Phil Davison vs. the YouTube generation
Have you seen the Phil Davison speech yet? In it, this campaigner for Ohio Stark County treasurer goes wild in one of the boldest displays of incorrect affect that I have ever witnessed.
What seems to have happened is that someone told him that passion was important in speechmaking and then did not elaborate at all. "Passion," he thought. "I have lots of that. So much that it is difficult to keep me indoors, or behind a podium, for any period of time." That's why he shouts at us and turns colors usually associated with ripe beets.
But he's only one in a long line. Remember Basil Marceaux? Or Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)? The one thing that emerges from this delightful string of videos is the fact that it gets harder and harder every day to be a local eccentric. Gaffes get shot round the world instantaneously. Remember Dan Quayle and p-o-t-a-t-o-e? We had to watch that on television. Television? 58 percent of Americans don't even think TVs are necessary anymore, but that's because the pollster probably asked right after forcing them to watch the Real Housewives of DC.
Time was, someone like Phil Davison could have given this speech, and no one would have noticed.
Maybe the people there might have mailed daguerreotypes of it to their friends, but that was about it. More recently, someone would have captured the audio and played it on the radio, but the video wouldn't have gone viral. The idea that a video could go viral is a relatively new one. It's like that guy says in Inception, or Kurt Vonnegut suggests in Breakfast of Champions: Ideas really are the most powerful viruses.
Because these things take so quickly, the Internet is rapidly becoming the record of everyone's indiscretions. Zombie Kid Who Likes Turtles will probably take that to his grave. (Epitaph: Here Lies Zombie Kid. He Liked Turtles.) So what can you do? A lot of attention has been paid to the idea that, in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. But the emphasis so far has been on the brevity of the fame, not on the ubiquity. Once we all have embarrassing clips of our lives posted online, they won't mean anything when we run for political office or try to get jobs, right? We keep hoping. For every eight hundred of us who are just living our lives in a normal fashion, there's that one kid who wears bow ties everywhere and scrupulously untags all the pictures on Facebook in which he isn't wearing a smoking jacket and discoursing intelligently on public policy because he worries that it'll come up someday when he tries to be elected governor of New Jersey. Once a few millennials get elected in spite of videos of them dancing on bars dressed as sexy robots, there's going to be a giant, collective sigh of relief.
But right now, we have the tools, and they -- that older generation that, by and large, doesn't understand technology -- have the power. Part of what makes all these clips so hilarious is the fact that individuals such as BasilMarceaux.com don't seem to be in on the joke. Look at Phil Davison. He just was interviewed, and over the course of it he revealed that he didn't know what YouTube was. "Well," he said, "I'm not very good with electronics, is there a YouTube? It was on some kind of electronic server." This is the sort of language these folks use.
Something I think about occasionally is the fact that Andrew Jackson actually, physically, shot a man one time. Can you imagine if YouTube had been around then? "What are you doing?" Jackson would have shouted. "Are you putting my soul into that box?"
Maybe we are.
| September 10, 2010; 2:19 PM ET
Categories: Petri | Tags: Alexandra Petri
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