I invite readers to try this experiment. To obtain evidence about a significant issue, watch a YouTube video. When you’re done, explain to a friend what you learned. SPECIFICALLY. Chapter and verse.
Revelations like “the government is corrupt” or “you really need to watch the video yourself” don’t count.
There is an intrinsic problem with video, with moving images. They go by too quickly. Gaps and holes in the logic of presentation are behind you before you can analyze them. The relationships among presented facts or assertions are also gone before you can piece them together.
With video, the viewer can gain an IMPRESSION, but the details of the evidence tend to leak away.
Try this experiment next. Read a thing called a book.
For most people, this is on the order of asking them to fly to Mars on the back of a dead horse.
“Today, a college student filed suit against his professor, charging that an assignment to read a two-page article, take notes, analyze those notes, and write an essay based on evidence had collapsed his mind and placed him in the Ninth Circle of Hell. The student’s therapist has recommended he watch a hundred hours of YouTube videos…”
As I write this article, needing my own video fix, I have three added screens running in my office. The NFL playoffs, treasure hunters digging up an entire island as they search for a wooden box holding the Ark of the Covenant, and the Toodie Boo Bubble Gang cartoon marathon. This, alas, is not enough. I plan to opt for a fourth screen. I’ve found the channel transmitting the most commercials and infomercials per unit of air time. I need that one, too. I’ve also discovered a channel that broadcasts sixty seconds of news headlines every half-hour, amidst storm warnings and wall-to-wall coverage of vets performing surgeries on animals. MUST HAVE VIDEO.
According to merchdope.com, “300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute!”
There are many reasons why people who ingest evidence do nothing with it. One of those reasons is video. That’s where the supposed evidence is coming from.
Reliance on video is also a reason why people who ingest evidence tend to believe in Doom. There is no solid ground for shared discourse about the evidence, since it comes across as an impression and then sits vaguely in memory, decaying like rotten eggs. “Wow, dude, that video, wow,” does not quite qualify as discourse.
With a book or an article, you can stop. Not pause; stop. You can think. You can read what you just read. God forbid, you can look up the history of a word in a dictionary. You can underline a passage with something called a pen. You can make notes. You can engage.
With video, it’s all flow. You tend to follow along passively. You’re solidly in the march-of-frames-per-second.
Aside from all the other problems with television news broadcasts, they’re on a screen. They’re video. One little moment morphs into the next little moment.
“Did you watch the news?” “No, why?” “They’re impeaching the president.” “Yeah? And?” “What?” “Never mind.” Brilliant.
Back in the stone age of the 1970s, a friend arranged an exhibition of my paintings at her house. Prior to the opening, she came to my studio and shot video of me painting and of my work on the walls. She then set up a TV set outdoors on her patio, and during the opening she ran the video over and over. When people arrived, as if by magic they migrated to the patio and watched the video. THEN they came back inside the house and looked at my work. Several people said to their friends, “Look, that’s the painting that was in the video!” Case closed.
Teacher: “All right, class, now that we’ve watched today’s video of animals eating each other on the plain, what do you think?”
“I liked it.”
“I liked it.”
“I didn’t like it.”
“When he was talking about the thing with the thing, I wasn’t sure he was making sense.”
“Very good. We’re out of time. See you tomorrow.”
Video is in its own time. Analysis is in another time. They don’t match up.
So, what DOES YouTube do? It helps creates the illusion of sharing and pumps it up into a reality. So do Facebook and the other social media—to a greater degree. If a person in Albany passes a little video to a person in Bombay, and vice versa, that reality becomes preeminent for both people. The content of what is shared is irrelevant, as long as they can say they like it. And they can. In this bubble, disagreement doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit. It’s too complex for the structure. Yes and no are the limits. No means next to nothing. It might mean sharing will stop, but that’s about it. Entrance into the bubble has only one requirement: can you make a snap judgment?
The idea that political movements can be birthed by Facebook is fatuous. Political mobs can be formed. But not movements. If a teacher asked his students, “How many of you would join a political cause you discovered after watching a ten minute video and reading three or four brief online messages?”—some students might actually think before answering. But after only watching the video and reading the messages, without the teacher’s question, some of them might sign up for the cause.
There are subliminal factors at work. Of course, there is the desire to BELONG. But also, the very notion that an idea exists, in and of itself, outside the stream of moving images, and that this idea can be looked at, examined, considered, questioned—well, for many minds, such a reality makes no sense. Therefore, one chooses among different streams of images. “I like stream A more than stream B.”
Let’s move to the arena of movies. First of all, most movies these days are shot with the GET-EVERYTHING approach. Multiple cameras gobble a scene from various angles. Before the action even starts, cameras obtain close-ups of objects in the scene, pictures on the walls, rugs on the floors, in case the editor wants to use them later. The final version of the movie is primarily fashioned by the editor. And what is he doing? He’s cutting together little pieces of each scene, to simulate WHAT A HUMAN WOULD SEE AND TRACK IF HE WERE IN THE ROOM WHERE THE ACTION IS TAKING PLACE. For example, this happens in five seconds:
Extreme close-up of a bright light. Camera pulls back and we see a map. A hand moves across the map. New angle: three men stand around a table, on which the map is spread out. They’re discussing a military invasion. Close-up of the highest ranking officer as he talks. Cut to a close-up frown from a junior officer who is opposed to the plan. Back to a shot of the map. A finger points to a town with a red circle around it as the men continue to talk. Sound of gunfire in the distance. Close-up of a hand picking up a cup of coffee.
Several things are occurring here. First of all, there is the pace. Fast cuts. They capture and lead the viewer’s eye. Second, the question and answer trick—the viewer sees the bright light and asks himself, WHAT IS THAT? In the next instant, he sees the map and the lamp over the map. The bright light was coming from the lamp. Asked and answered. That’s a cheap trick to, again, capture the viewer’s eye/mind and lead him. And third, the sequence of cuts within the scene is meant to convince the viewer that THIS IS THE WAY HE WOULD LOOK AT AND SCAN THE ROOM IF HE WERE THERE. That’s false, but it seems to be true. This trick is part of the editor’s craft, if he doesn’t really care about the art of making a film. He just wants to create an easy impression of “realism.” (If you want a standard of comparison/contrast, watch Citizen Kane, A Touch of Evil, and The Godfather.)
The point is, in most modern commercial movies, the goal is controlling the viewer. So in addition to the intrinsic stream of images, we have the editor’s craft; a layer of heavy influence.
When movies were first invented, the original idea that jumped out at directors was: put a DREAM on the screen. Make no bones about it. Show audiences fantastic dreams. This was as far from contemporary “realism” as planets in the sky are from dogs eating garbage in alleys.
Have you watched little PR documentaries or video ads featuring political candidates? Most of them are assembled by level-B editors. The videos are transparent fakes. Why? Because real pros weren’t brought in—pros who would have cut together sequences that made us feel we were there tracking the candidate. In other words, top-flight fakery wasn’t executed. We had to settle for awkward fakery. “Why would I vote for Joe X? His ads don’t really deceive me into thinking I’m on the campaign trail with him.”
“A candidate’s IDEAS? What? We already know them. He stands for prosperity and peace. Or maybe it’s war. I can’t remember.”
A PSYCHOLOGIST OF THE FUTURE: “Well, Mr. Hogslocker, how many videos would you say you watch every day?”
HOGSLOCKER: “Since the annual universal guaranteed income level was raised two percent? I’d estimate two hundred and fifty.”
PSYCHOLOGIST: “Have you thought about cutting back?”
HOGSLOCKER: “You know, I tried that. I really did. I ordered the glasses that make you think you’re watching yourself in Hell burning for eternity. But I actually got interested in those scenes. I started watching thousands of videos of Hell. After my wife took the kids and left me, I went to cooking vids. Then haircutting videos.”
PSYCHOLOGIST: “Excuse me?”
HOGSLOCKER: “They show stylists cutting people’s hair. There’s something about it. I go into an altered state. I’m very relaxed. I sleep. The problem is, when I wake up, my brain seems to be on hold. I can’t remember where I’ve put things. Keys, credit cards, remotes, groceries, underwear. It’s a problem. Can you help me?”
Many years ago, I proposed that, in the future, movies would be transmitted directly, in an electromagnetic package, to the viewer’s brain. In a single instant. Streams of images would become outdated. The viewer would wobble out of the theater and say to his friend, “That was fantastic.” “Yes,” his friend would say. Neither person would know what was in the movie. They would only know their own reactions. Why bother with inessentials?
Once upon a time, there were ideas. People knew what they were. They could read them and even write them. They could walk around an idea and look at it from all sides and think about it and talk to each other about it. Then came streams of images. These streams contained ideas, but viewers found it difficult to isolate them because the streams moved and kept on moving. Then, the streams were concocted to achieve the simulacrum of “realism.” No ideas, just the sensation that the viewer was there, in a scene, looking at it as he would if he were REALLY there. Then, finally, since the viewer’s reaction was the only event that counted, he would receive a “stimulus package” of electronics, transmitted to his brain, in a brief moment, and he would experience satisfaction. Nothing to think about. Thinking was way back there, in the landfill of history.