I remember going to a wedding as a kid back in the late 80s or early 90s and finding myself even then perplexed by the videographers’ jarring omnipresence. It seemed that no one at the event could see the event unfolding for the obstructions by those folks recording the moments for “posterity”. Even then, at that young age before the technology explosion, it seemed strangely ironic to me that they were recording a version of the experience that wasn’t actually very truthful. A version that you couldn’t really get just attending in person.
My time at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con (my 2nd trip to SDCC) brought many things to mind, and perhaps will generate multiple posts here. But a recurring theme seemed to be the inability of any mere human to get a glimpse of events with their naked eye, even on tiptoe. We walked past the Marvel booth during a Stan Lee signing – but of course it was rather hard to tell who was signing, since you could barely see even that elevated platform over the hundreds of cameras thrust into the air, arms extended, blindly recording what their owners could not see themselves.
It used to be rather harmless – only a few folks carried cameras, and they didn’t have to get so obstructive when shooting since most people stood like normal human beings. Now, you’re just lucky not to have your view completely obstructed by an iPad taking video or photos (really? REALLY?)
And the biggest irony of all is that even with all of those digital eyes aloft, so few of the actual videos or photos taken are actually usable, since onehanded photography at height tends to be rather blurry and unpredictable. In the end, almost no one, or any thing, is experiencing these events as they were intended to be experienced.
But in this world where “everyone else is doing it”, I definitely find myself taping events I can’t very well see from time to time. And every once in a while there’s a pang of jealousy for the wonderful experiences my camera is taking in live, that I’ll be lucky render properly when uploaded after the fact.
And yet, let’s be honest – even when you videotape an event with cameraphone or camera, how often do you go back and watch it? Maybe you post it to YouTube for others, but where’s the sense in buying a ticket to an event just so others can experience it better than you did? It’s a bit strange. Perhaps social media inspires a deranged sense of social obligation and sharing that leads to the sacrifice of our own experience to enhance that of others? It also explains the sometimes-joked-about instinct to Tweet in times of peril or great excitement, thus missing precious moments of those actual events.
I’m far from the only person to notice this trend – while I was thinking about writing this article today, I noticed a similar story on CNN. “The fan is dead – long live the phone?”
Perhaps the answer is that we’ll all eventually go to full recording of our lives. My boyfriend joked that he should have borrowed his brother’s GoPro camera and attached it to his hat to record his Comic-Con experience – but then half a day later I saw two different people doing exactly that. One of the winning short films at the Seattle Festival of Improv Theatre this year was a documentary on the secret lives of cats using the same philosophy. Our video cameras experience what we cannot, and remember more than we can.
And in the end, that’s why I think Hall H’s notoriously crowded panels have such an appeal. With the no-recording-exclusive-footage strictly enforced, that’s still one of the few experiences you must have in person in order to have it at all. We were part of the 2-mile lineup at 8AM on Saturday, hours before the hall opened, hoping to get in for the Hobbit and Iron Man 3 panels. But so did everyone else, and as it turns out there were already 7,000 people in line by 7AM. If you didn’t get there by 7, you didn’t see those panels that day. We’re all just hungering for something a little visceral, something that we can’t have regurgitated to us 10 minutes later on YouTube. (And though we missed out on Saturday’s events in Hall H by about 300 people, we did manage to get in for Doctor Who on Sunday as well as all of Thursday’s Hall H panels, so that was something.)
Perhaps one of my favorite moments of the con is one that would have been impossible to capture. Walking home from the con, late at night, down a dimly lit street past a nondescript office building, we noticed a lone individual walking towards us in the opposite direction. At first it wasn’t clear if they were also a con-goer, though we were clearly identifiable with our large bag of Preview Night exclusives in tow. I’ll admit to some apprehension since it wasn’t the best part of town and could be interpreted as easy targets. But as the stranger neared, it became clear that they were a cosplaying zombie, with a fairly convincing pencil embedded in an open wound in their forehead. In the moment where we were in audible range of each other, the shambling stranger made fleeting eye contact, and in a most soft and ponderous tone simply said, “Brains?” He didn’t pause to catch our reaction, continuing his shamble towards the direction of the convention center. Dave and I couldn’t control our laughter for a block or two. From the unknown to the absurd in the span of a few moments, and the sort of thing you just don’t get in other environments. The only way that experience will be recorded is in the Instagram of our “brains?”.
Maybe my video camera will get invited to some cooler parties at next year’s ComicCon without me, or perhaps it’ll attend the con in the arms of a taller attendee. It doesn’t really matter if I’m the one driving the recording if I’ll just have to review it later to see what I couldn’t see anyway… right?