.”

10:40Copy video clip URL A press conference is about to happen on the stairs of a building. The members of the press, all of whom are shooting 16mm film, are very curious about the 1/2″ portable video camera being used for the Sam’s Cafe piece. They repeatedly question the camera operator about his intentions and methods. Not able to envision a use for audiovisual media outside of broadcast structures, they confusedly ask questions such as, “But who tells you what to shoot?” One of the reporters then determines he wants to interview the camera operator about the effect of television on the masses, but the camera operator says he’s not really in the right mindset to elaborate on such a big question at that moment.

13:24Copy video clip URL The press conference is shot from the point of view of the Sam’s Cafe Three. A throng of camera lenses and microphones surround the group members as they explain their philosophy. Marc Keyser: “This is a work of art and it’s a sample of the inversion of mass media. Now this has begun and it stopped. Next time when the inversion of mass media begins, it will not stop. … There are about 205 million people in America alone who have access to mass media, to the mail and phones, twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year. This has shown what can happen when a few people begin calling.” The reporters question the three about whether or not they think their stunt was worth going to jail, and whether or not they feel guilty about involving thousands of poor people who may have been deeply troubled by a collection notice. Marc responds, “Everyone’s going to be involved in the destruction of centralized power.” At the end of his answer, the camera operator turns to a heavily-bearded Doug Michels, who offers to take over camera duty.

15:07Copy video clip URL Cut to footage taken from a news broadcast that repeats the same moment except facing the Sam’s Cafe Three. The same speech by Marc Keyser is repeated, and there is a voiceover by a news reporter summarizing the group’s activities and goals. Marc goes on to say, “This is the first time in human history where the mass media has been reversed because we have seen what happens when the masses, when a number of people begin flooding the media.”

17:06Copy video clip URL A meta-review of the press conference: First there is footage from the point of view of the reporter who interviewed the Sam’s Cafe camera operator about the effect of TV on the general public. Then there is footage of the Sam’s Cafe crew’s footage of that moment playing on a TV monitor. Then there is more footage of the pre-press conference from other cameras that recorded footage of the 1/2″ video camera.

18:32Copy video clip URL More footage of the press conference facing the three subjects. Schier states that it cost $2,100 to send the notices and took eight months to prepare. There is more footage of Marc Keyser repeating the same statements as before. When asked if the mass media responded artfully, Terri Keyser states that it actually did and that it picked upon the story very well. Marc then states that Sam’s Cafe has “drawn a picture of the ideal way to protest. And if you missed that, you missed everything.” A reporter suggests that maybe the days of large protests at City Hall are over. Marc responds, “Absolutely. You can destroy the entire establishment right at home.”

20:09Copy video clip URL On the outskirts of the press conference, Reverend Harry Scholefield of the First Unitarian Church is asked his opinion, and he responds that he thought it was a clever stunt and that he hopes people don’t take it too seriously and start involving the law. The camera operator states that Scholefield might be the only other person outside of his group that thinks this way.

20:44Copy video clip URL Cut to a round table televised discussion on the show Newsroom between members of the media and the Sam’s Cafe group. The moderator explains what has happened to the group in the legal system over the past three days before starting the program with the question “Why did you do it?” Marc responds, “Well it’s just something that had to be done. … We’re talking about something that, well, to our way of thinking is inevitable. And we put it together in a small controllable way, and we put it together as a work of art. So that everyone could see it so that it could be experienced, and dealt with as an experience, before the real thing happens.” Marc goes on to comment on the general public’s lack of knowledge of the extent to which they are involved with the mass media. “Our entire existence is based upon a one way flow of mass media. People in power structures are sending and the masses of people are receiving. They’re doing the advertising. They’re filling the media and the masses of people are listening and are paying for everything, paying all of the bills, paying all of the taxes, without having a voice in everything.” One of the journalists expresses his understanding by listing a famous quote: “A demonstration is a poor man’s printing press.” Schier adds, “We think everyone should demonstrate in the media. Not in front of TV cameras, but directly in the media. There’s a big difference.”

26:20Copy video clip URL One of the reporters asks the members of Sam’s Cafe if they truly proved their point, claiming that the stunt had no effect on the people in power, but instead was a burden on people like switchboard operators and mail room employees. He insists that the actual members of the news media simply found it all amusing. He ends by stating, “And here you are at the end, on our terms.” Marc responds by asking, “Now, it’s a question of, are we here at the end, or are we now at the beginning?” Keyser and Schier then explain that their act was only a demonstration to the public how to protest through the media, and that once this is happening twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year, the people at the top will be affected. This then moves in to the footage that was recorded at the beginning of the tape, with Terri’s clever responses, followed by the toilet flush, tv smash, and voiceover credits.

30:00Copy video clip URL Tape ends.



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