Smile, We’re All On Candid Camera

“In the future everyone will have their 15 minutes of privacy.”–Lrod

My grandfather’s life almost exactly spanned the 20th Century. He was born in the 1890’s and he died in the 1990’s. When he was born on a farm in Red Oak, Texas, granddad’s idea of a swinging ride was Young Brown, the sway-backed gelding who also pulled the family buck-board. I have Kodaks of him that look like they were taken by Matthew Brady. The roads were paths across the cotton fields. Of course when he died there were footprints on the Moon and a visit to Dallas which once required an overnight stay could be done in 15 minutes. Many times I have reflected with amazement on the vast changes that he witnessed in his lifetime. My grandfather died as the internet was being born. In slightly over a decade our world has changed perhaps as much as it did during his entire century on the planet.

I was born half-way through the 20th Century and the emblematic cultural advance of my lifetime has been in communication symbolized by television. My generation could be called GenTV. We were the first to grow up feeling like our families included those people who entered our living rooms through a television screen. We saw Walter Cronkite as a trusted uncle and Johnny Carson as the spokesman for our evening’s muse. My personal slant on this experience was slightly different than the general phenomena because my parents were both on television. I saw them on the screen and also before they had brushed their teeth in the morning, so I knew them in two separate ways. It also caused me to notice how being on television seemed to imbue a persons actions and statements with a greater importance than just witnessing them in the flesh. While the screen was smaller than life, the impact of the message was larger than life. Even before I read McCluhan, the magical aspects of this did not escape me.

When I was born there were only several thousand television sets in America. There were a handful of television stations. By the time I was five, there were three national networks and a TV in almost every living room and both my parents were working in the young industry of television broadcasting. Everyone in our country felt like Lucy and Rickie Ricardo lived next door. I thought Beaver Cleaver was my little brother. I also literally cut my teeth on the miles of heavy black rubber cable in a TV studio. With crayons I drew cue-cards for my mother’s TV program. Nobody had thought of a teleprompter yet.

The symbol of the changes that I’ve seen in my lifetime is the television camera. When I was a child, they were HUGE. I’m not talking about that trick of the memory where we recall the places and people of our childhood as being larger than they are because we were so small, no, those cameras were actually big as Volkswagens. And they only shot in black and white. Now we have cameras that will fit in your collar button sending us full-color pictures from Mars.

When Gil Scott-Heron said ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” it made for a nice catch phrase and slogan for those of us who imagined that we were making a revolution. However, the statement is patently false and demonstrably wrong. The revolution Will be televised, but even that fact misses the point. The revolution IS BEING TELEVISED. Let me say that again. The revolution consists of the fact that Everything is or can be televised. That is the revolution. It is no longer the world of my childhood where being televised required the nearly ecclesiastical setting and ceremonial trappings of a television studio where the very light of god was needed to get the image. Now any teenager can be walking around with a television studio in his shirt pocket.

In more naive times there were no surprises when it came to knowing whether or not you were on TV. The cameras were so obvious that you were not likely to be caught off guard. Today there are literally millions of television cameras trained on millions of scenes at unblinking attention. We have to assume that our every move is being recorded.

In the future everyone will have their 15 minutes of privacy.–Lrod

Oh yes, the revolution is being televised right now. The Rodney King beating is an example of what an impact a small clip of video can have. A random bystander shot it with a hand-held camera. The participants had no idea they were being observed, much less recorded. That clip became so symbolic of the general subject of police brutality that it lit a match to the taught tinderbox of South Central LA and we saw a week of destruction and revolutionary riots, where?, on TV. Oh yes, the revolution is being televised and also television is making the revolution. That bit of video had much more impact than if you had walked by the scene and observed the beating first-hand.

I could list hundreds of iconic video clips that have been the signposts of our recent history. Some are very short like the one of the Oswald shooting or the several frames showing Jack Kennedy’s brains splashing into the clear air of a Texas Autumn. The mad, christ-like visage of Charlie Manson being paraded like a whole cultural movement in chains into a courtroom hailed by his twisted vaudeville version of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders with shaved heads and X’s. John DeLorean having orgasms over undercover cocaine on hidden camera or Julian Berry with the ho and the crack pipe. Jimmy Swaggart sobbing to heaven from the pulpit. I could go on ad nauseum. How many court cases become open-and-shut matters in the face of surveilance camera testimony? The only thing stronger than a camera is a candid camera. And nowadays they are everywhere. Politicians and movie stars have been ruined by backstage gaffes and unguarded remarks captured by ubiquitous cell cameras that see all and remember it.

In his quasi-prophetic social satire, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein presents the notion of the ‘Fair Witness.’ In his imaginary future society he describes an occupation that is similar to a notary or justice of the peace. These people were gifted with total recall and could repeat long, awkwardly worded legal contracts from memory and the ethics of the profession were unquestioned. That’s why they were called Fair Witnesses, whatever they saw and heard was reported without bias or editorial. It would be nice to think that there could be such people but we have something that works just as well. The video camera is our Fair Witness.

The Poet’s Eye can see several different takeaways from having Fair Witnesses walking around everywhere recording the truth. It’s easy to say that we are in favor of the truth and knowing the truth and transparency is the color of the season in both fashion and politics but do we really want our every act or gesture to be subject to review and reproduction? Maybe it is Mel Gibson’s just punishment to have the tapes of his embarrassing lapse in decorum played over and over again either in hell or on cable TV, I don’t know, but I’m sure that he and many others will have occasion to wish for their fifteen minutes of privacy.

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera”. — Alan Fundt

One Response to Smile, We’re All On Candid Camera

  1. Barbara says:

    I particularly relate to this. I had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Miss Frances from Ding Dong School more often than I had it with my mother.

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