Television, cars, spaceflights — from 1968 to 1978, Ant Farm proved themselves to be distinctively “American”, capitalising on these objects which, even then, were cultural symbols of the USA. The Eternal Frame (1975) is no exception, though it takes things to a further extent. Rather than referring to merely objects which have become symbols, it refers to something more human: an event which has become a myth.
The title of this video itself is misleading: as a non-American millenial with little knowledge on this 1963 event on the other end of the world, it took me a while to realise this IS the artwork, and not the legitimate footage. For at least 90% of Americans at that time, though, it became a collective memory, in that it was heavily televised.
The Riderless Horse, Black Jack, at Kennedy’s funeral, which was also broadcast. It is now a key image representing Kennedy’s assassination, alongside other images like that of the Kennedys kneeling by the eternal flame, something which sounds almost ethereal.
In 1975, a previously-excised, now-infamous frame from the Zapruder Film was “shown for the first time” (Andrews, 2013). And the masses tore into that depiction of the exact moment of the shot.
Obviously, The Eternal Frame (1975) is a response: as stated by Uthco & Ant Farm, it is “simultaneously a live performance spectacle, a taped re-enactment of the assassination, a mock documentary, and… a simulation of the Zapruder film”. In fact, it’s likely a response to the whole nature of the televised tragedy:
“While we didn’t see the assassination live, the television show about the assassination was a four-day long drama that played on national television.” (Robert Thompson)
It was never about the substance: when the presidential campaigns came around, it didn’t matter that Kennedy was a philanderer or a druggie. It was the “power of the image” (Lord, 2017), the charismatic television facade which won the hearts of the people.
Everyone claims that “it” was “gut-wrenching“, “haunting“, “powerful“, but the “it” they refer to is merely the image curated for mass media. Not the 1963 assassination of the person named Kennedy, but the 1975 film about the character named Kennedy. They will never feel the same as true witnesses like Zapruder did, so utterly traumatised that he had nightmares.
At some point, this reality became nothing more than a “drama” to be viewed on television. It became something which had fantastical motifs, sensational twists; something for the entertainment of the masses who eagerly tear into that one frame, who squint at the image of his head exploding, who try to solve the murder mystery: who killed him?
Frame 313 captured everyone’s eyes, which remains eternally in their thoughts. The frame, and nothing more.
Featured image courtesy of Diane Andrew Hall, retrieved from here.
- Andrews, E. (2013). “What happened to the Zapruder film?”. History.com. (link)
- Lewallen, C. (N.A.). “Still Subversive After All These Years.” Stretcher. (link)
- Loughlin, W.S. (2013). “Modern Mythology: Fifty Years Later, JFK Still Resonates.” Syracuse University. (link)
- McGuire, K. (2013). “The Kennedy Assassination, boomers, and TV journalism.” The Chicago Blog. (link)
- Packer, R. & Lord, Chip. (2018). “Chip Lord live from the NMC Media Lounge.” (link)
- Rosenbaum, R. (2013). “What Does the Zapruder Film Really Tell Us?.” Smithsonian. (link)
- Simon, R. (2017). “How Kennedy Created a Presidency for a TV Age.” Time. (link)
- Sneed, T. (2013). “How John F. Kennedy’s Assassination Changed Television Forever.” US News. (link)
- Testimony of Kenneth P O’Donnell (link)
- Uthco, T.R. & Ant Farm. (N.A.) “The Eternal Frame.” Electronic Arts Intermix. (link)
(Also, vaguely relevant things from 2017 regarding the declassification of JFK files.)