The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Five


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?

46 Replies to “The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Five”

    • AvatarJoe

      The money shot in the zero hedge article, in the 1800’s Voltaire was the most famous person, today it’s Micky mouse, I paraphrase. I always learn more from print than from video, most video taken from a book or other printed matter offer a fraction of the information versus the print it came from.

  1. Avatarjz78817

    not that it’s the main point of this post, but I just picked up a dash cam (not a GoPro) which keeps a “rolling” log of video. you can set it to save the last 5, 10, 15 minutes of video. That way it just overwrites old files as it goes, and you can stop it to keep the most recent file if anything “interesting” happens.

  2. Avatarcarrya1911

    “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.”

    Spoken like a man who has never seen me jerk off….

    • AvatarArk-med

      An Italian court declared that it’s not a crime to publicly indulge. So you could stand by the Leaning Tower with a GoPro on your head while you demonstrate. But you’ll have to give us accompanying commentary so it becomes a teaching, uh, tool, a set of examples, maybe even a bit of entertainment.

  3. AvatarArk-med

    As the old arab joke about the husband, caught in flagrante delicto with his inamorata, telling his wife, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?”

  4. AvatarEric H

    We try to have video of our teams’ track time for education and postmortems. Since we’re trying to improve our skills as a team it’s great to share it on youtube so we can learn from each other.

    You’re also off by a factor of eight on your data storage needs, 13TB would do for 1K hours. Classic bits vs. bytes misunderstanding.

      • AvatarEric H

        That would give you about 1.8 gigs per minute of video and need the very fastest flash cards available today.
        Lowercase b is always bits.

    • AvatarVolandoBajo

      Lower case b is supposed to always be bits rather than bytes, but I have seen the convention slaughtered in print occasionally.

      Reminds me of a college job at a 24 hour burgers and breakfast joint. Whoever worked the night shift had to make up the next ten or twenty gallon pot of chili.

      Directions were handwritten on a 3×5 card. One of the ingredients looked to the night cook like 5 cups of salt. But it was someone’s bad handwriting for 5 Tsp.

      The chili was so salty that even when the manager tried to make two more batches minus salt, then blend them, all he accomplished was to manage to triple his loss…

      I like a lot of salt in my food, but even after the 3 for 1 split, it was the saltiest thing I have ever tasted.

      Moral of the story: always comfirm the units as well as the quantities.

    • AvatarCanuckGreg

      >>>You’re also off by a factor of eight on your data storage needs, 13TB would do for 1K hours

      Pedants gonna pedantize.

  5. AvatarDuong Nguyen

    I would much rather just read. Video seems to take twice as long to get the story and if you’re on your mobile device you either have to have headphones on or be “that guy” who plays videos on his phone. “That guy” is really annoying.

  6. AvatarMason

    Go Pro users dump the vast majority of their footage precisely because they know no one cares including themselves. You save the small interesting bits and share with those who care. The narcissism angle just doesn’t make sense to me. Do you also not share personal photos with friends and family?

    You can add narration to your own track video. Sharing the same exact thoughts as you did in written form. The majority of my YouTube “viewing” isn’t viewing at all. Most of meat of the content is delivered orally with the addition of video. The audience will then likely be doing multiple things but that’s precisely what they want to do. My parents never sat down and watched the news; they listened to it while cooking dinner.

    I like video (with audio) because it allows one to stack things. I can take care of a lot of low throughput tasks plus listen to a video (or podcast) at the same time. I can’t read your article and do that.

      • AvatarE. Bryant

        Same here. I hate it when presented with a video that is several minutes long and contains about as much information as I could digest in 30 seconds of reading.

        • Avatarrwb

          I see a big difference between imbibing information and filling silence. I’ll watch a video podcast or TORC short course or something terrible while I wash dishes, but instructions presented at the speed of speech when I need to get something done can be infuriating.

          I’m partially with Mason in that there’s a cadence to certain types of media which lend themselves to casual or background consumption, but reading is probably a more efficient method of absorbing anything that requires active pondering.

      • AvatarHarry

        Reading faster than I listen is why I frequent sites like this. I never understood the appeal of books on tape either.

        When there is a “video article” of a news event, especially one not otherwise covered, I wish they would provide a transcript below.

        • AvatarEconomist

          Absolutely. I’m back into motorcyling again (my bike will be forthcoming in #bikesoutforharambe) and I am looking for information about riding, maintenance, and whatever else I can learn. There are a lot of 10-year-old written articles out there, but when it comes to new stuff, it’s mostly on video. I hate bumbling through a forest of “ums” and refrences to whatever is happening in traffic at the time they recorded the vlog in order to get a few nuggets of wisdom.

        • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

          My parents are avid readers but they listened to books on tape for road trips and I have to say that it beats picking a playlist that will last 8 hrs.

    • AvatarNick D

      Spoken word comprehension depends on your ancillary activities. I have a long commute, mostly drive a car with radar cruise and active lane keeping assist, and listen to a shitload of spoken word audio, from Ayn Rand, the Economist, to garbage Grant Blackwood takes on the Ryanverse.

      Most apps allow speeds between 1x-3x. I listen to most at 1.5-2x, depending on content. For me, this addresses the reading vs listening delta.

      • AvatarJoe

        Ryanverse, had to look it up, Clancys books are usually big thick door stops, great reading, only book I listened to on tape was Atlas Shrugged, Edward Hermans voice was a good fit, later read that book, reading it was more descriptive.

  7. AvatarWill

    Moby Dick has to be one of the worst books I have read. Dreadfully boring. I would have preferred a penis at the beginning. I don’t give a rats ass about whale paintings. People love to claim it’s so great because it’s such a slog. Same goes for Infinite Jest.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Moby Dick is one of the greatest books ever written. You just need to give it time. It’s not a slog if you don’t expect it to be.

      • AvatarWill

        I’ve read it once. Tried to read it a second time, just not my kind of book. Found it way too tedious. It’s ok. Can’t be for everyone.

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I agree — I’ve read a few “great books” that didn’t interest me in the slightest.

          But I think the way we teach Moby-Dick nowadays doesn’t do it justice. What makes it a brilliant novel is the interplay between the lighthearted interludes and the life-and-death struggle that is brewing.

          • AvatarHarry

            Moby-Dick is one of the few “great books” I truly enjoyed, The last time through I even enjoyed the cetology chapters that we were allowed to skip while studying it. It was a fascinating insight into how things used to be understood.

            Ulysses? frack that.

      • Avatarjz78817

        switching media, I felt the same way about The Big Lebowski. I think I had to watch it about three times before it “clicked.”

      • Avataryamahog

        man I wish Ron jeremy would hurry the frig up with that watch making, I’ve been waiting for a grand sonnerie watch from the MF for months now and if I keep showing up late to work at the coal mine, they’re gonna fire me.

    • AvatarVolandoBajo

      I was hoping you’d also give your impression/critique/review of Infinite Jest.

      As to your observation that the new majority prefer videos, let’s not forget that there was a time, perhaps before yours, I’m not sure, where the criticism of much motor sport, and especially of NASCAR and Indy, were that many people were there only for the crashes.

      And there has always been (at least in modern times) a vast greater number of passive consumers than there has been of active thinkers, and for the former, only a video will “hit the spot” for them. The best driving analysis in the world (such as your excellent driving fast in the mountains article) will for them just be (in the words of Mr. M. Mathers)
      “a bunch of gibberish”.

      Or to sum up, with another quote from Strother Martin “what we have here is a failure to communicate!”.

      And FWIW, in Breaking Bad, while I could see things from Walter White’s point of view, the character I most identified with and empathized with, for whatever reason, was Gus Fring. He definitely “had game”, to the extent that he offered Walter White the opportunity to learn how to fill in the flaws and weaknesses in his own game, had he chosen to work with, rather than rebel against, Gus Fring. Walter’s failure to see Gus as his best course up and eventually out was clearly, to me, Walter’s tragic flaw, in the classical sense of that term.

      Also had a lot of empathy for the Mike Ehrmantraut character. “No more half measures, Walter”.

      And I saw Gus Fring’s death scene as the gaping hole of improbability in the entire story line…the same man who could observe minor differences in garage floor dust patterns in order to not get into a booby-trapped vehicle was supposedly so oblivious to the situation in the nursing home that he didn’t notice anything strapped to the wheelchair’s wheel for several minutes? I found it highly implausible, and as I said, the one really weakest link in the whole series.

      Still, Breaking Bad, along with Season One of True Detective, were both bright spots in Newton Minow’s Wasteland. SOA is a weak third and after that, it falls off fast.

      I agree with your analysis of people who think their whole life needs to be Go-Pro’d. Still, I wish I had gotten footage of the Mustang Matt and I saw fishtailing at about 60 in a 35 zone, then doing the same again a few blocks away, only managing to fishtail enough to go from sideways to front slapping the back of a parked van, to spun around in the opposite direction with the tail first. Ditto for the weasel who pulled into my lane at highway speed a few months ago, resulting in a three way 45 degree angle power slide by him, me and the alert driver behind me. I still can’t believe what I saw happen, though I have two witnesses to confirm it…not enough for full-on PTSD, but certainly enough to leave me even more paranoid about trying to find an open space between two platoons of vehicles when driving on an interstate.

      Both would have been an instructive video of poor hooning technique, with no one seriously hurt, if you don’t count wallets, in the case of the solo Mustang which wiped out pretty much everything ahead of the firewall.

      As you probably are well aware, almost always there will be two groups of a few dozen cars each on a busy but flowing interstate, about a quarter to a half mile apart, with either no other cars between them, or at most, two or three others. The safest place to ride, yet 98% of traffic prefers to stay almost bumper to bumper and fender to fender at seventy plus mph.

      This is my formal proof of the sheep theory of human behavior, along with the vast majority of drivers, who will stay in one or two lanes, while an adjacent one has less than half as many stalled or slow-moving cars in it.

      “Keep those cards and letters coming”, Jack. There are still many of us who not only enjoy, but need, a certain ration of well thought out words on a regular basis. And you are an excellent source of same.

      Glad to see so many of your loved ones are also doing well these days. DG, Number One Son, younger Bubba, as well as yourself. I still think your Lamborghini article in R&T a few months ago was one of the best reviews ever, from the perspective of giving a more or less ordinary drive a Walter-Mitty-eyeview of being behind the wheel of a truly remarkable vehicle that most will never get a chance to drive, and if we did, would have no idea how to find out what its strengths and weaknesses near the edge are.

      I predict it will stand the test of time and will be remembered as one of the best articles of the decade in R&T.

    • AvatarVolandoBajo


      Only if he makes the watches off-camera.

      The only reason (besides endowment) that he made it in the industry is that he made the “average” man in a raincoat feel like if RJ could land chicks like that, perhaps he too had a chance.

  8. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    Barney’s movie had heart. But “Football in the Groin” had a football in the groin.

    As always, Simpsons did it first.

    • Avatarjz78817

      let’s just say it “moved” me. INTO A BIGGER HOUSE!!

      Oh, crap, I said the loud part quiet and the quiet part loud.

  9. Avatar-Nate

    If I could ever get away from the fracking television, I might be interested in looking at the occasional video .

    TV is everywhere , for me this includes pinheads watching their cell ‘phones .

    The cool thing about reading is : your mind (if you have one) tends to make better mental pictures .


  10. AvatarArBee

    Reading does create better images. Reading, like radio, is theater of the mind. I don’t post here often because I usually don’t know what y’all are writing about. Because I don’t own a computer or a television, a lot of the modern cultural references go over my head. (When I post, I do so on my breaks at work.) Yet I don’t feel in the least deprived. In the evenings, I either socialize with friends, read or listen to a very good local jazz program on the radio. As several of you mentioned, I understand the written word quicker and more completely than images. We are, I fear, being overwhelmed with imagery, and that is jading us.

  11. AvatarDirtRoads

    I suppose if you were to take the time to inject stop frames and arrows with clever descriptions like —> dumbass move! and so on, it may be more interesting. But that takes even more time than writing it down, and it’s remembered for about 50% less time (for the most part).

    The story was better than a video just because you write well enough for me to get a decent personal visual of what happened. The driver was a dumbass, who should not have been on track, and who apparently has never been taught or seen/watched others on-track. Hell, I’ve never races a CAR on a track but I’ve watched enough races in person and on TV to know what is expected.

    Then again, as Nate said, you have to have a brain to start out with.

  12. AvatarNorman Yarvin

    I have about the strongest preference for text that one can have, but I still wanted video so that I could see what you meant by the CRS kicking in and trying to save the car from its driver.

    Most readers, I think, though, would want it on “video or it didn’t happen” grounds: they don’t know you, and want to be sure that you weren’t shading the truth. When writing for mass publications, you don’t get to choose your readers. Video also would be useful if you wanted to get the culprit banned for life from somewhere — or, in future incidents, possibly to recover damages.

    A properly-installed dashcam is basically zero-maintenance: it turns on whenever the ignition goes on, and just keeps overwriting older footage. I like the Mobius: $70, 1080p with good video quality. (No screen; just a quiet little black box which takes a MicroSD card that can hold hours of video.) Installation is the main hassle — in particular running ignition power to it.

    • Avatarjz78817

      yeah, I got my aforementioned dashcam because 1) it was on sale and 2) my drive to work takes me through the City of Detroit, and on the frequent occasions I have to leave I-94 I see some rather interesting driving methods.

  13. AvatarCanuckGreg

    Best human being would be the watchmaker making a watch while he’s eating a Big Mac while he’s jerking off. Just saying…

  14. AvatarWill Litten

    I know for a lot of media sites there is a big push for video content over the written (typed) word, which I am in the minority in thinking this is a bad move.
    I’ve always preferred reading something over watching a video because I can get to the point faster and most video content isn’t very well done. Also, data ain’t free or cheap.
    I have a handful of favorite writers on the internet and I’m under no illusion that asking any of these people, yourself included, to perform is a good plan.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.