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YouTube’s Reality & Real Reality

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YouTube’s Reality & Real Reality


I think of the girl I was with the night Joe Strummer died. I could Google her, but that seems so passé.

The ultimate danger is that this vast collective memory will vanish due to failed economic models, despite the fact that we live in an age of cheap gigabytes and infinite redundancy. In this regard, the recent court case  in the UK, where videos are being removed, is downright scary. There’s no real market for low resolution clips of ‘80s music videos, film clips, or pop cultural ephemera. They have no value as actual commodities.


I can’t get the quote right. No matter how many times I go back and watch the reposted video. And this quote, the meta, was the only thing of actual value on YouTube, and it’s gone. What’re important are the memories, what they do for us and to us, and the commentary that results from us exploring the past, in real time, together.


YouTube’s reality is mingling uncomfortably with real reality. The side effect is that when confronted with infinite remembering, reality starts to blur. I was online on the anniversary of the night Joe Strummer died. I watched him do a cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”.


Jim Jarmush is in the video by the mural outside of Jesse Malin’s bar Niagara on Avenue A. I watch a pretty punk girl brush past the mural and trace the perimeter of Tompkins Square Park in “Broken Radio”, Malin’s duet with Bruce Springsteen.


I watch “In The Modern World” as well, which starts off with a sex scene in a shower that’s recorded on the sly, and posted to a fitting YouTube parody called “ME TUBE”.  The video is refreshingly ‘80s, in that it has a storyline that has little to do with the lyrics, and it’s filled, appropriately, with security cameras, screens, and ample playback.


A few days later I see Jarmush at a falafel shop in the West Village. He’s wearing a Clash “Give Em’ Enough Rope” t-shirt. I’ve just had “Train in Vain” on my iPod. We make eye contact. I want to talk to him, but I’m stuck in meta.


cover art

Budget Travel through Space and Time

Albert Goldbarth

(Graywolf; US: Mar 2005)

I think of the girl I was with the night Joe Strummer died. I could Google her, but that seems so passé, and I know where to find her anyway. And in light of YouTube, the whole idea of Googling lost love seems downright Amish. This is no time to be pulling a Nick Hornby and to be having a “what does it all mean” moment. There’s a Brave New World (1932) of history, of other people’s memories, and of my own to explore.


Note: Apologies to the poet, Albert Goldbarth, for starring aimlessly at my bookshelf, and seeing his excellent book of poetry, Budget Travel through Space and Time, and lifting his/alluding to its title at 4AM while writing this. Albert, if you’re reading this, I’m the guy who gave you the ride to Swarthmore College in my Saab a few years back.


Devin Harner is an Assistant Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY where he teaches film, contemporary literature, and journalism. He is at work on a mixed genre memoir about his childhood in the ‘80s tentatively titled “Growing up Amish”.


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