It’s the day of the big race. All of the cars lined up on the starting line, engines revved and ready to go. The checkered flag falls, annnnnndddddd…they’re off! But within a matter of seconds, it is apparent that there is something odd going on.
All of the cars leaving the starting line are staying in formation. They’re all driving 45 miles an hour and are perfectly aligned, never breaking their formation. Yet on the televised version of the race – and on the viewing screens around the race track, a much different race is taking place. On screen, the cars are jockeying for position and driving 200 miles per hour. It’s a riveting race, and it’s exactly the same drivers and the same cars that are on the actual track – but it’s a different race.
That seems – to me at least – like a pretty good analogy for the taped music
that was used at the Inauguration. I’m not criticizing Obama & company in particular for this, because this is increasingly becoming the norm for ‘live’ events. There is value attached to having live performers
, but there is *not* a value attached to having a live performance
. We want the people, but we aren’t interested in the liveness of the performance, because that could introduce some fairly significant room for error. There are environmental limitations for some of these sorts of performances, and we insist on having the performers without any of the risks associated with putting them into stupid situations.
So it’s too cold, and the strings of the instruments might break when they are played? Then why the heck put the people outside? What’s the value of having four musical masters sitting outside freezing their talented keisters off if it’s too cold to be playing? What was the perceived value of having them sit outside, instead of having them seated inside where temperatures could be controlled? It’s not like most people were going to be able to really see them anyways – they’d be far more visible on a telecast screen or a television. But no, they had to be outside, and we couldn’t risk having a problem in the performance, so we pre-recorded the music, amplified the pre-recorded music, and then had the musicians play the same music at the same time, unamplified.
I’m thinking that if I were a master musician, I might have informed the planners of the event that it would be completely moronic to attempt to play outdoors because of the cold, and that the performance needed to be indoors, where it could still be televised properly, and where the performance could actually be live. Apparently, if such a conversation ever took place (and I can’t imagine that it didn’t!), the organizers still insisted that despite the risks, and despite the need to amplify the pre-recorded, controlled session rather than the live, actual players, the performers had to be outside.
We have a propensity for dominating our environment and enforcing our will over it. Yet we seem oddly adverse to the side-effects of such efforts. Whether it’s China adding in digitized or pre-recorded fireworks for their Olympics, or the inaugural swap-a-roo, we want to demonstrate such a level of control and precision in events that are, by their very nature, imprecise and beyond total control, that we’re willing to fake reality to a certain degree to bring off the desired effect. It’s the effect that matters, and how it is achieved is secondary. But not fully secondary, because we still have to give the impression that the means for achieving an effect are the expected means. Because that’s what demonstrates our ability to control.
Frankly, it is often the flaws – whether a crash in a car race, or a broken string in a musical performance – that make the performance most memorable. We can appreciate a beautifully played song, but we remember the time when the string broke. It sticks out in our memory precisely because of the imperfection, precisely because it was not a totally controllable situation. Precisely because despite our desire for total control, we are imperfect, and total control is never truly possible. Flaws and errors remind us of this, and it’s an important reminder.
How dangerously isolated we become when we cannot tolerate any room for error.