Monday, October 16, 2006

You and the Tube

Pop Culture critic David Hajdu files one of the more enlightening YouTube epistles for the New York Times, in which he traces the birth of the pre-recorded clip, courtesy of a pre-Mork Jonathan Winters...
...50 years ago this month, it was told the network would be conducting a test of a new technology. The musical interlude in that week’s show, a two-and-a-half minute song by the ever-bubbly Dorothy Collins (then beloved as one of the stars of “Your Hit Parade”), had been performed the day before the broadcast, captured through an experimental process called videotape recording, and inserted into the otherwise live telecast. The video era had begun.
But networks regarded videotape as a delivery device, not a new paradigm of performance.
Jonathan Winters saw something more in that R.C.A. tape machine the size of a Frigidaire sitting in his studio. Within weeks of that broadcast of Dorothy Collins’s recorded tune, he concocted a routine using videotape to appear as two characters, bantering back and forth, seemingly in the studio at the same time. You could say he invented the video stunt, planting the creative seed for the wild overgrowth of gag clips that last week earned YouTube a sale price of $1.65 billion.
Hajdu goes on to blame the ubiquitous video sharing site for reducing the once groundbreaking medium to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps, but the participatory aspect of web-based footage more than makes up for its often pedestrian subject matter. Just ask Steve Bryant.
It's precisely our lack of awe for video and its attendent technologies that makes social media possible, and the promise of social media is to reach beyond media's presentational value and control its power to connect. YouTube may be a displayer, but it's also a connector on an unprecedented scale. YouTube users actively subscribe to other users. They comment on videos. They post videos back. And somewhere along the way they've invented a new aesthetic. Sure, it's self-conscious playacting. But what other way, when the audience has become actor? When the very idea of suspending disbelief for thirty to sixty minutes is no longer en vogue?
Obviously, Hadju and Bryant are straining brain cells I ain’t got. But even a rumpled photog like myself can grasp the difference between passively watching what the wide-screen drags in and gathering mini-vignettes on-line and on-demand. From collating clips that catch my attention to distributing my own demented desktop masterpiece, why would I ever want to just sit and stare at someone else’s tube? I mean - have you seenDancing With the Stars?’ I haven’t. I’ve been to way too busy, squinting at a tiny box on my screechy laptop as the mammoth HD sits in the corner and quietly gathers dust. Perhaps content is king, after all.

1 comment:

Steve Bryant said...

Thanks for reading Reel Pop. I think I may be straining brains cells I don't have. Hajdu's a great writer and critic though, we're lucky to have him about.