May 28, 2014

Celebrity Reflux




This instant gratification thing has gotten out of hand.

It started with the remote control. I’m old enough to remember watching television on my parents’ old cabinet-style Channel Master. When I wanted to change the channel, I had to pick my ass up, walk over to that mofo, and turn the knob. To make matters worse, some of the stations didn’t come in unless you carefully situated the knob halfway between one channel and another--a challenging trick for young fingers, and one complicated even more by the other critical task of adjusting the rabbit ear antenna (so that the picture didn’t “jump” up and down once the channel was tuned).
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Looking back, I probably developed the majority of my small motor skills attempting to access The Brady Bunch on UHF. Of course, back then we only had about 4 channels to begin with, so the good part was, once you got a channel properly tuned, you tended to leave it there.

And then there’s music. When I wanted to hear Disco Duck, I had to sit by the radio for hours until the DJ played it. If I was really being high-tech, I would have a cassette tape cued up and would press play as soon as I heard the song come on. Of course, the result would be a song that was inevitably missing its first measure or two of music, and its last five or six tainted with obnoxious DJ voice-over.  Of course I could also go down to my local Strawberries or Tower Records and buy the 45 record, but only if I did it within the first few weeks that the single became a hit, because those were only available on a limited basis; after that, you had to  purchase the entire album. And let’s face it, even the biggest Disco Duck fan doesn’t want an entire Rick Dees LP.

So while I love the fact that now I can access over a hundred television stations without leaving the comfort of my sofa, while I am grateful to Youtube every time I crave a particular song and can hear it without sifting through cds, records, or tapes, there are still some things that we don’t deserve to have on demand simply because technology may make it possible. There are some things we just don’t need to have at our fingertips.

Like dead people, for instance.

Last week I went into my living room to find Michael Jackson singing and dancing on my television during the Billboard Music Awards. Of course I realized almost immediately that this was another effort by techies to recreate a legend with a hologram. Even so, for a brief moment, I was tossed back to junior high school, sitting around that Channel Master with my parents, all of us in awe of this man who could do amazing things with his body and voice. While my parents and I had different taste in music, we all greatly anticipated his appearances on award shows, the display of unique talent that left me speechless (until the next day when it was all we talked about in school). Even though he wasn’t my favorite performer, I still played the hell out of my Thriller album, cried when he caught on fire that time filming the Pepsi ad, and generally appreciated him for being the inimitable icon he was.

Inimitable. Generally that’s what makes a legend most. That it can’t be fucking imitated. And if it is imitated, no matter how accurately, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And that’s what I experience when I see these holograms of dead artistic geniuses, after the fleeting moment of nostalgia passes. Just as I was sickened when I saw the footage of Tupac Shakur's hologram inserted interactively into a live concert, I stood in my living room the other night feeling nauseated and repelled by how technological genius can rob artistic genius of its magic, all in an ironic attempt to create something magical.

It’s kind of like gastric reflux. Those escargots might have tasted really good when you shared them with your hot brogrammer boyfriend at that hip new restaurant in Downtown Oakland. But two hours later while you’re in the midst of pre-coital ceremonies back at your swanky loft, a belch wielding the same taste of snails in garlic butter just doesn’t have the same allure. In fact, that belch can make you never want to eat escargots again.

Indeed, it will be a while before I can listen to Michael again without having that objectionable hologram aftertaste in my mouth. Until then, I’m hitting OFF on my remote.

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