Imagine this guy’s disappointment when he opened Moby-Dick for the first (and last) time, only to find that there was no video of a dick.
As Strother Martin once, said, “Some men you just can’t reach.”
Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings for a moment, because I think this is a good jumping-off point for a brief discussion about why video hasn’t quite killed the journalism star.
The above comment came from a Dodge Challenger forum, and it was in response to my story about the worst trackday driver I’d ever seen. He wasn’t the only person to suggest that This Thread Is Useless Without Video; one TTAC reader noted that “This is why you run a GoPro” or something to that effect.
My offhand answer to that suggestion is that I’ve spent something like a thousand hours driving on a racetrack — possibly more. At the 30 Mb/s of a 1080-60 GoPro, that’s something like 108 terabytes of video. Add in my seat time as an instructor, which is probably close to twice that much, and things get really unwieldy. But the truth of the matter is that I’m too lazy to have a camera turned on all the time. It’s a waste of effort. Most of the time I don’t even run video for my races. Having a GoPro in the window for a trackday is the sure telltale of a novice, a narcissist, or somebody who happens to be both. Nobody wants to watch your stupid on-track video. Furthermore, if you’re one of those racers who likes to, ah, push the envelope of contact a bit, running your own video is a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
With that said, I understand why so many people would rather watch a video than read a story. Humans are generally visual creatures, cishet oppressor men like me being even more so. We’ve also raised at least three generations’ worth of people to passively sit in front of a screen and accept what they’re being shown as the gospel truth. This leads to what I think of as the Seinfeld/Sopranos Effect. Both of those shows ended with the protagonists being punished for their behavior, which hugely upset the viewing audience, because they had unwittingly internalized the protagonists’ viewpoints. The same is true for Breaking Bad, by the way.
Human beings are unable to think critically about video. That’s because evolution works very slowly, particularly when there’s no famine or asteroid to help things along. Biologically you are almost identical to your ancestor of 10,000 years ago. There was no reason for him to disbelieve anything he saw. Seeing was quite literally believing. That’s why people idolize movie actors; they are literally unable at the subconscious level to divorce the actor and the part.
When it comes to storytelling, we’re a little better at separating fact from fiction. Evolution long ago weeded out the kind of human beings who took whatever they were told at face value. So we approach a story, whether oral or written, with a more finely-calibrated set of tools. That’s part of the reason why literary criticism is an ivory-tower discipline and movie reviews are considered to be disposable trash.
So when you read something instead of watching it, you are literally engaging it with your better self and using your finer faculties. Kind of like the way a watchmaker is a better human being when he is making a watch than when he is eating a Big Mac or jerking off; there’s more thought, effort, education, and accomplishment in the first act than there is in the others. The problem, of course, is that a significant percentage of humanity doesn’t spend much time perfecting or even using those finer faculties. If you work a McJob all day and watch YouTube all night, it doesn’t matter if your mind is biologically equipped to be superior to that of Roger Penrose. Garbage in, garbage out.
But I’m preaching to the choir here, because this is primarily a storytelling website and only occasionally a source for bad videos of me playing Ratt covers or drifting a Ferrari 488GTB. So let’s consider the other argument against video, using my Hellcat story as an example.
The video of the moron in the Hellcat losing control of his car again and again, were it to exist, wouldn’t be very useful to anybody. It wouldn’t even be particularly entertaining; YouTube is full of “TRACKDAY CRASH COMPILATIONS” that amount to a sort of “Ow! My Balls!” for the crowd at “Oppo”. It would have no more intrinsic value than the Mustangs-spinning-in-parking-lots videos to which the original commenter above refers.
The value of my Hellcat story, if indeed there is any value, lies in the commentary and experience I brought to bear on it. By placing myself between the visual occurrence and you, I’m able to stick my expertise and knowledge in there. If I just show you a Hellcat video, that doesn’t do anything for anybody. But if I can use the story to explain concisely how not to be that guy, then there’s some value. A video can’t explain anything to you. It can only show you what you would have seen at the time, adjusted of course for the relatively modest capacities of any single camera.
By using me as the camera, instead of a GoPro, the Hellcat experience becomes a teaching tool, a set of examples, maybe even a bit of entertainment. Which brings me to the final lesson/assertion/claim of today’s discussion: nothing means anything until it becomes a story. If you disagree, then imagine having to watch a series of GoPros mounted Big-Brother-style around the Pequod for six months. Would you truly get anything out of that unimaginably massive amount of footage? Or is it better to put a human camera on-board and have him tell you a story that gains by its exclusions even more than it does by its inclusions? In other words, isn’t it better to have Moby-Dick… without all the swinging dicks?