Video Revolution Has Created a Monster

If Mary Shelley had been brainstorming in the summer of 1990 instead of the summer of 1816, I'll bet she wouldn't have made poor Victor Frankenstein go through all that mess of animating a corpse composed of various purloined body parts.

To drive home her point about the unthinkable horrors that can grow out of technological progress, even when administered with the best of intentions, she simply could have sent the good doctor to an electronics-parts junk yard to concoct an even more frightening and all-invasive creature: the portable video camera.

Allow me to explain.

The video explosion indeed has revolutionized our already mind-boggling Information Age. In less time than it took for the telegraph to give way to the telephone, the newsreel of old, with its musty pictures from the battlefield arriving days or weeks later for audiences to ponder, has been supplanted by live mini-cams descending on the scene of any news event within hours, sometimes minutes.

If this has been a boon in allowing us to immediately connect and empathize with victims of a natural disaster halfway around the world, or to witness momentous historical events literally as they happen, it also has become the bane of anyone who wishes to conduct his or her affairs out of the public arena.

Excepting certain people like Richard Nixon and Ollie North who have, by their violation of public trust, given up any right to conduct affairs out of the public arena, the rest of us might reasonably expect to enjoy events without being subjected to prying electronic eyes.

But the video revolution, which egalitarian minds had hoped would lead to an informed, enlightened and concerned citizenry, has degenerated into an arena of bread and circuses. To wit: When the porta-camera gave us a chance to witness firsthand the dismantling of the Berlin Wall last year, Americans tuned out in droves. Yet what is this season's surprise ratings hit on network TV? ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos," which capitalizes on everyone's desire to play Allen Funt and to turn every aspect of life into a coast-to-coast sideshow.

From actual childbirth to birthday parties, weddings and funerals, virtually every aspect of life has become fodder for video voyeurism.

All of which brings us to a concert presented in Santa Ana last weekend to raise money for the homeless. As it turned out, the promoters claim to have lost $400 on the event. That's partly because the show was poorly planned and abysmally executed (there wasn't even so much as a cheap-o Radio Shack PA system for the performers).

Even so, the fiery performance by veteran R&B; saxslinger Big Jay McNeely would have been a pleasurable enough experience in itself. But even that was compromised by the intrusion of not one but two self-styled David Lynches who set about indulging their video appetites all night long.

McNeely is renowned as one of the most animated performers of the early rock era, and with his first song he was living up to his reputation, roaming not just the stage but the entire room, sometimes sitting in a fan's lap, other times falling down on one knee while continuing to blow his heart out.

Not content to be firsthand witnesses to such a freewheeling show, the video freaks followed McNeely around, sweeping in from various corners of the room as if they were cinematographers on a Steven Spielberg film shoot.

Get that close-up! Swing around for a side shot! Zoom in on his fingers! Now get the audience reaction!

Actually, their behavior made me wonder whether these folks were really ardent fans of Big Jay or just waiting, 12-to-1 zooms in hand, for his pants to fall down so they could get big bucks and yuks from Bob Saget.

It's appalling how any no-talent Joe with the money to plunk down for a clump of microchips and tape heads can quickly direct an audience's attention away from the rightful owner--be it a musician, an actor, a newlywed or an amateur athlete--and co-opt it for himself.

Besides which, all this reinforces the already too-prevalent attitude that the only aspects of life with any validity are those that show up on the TV screen.

Did I have a good time at the fair? How was Uncle Bob's 90th birthday? Did Jenny look pretty at her graduation? Gee, I won't know till I rerun the video.

Just as evidence about the dangers of secondhand smoke shatters the myth about cigarettes affecting only the smoker, the video intrusion touches all of us sooner or later.

Come to think of it, if Mary Shelley was updating her book for the '90s reader, she would have to come up with a new subtitle as well. Instead of referring to Frankenstein as "The Modern Prometheus," she could dub her video monster "The Modern Narcissus."

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