Despite Gil-Scott Heron’s poem to the contrary, the revolution is being televised. News today is conveyed more through film than through words, though we usually need to see the headline in order to find the video during which people are reading from scripts. When there’s a big march, we see it depicted in video, from paid news programmers and live participants, waving their cameras around, showing pictures of clever protest signs with written slogans…
Nope. Nope. Much as I try to visualize it, the words just don’t go away. No matter how ubiquitous video has become, it will not entirely replace text. The art forms will continue to jostle each other for a share of your head space.
Will We All Turn Into Vloggers?
The question I’m pondering today was posed in the blogging community by Salted Caramel, who prompted bloggers about where they saw their blog going in 2020. Among other thought-provoking questions, what caught my eye was about the rise of vlogs:
In your opinion how relevant or popular are text based blogs (as opposed to vlogs) going to be in 2020 ? …YouTube videos made by veteran bloggers… claimed that all bloggers would need to get on the video bandwagon in 2020 if they were to survive. Their reason was that people no longer have time for text based content...Question on Blogging Insights from the blog Salted Caramel
An intriguing question, since movies have become the dominant popular art today, just as other times had other dominant art forms like the novel (18th-19th century) or opera (16th-19th century). Of course, I tried to get statistics to prove that statement, but immediately ran into measurement problems. For example, 1.3 billion people in the U.S. went to the movies in 2019, and 675 million people bought printed books, which might suggest more of one thing over the other. Yet, because neither of those numbers reflect everything that people watch on videos or include all the tidbits that people read, the measurements probably are meaningless. Still, can’t we agree that video formats are trending sharply upward while reading is trending downward? That’s what those “veteran bloggers” are feeling–a trend.
However, let’s start by questioning that premise: In order for bloggers to survive… What does that even mean? Some tiny amount of bloggers are paid for their work, as news columnists were once paid, that’s not most bloggers. Other people use blogs as marketing communications to get readers to visit a site that sells other things (fair warning: I sell things on my site, too, though the purpose of the blog isn’t for that). Even more bloggers stick advertising on their site and try to lure eyeballs to their blog in order to monetize their site. If a blog’s purpose is to take money, it may indeed require video to do so, perhaps some dancing baloney, Corgis playing, naked pictures, or other manner of clickbait. That has to with attention-getting, not writing.
I poked around to find about popular vloggers, and, for those wondering if they need to start learning about camera angles, here’s something worth pondering. One of the most popular vloggers, Logan Paul, used Vine and vlogging to turn himself into a celebrity, then generated more publicity by vlogging disrespectfully about someone’s suicide, where his end goal seems to be to bootleg himself into television and into movies. In other words, his vlog was only a means to an end. Other big name vloggers, like PewDewPie, are primarily gamers who create “Let’s Plays”–videos of themselves playing a game. I can’t imagine that being the goal of most of the blogging community, even if 81 million people want to watch a Swedish YouTuber tell jokes while playing MineCraft.
Art Does Not Need an Audience
So, not only do we not want to emulate popular vloggers or resort to dancing baloney just to get clicks, but I might argue, gentle reader, that I don’t have to have you in order to write. This is a controversial statement, I know, since of course I want readers. But must I have readers for my work to be good (or bad)? Do more readers make my work better? Do more readers prove my work is better? I don’t think so. The commerce and popularity of art are independent of quality. Quality is subjective; popularity rests on the whims of a changing world.
Stories abound of artists who could not thrive commercially on their art. Virginia Woolf had to create her own publishing company. Nobody bought Van Gogh’s paintings, Kafka burned many of his manuscripts because nobody read them, Emily Dickinson wasn’t published, and so on. Fundamentally, writers (artists) have to want to perform all this toil and sweat despite a cold, cruel, unfeeling world of harsh critics and people who would rather watch YouTubes of dancing poop emojis. Art has to have its own reason. What kind of art?
vs. and Pictures
The rivalry between cave paintings and stick letters in the sand goes back pretty far. Throw in Oog banging on a rock and Groog grunting in a variety of pitches and tempos, and you’ve got music, text, and visual arts all competing to attract an audience pretty much since the Ice Age. Different isn’t necessarily better or purer. The best of videos started with scripts, and later added storyboards/visuals. A system for writing down music was also developed in order to preserve it before recording had been invented. You can’t always take the writing out of the equation.
The reality is that our art world today has become a hall of mirrors, reflecting on itself. The forms now overlap. For example, when I went to see what the internet said about “Blogs vs. Vlogs,” the most searched item I found was a Profile Tree article. While full of pictures and eye-catching graphics, it was fundamentally a 2000-word WRITTEN DESCRIPTION of all the things to consider in choosing between formats. What could be more predictive of the need for text-based blogs than a text-based blog explaining how to do a vlog?
Poem or Recording, Was The Revolution Meant To Be Televised?
Even in considering today’s topic, I immediately thought of Gil Scott-Heron’s famous poem, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Heron was a poet and musician, who coined this famous slogan to the Black Power movement as a critique of the dominant commercialized inanity of 1960s culture:
The revolution will not be right back after a messageGil Scott-Heron
About a whitetornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom
a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised…
Scott-Heron’s distribution of this poem was through recorded albums of other jazz, although his most well-known piece became famous after radio air play. He later lamented the fact that his other jazz pieces were completely overlooked in favor of his more popular social commentary. The core of this art is the words; the performance of the words and the jazz behind it augment the experience, but there is no art here without the words. (Amusingly enough, this YouTube version of the performance augments the words WITH pictures. )
Would Scott-Heron be appalled or happy that his words then became sampled and distorted, stuck in the middle of other people’s songs, and revised to mean their very opposite? If you start googling, you immediately see multiple versions: The revolution will be televised, the resolution will/will not be televised, the innovation will be televised, etc. Completely lost is his ultimate point that people would be marching. not watching. His words may have achieved the ultimate compliment in being taken out of context and distorted — a complete success! He’d be appalled. Yet the poem/lyrics can still be read as he originally intended, his original meaning intact.
A Movie About a Writer Who Wrote a Book That Became a Movie…
These artistic corkscrews, these blends, are where our post-modern world has landed. After all, what is a meme but someone’s imposed commentary (humorous or otherwise) atop a well-known artistic image? Scott-Heron wrote a poem, set it to music, recorded it being read, and that led to thousands of samples, written discussions, and videos about the ideas.
For a last example, I turn to Little Women, having seen Greta Gerwig’s brilliant movie version just yesterday. (Please go see it immediately, if you have not already). Among other things, the film beautifully depicts writer Jo March, creating the words that led to the story of Little Women, just as Louisa May Alcott wrote from her own life to create her novel. The film is as much as anything a celebration of the writer herself, even more than the plot of the story. Gerwig isn’t the only director or artist who highlighted writer Jo, as you can find multiple paintings, blogs, and video snippets that pay tribute to the writer writing. But it seems to me the ultimate portrayal to create a cinematic tribute that pays homage to the words on the page in such glorious detail.
The novel may be filmed, but it is the writing that is celebrated. Even if the writing is televised, it will start with the script.
So let’s just stick to writing. We don’t have the bandwidth for video anyway.