YouTube's Budget Travel Through Space & Time – Yours & Mine

by Devin Harner

7 June 2009

“Electric Flower” (partial) by
Doug Nicola found on High End 3D.com 

My Instantaneous Mnemonic Surrogate

All in the Head

“All in the Head” by Wes Black found on Blotter Art.co.uk

My Instantaneous Mnemonic Surrogate

This trip is ADD and collective nostalgia in its most extreme, artistic form.

In contrast, Google, like any searchable database, provides us with facts. The fact that sine is opposite over hypotenuse. The fact that Blondie’s Parallel Lines came out in 1978 and not in 1980.

We get narrative too, and it’s often collective, through Wikipedia, for example. But even if it includes photos, sounds, and animation, it is just a conglomeration of multimedia, rather than anything approaching the mnemonic continuity of pure narrative. Google and the rest of the web may be searchable, and they may be nonlinear, but they don’t work the way that we remember experiences because they don’t always provide us with such narrative.

YouTube gives us an instantaneous mnemonic surrogate. Stories, actors, music, graphics, plot, or not. The ability to abort narratives in mid-memory and recast them.

Blondie’s “Union City Blue” offers us the Manhattan skyline and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center as if out of nowhere. Then we’re watching Bruce Springsteen’s “Darlington Country” and listening attentively:

“Our pa’s each own one of the World Trade Centers, for a kiss and a smile I’ll give mine all to you.”

Click. The Who are stealing the show at the Concert for New York City in the wake of 9/11. Roger Daltrey is recasting the anthemic “Baba O’Riley” as comforting, and the cops, the firemen, and John Cusack are enraptured and pumping their fists in the air. Try as I might, it’s impossible to jump to Say Anything (1989).

I watch Pete Townsend work the windmill. He’s subdued, yet still rebelliously powerful, and somehow hopeful, even. Like Tennyson’s “Ulysses” an old punk heading out to sea one more time as the Twin Towers rise symbolically out of the stage lights. 

It’s ADD and collective nostalgia in its most extreme, artistic form. It feels random, but if you don’t think about it too much, then a trajectory’s revealed. And like Sam in that lame but thoroughly addictive ‘80s show Quantum Leap, we jump.

One minute Grace Slick is changing the world at Woodstock belting out “White Rabbit” in what feels like the soundtrack to a revolution. Then she’s singing “We Built This City” in a horrid video filled with animation that’s much worse than that of Dire Straits’ contemporaneous, then state-of-the-art “Money For Nothing”.

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