Video Me

The video camera has practically replaced the way people can tell a good old-fashioned story.

CULTURE, 11/22/98: MODERN LIFE It's not easy to start writing again, I must admit. All those things you were told and you dismissed in high school and university flood back. They make a little more sense now, but they're still ultimately asinine and absolutely useless. Write what you know and Write and re-write and re-write, believe me, they never gain the ideological weight that they're supposed to carry.

The last piece I can actually remember writing under the watchful eyes of instructions such as those above was some university experiment about a man who lost the ability to discern good from bad. He was an artist. He'd go through those self-imposed artistic periods in which he'd find that there was nothing worth producing, and during those periods he'd spend whole days in the gallery writing criticism of the pieces around him. Bitter, caustic, rambling criticism seeded in his absolute confidence that HE was right. Every decision he made, every brushstroke and fine line, could be justified, it was intentional or intentionally absent.

And then one day he took a vacation, he was given a vacation, and he flew off to New Orleans for a couple of weeks. Met up with a woman, drank himself to vomit on cheap Bourbon Street daiquiris and 1/2-litre beers. And when he came back, he didn't have a clue. He walked into that gallery and couldn't tell what was legitimate and what wasn't. Either he'd criticize with no context, the piece was "shit", "worthless", "artistically spurious". He couldn't be bothered trying to identify what it was that wasn't necessary, it just wasn't the way he would have done it and that was enough. Or he'd gain the ability to defend anything. Guernica was an important work because of its return to narration, because of its anti-realistic transformation of real forms, because of its use of colourless grisaille to symbolize the eruption of horror. The most mindless and accepting drivel became a second-language to him. For God's sake don't ask him to take a stand on the issues of the day because there was no-one more capable of seeing both sides of the argument than him.

All this wasn't the ultimate betrayal though. His downfall didn't come with his ability or inability to judge others, it came in his complete mental paralysis when it came to his own work. At first he could still produce, and the first few pieces he dismissed, mostly before completion, as his being out of practice. The next few he thought that maybe he was in a bit of a rut. "Well, not much is going on around me, the world's not inspiring me, my life's pretty comfortable right now." The next few were the last few he tried.

So why am I telling you this? Why am I relating this decade-old story? To let you know that I am not that spineless motherfucker. If there's one thing that actually drags my ass out of bed in the morning it's the conviction that everything I say and do is absolutely the right thing to say and do. There's so much thought poured into every motion, every word out of my mouth, that by four o'clock if I'm not nursing a pint I'm passed out on the couch, totally fucking exhausted.

And it's not just my being right, it's everyone else's being consistently wrong. The first of many examples follows...

A month ago I'm in Paris. I'm riding on the Metro and a man gets on with a guitar. I'd seen something similar to this when the day before another guy had come onto the train with an accordion. He played a tune, he played it well, and then walked from one end of the car to the other with his hand out looking for money. This is a great way to busk, I think. We get entertained, he gets a couple of francs, nobody gets wet in the constant Parisian rain. So because I've seen it before, when this guy with the guitar gets on I'm not paying too much attention to him. I do, however pay attention to the guy at the other end of the car, the obvious tourist, whose first inclination when presented with this interprčte is to whip out his video camera and start taping him.

I can't understand why he's taping this. Perhaps he's completely diffident of his ability to recall this event. I can tell you the guitar-player was black, his shirt was red, the guitar was acoustic. What else do you need to know? As long as you have the pertinent facts, it's only a question of stringing them together with a little wit and literary panache. I once dated a woman with the absolute inability to tell a story. Every detail had to be recounted, no matter how unimportant, you were told. Eventually you just couldn't give a shit about the main characters, lost in this morass of colour, hand gesture, passing car model, time of day, etc. So perhaps this Metro-tourist just doesn't think that his storytelling ability cuts it and he's doing his listeners a favour? It's possible but then it begs the question: If the event doesn't leave an indelible stain on your brain then why are you bothering to record it?

You see, this was a thread that snaked its way through my trip to Europe. In the Tate Gallery I was constantly walking into the path of people taking photos. Not photos of other people or of the gallery itself. Nine out of ten pictures I saw being taken were of relatives standing in front of pieces of art?!? What are you going to do with a photo of your mother standing in front of Francis Bacon's Triptych? Do your friends not believe you when you tell them you where there? You can't be trying to capture the painting because the GAP sweatshirt that's now superimposed in front of it in the shape of some obese woman is definitely not the one element that Bacon wishes he'd added.

People have completely lost their ability to discern what's good from what's bad, what's memorable, what will have relevance years from now. With everyone having a handycam or an instamatic, there's no thought given to whether what they're creating is at all necessary.

When a mother first gets that video-camera she tapes everything that her child does. But as the months go by, less and less is taped. Birthdays, and then every-other birthday. Eventually the camera's stuck in the cupboard in the tv-unit and no-one ever remembers to pull it out. I'd rather watch the snowy tape she didn't make, than some guy playing a guitar for cash on a Parisian train. But then I trust my ability to tell a story. I suppose you'll let me know if I'm wrong.


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