Fat Lady Sings in HD

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

Fat Lady Sings in HD

Huge Empty Amphitheater

I was at the movies the other evening, and the previews came on. I used to just put on my headphones until the feature presentation started, so as not to pollute my daily intake, which was already contaminated by unwanted noise. (Daily Noise is a more appropriate name than Daily News for what many people subject themselves to every day via the radio, the tube and the newspaper (noisepaper?).)

Then again, I have found previews to serve as little inside jokes, though dark, to help me survive until the feature. Most of them have nothing to do with movies—sadly this has become accepted and acceptable. “Order high-speed Internet NOW!”  “Target has a sale on ladies’ shoes!”  “Join the Marines!” What an odd mix of signals to be sending. I can’t help thinking, "Okay, I know we’ve got to be getting close to the bottom of the barrel here."

Then, unexpectedly we were treated to an advertisement I never could imagine seeing: a full-scale opera has been staged in a lush, moody theater somewhere, all captured on film with dazzling colors and high-definition surround sound: an opera not to be witnessed in the flesh, but to be consumed strictly in the digital realm. Never actually performed in front of a crowd. Coming soon to a cineplex or home theater near you! Where’s that barrel again?

Let’s admit where we really are. Are people really more likely to watch a live piece of performance art (a centuries-old art form good enough for the likes of Rossini, Wagner and Mozart!) on Blu-Ray or YouTube than in the natural arenas originally designated for these arts? Are educated people really likely to watch their favorite author or minister or thinker speaking through a screen instead of popping over to their nearest convention center to experience the real thing? Yes.

I’ve learned some shortcuts for my digital video, audio and photo workstations from low-fidelity videos on YouTube—valuable skills I have come to rely on in everyday work. I learned about Indian music and discovered some glaring misconceptions I had about it. I soaked in all I could about classic boxers like Jack Johnson, Gene Tunney, Jess Willard, James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. Now I know about the Johnny Carson Show, which I was too young to watch as a kid, but which is as valuable as gold to a goofball like me.

I keep up to date on conspiracy theories, real and pseudo-astronomy and existential philosophy (see links below) by listening to podcasts on my way to and from work. My brother learned how to fix a plumbing problem in his basement by watching videos on Howstuffworks.com (this site also hosts an awesome podcast--see link below). You can pull up Malcolm X’s brilliance at the Oxford Debates in 1964 and watch what many people at the time could only hear on the radio, with the added benefit of pausing and rewinding with almost zero effort. You can learn how to tune your violin or guitar using bedroom videos made by a kid in Singapore. The TED Conference videos online…hello? And it’s all free. Are you kidding me! And this is just a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg. We don’t even know what’s coming down the web-culture pipeline.

So for those of you poor souls who watch or listen to the Noise or read the Noisepaper, where are the evil threats you always hear about? What terrible thing is about to go horribly wrong? Where is the mastermind-criminal determined to wreck the normal flow of life and turn the world on its ear? True, there are villains out there in every sector of modern life seeking to thwart our daily progress; however, let’s weigh the total risk those bad ones provide against the image of a bedroom and a nerdy kid with an Internet connection getting a free, limitless education about things she would never learn in an American public school.

We would be fools to let this potential pass us by because it seems too new or challenging to our worldviews. Smart people are already learning faster than public institutions can adapt. Global connectivity is changing the lives of individuals as well as entire cultures, citywide scenes, helping determine how fads play out. In the old cartoons (on the old tube), a secret weapon was to be kept out of the hands of the arch-villain. This was out of fear that he might learn to use it against us—the good people. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the secret weapon, and it isn’t a weapon at all. It’s a fresh and changing language that may never stop changing. That is, until the fat lady sings…

Some podcasts to check out:

Happy surfing!

--by Casey