Depth Of Experience (Or If You Weren’t There Then You Weren’t Really There)

You know it’s going to be dark when it starts with Videodrome
My brother from another mother, Frank Coleman, recently reminded me of a quote from Videodrome (a favorite film from one of my all time favorite directors, David Cronenberg):

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

That’s from 1983, but it seems to ring more true to me than ever (and Frank as well which is why I’m sure he posted it!)

Audition

Years ago, I had the chance to see a special sneak preview screening of Takashi Miike’s, Audition at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA.  With a program description of, “Sleepless in Seattle meets Silence of the Lambs“, I knew I’d have to check it out.

The theatre was full and the midway point of the film was where the romantic comedy went, well…dark.  (spolier alert if you’ve never seen the film).

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where the jilted female lead begins by poking the paralyzed protagonist with wires and culminates in amputating his leg with a piece of razor wire, while he’s fully conscious and aware of what’s going on.  I should mention that she’s smiling and making DISTURBING child like noise while she’s doing this.

It’s a nine minute plus sequence.  More than 1/2 the audience walked out of the film.  I was cringing in my seat while this was happening and laughing a kind of nervous laugh because of the effect it was having on everyone (including myself).

Cut to a year later.  I find a on-US DVD release of the video in an unmarked shop in Chinatown and grabbed it immediately.  I got a bunch of friends of mine together and hyped up the the film and we put it in and….

it was boring.

It was boring because we were sitting around eating pizza and talking and not watching the film.  We were pausing it when people went to the bathroom.

It was boring because we weren’t present in the moment.  It was background noise that was waiting for a big scene to shock people.

It taught me a HUGE lesson

The reason it worked in a theatre was that the audience there was immersed in it.

It was a ritual.  Watching a dvd in a living room with a Frathouse vibe killed the experience.

I realized that that was why people liked vinyl.

It wasn’t the sound.  It was the ritual.  It was the fact that you had to manually engage the stylus to get to another point of the song.  Otherwise you were along for the ride when it was playing,  If you were bouncing around, the needle would skip.  It forced you to remain relatively still and experience the recording as a whole (or at least as a whole side).

Depth of experience

We live in a video generation now where being exposed to a video often gets equated to having that experience but it’s important to realize that watching someone get hit in the groin on You Tube is not the same as getting hit in the groin yourself. (Empathy is not experience).

Even though biologically I think we’re wired to count what’s seen and heard as experience, what’s missing is context. There are reasons why people say, “You had to be there.”  There are reasons why some experiences are bigger than an actual event.  It’s the performance and the vibe, and the energy of the crowd and being fully present and engaged.

That’s hard to do with a YouTube video.  Trust me, you might see a video of someone killing it musically on You Tube but you’re only getting part of the story. Seeing someone play something doesn’t mean that you’ve assimilated it in any way, shape or form.   I think it’s important to remember that seeing something doesn’t mean that you’ve experienced it.  It goes back to that point I’ve reiterated here endlessly:

Thinking something does not always mean knowing something.

Seeing something doesn’t mean that you actually experienced it.

If you weren’t there when it happened, then your memory of it later is only a hologram.

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

.

But I’m not a nihilist.   Reality doesn’t have to be less than television.  The difference lies with you and I.

In some way, shape or form, I hope this helps.

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

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