Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent

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Athelind's Culture Corner: "I Want My Se-Sa-Me"

Earlier, normanrafferty made a post that discussed how the "low attention span" style of recent movies doesn't really resemble video games at all, despite the wisdom of the critics and reveiwers.

I agree. That rapid-cut style has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with Sesame Street.

Sesame Street brought the rapid-flash, short-vignette jumping from scene to scene to scene of television comedies like Laugh-In to a much yonger audience -- and packaged it as educational television.

Don't get me wrong -- I was five when Sesame Street debuted. I was part of that first wave of Muppet-educated children, and I know that the show had a tremendous positive impact on kids of my generation. I have the greatest of respect for the Children's Television Workshop and the Henson crew who have worked with them for three and a half decades.

But it's had a stylistic influence on popular entertainment, as well -- one that encompassed wider and wider regions of the mass media as Sesame Street viewers entered new demographic categories.

I was five when Sesame Street debuted -- and I was 17 or so when MTV fired up The Buggles's "Video Killed the Radio Star" for the first time. I was right in their target demographic, just as I was in Educational Television's target demo eleven years before -- and you know what? That classic era of early MTV was exactly the same visual style. Rapid-fire jump-cuts for a generation with no attention span. A generation educated to have no attention span, taught to read by a program that flashed them with rapid-fire bursts of imagery.

MTV didn't invent the music video. Something of the sort had been around since at least the '60s. Most of those proto-videos, however, consisted of little more than footage of the band playing, with "creative" camera effects and the occasional SFX embellishment. In the classic period of MTV -- the early to mid-'80s -- the music video was a storytelling medium: impressionistic works like Billy Joel's "Pressure" or three-minute action flicks like "Smuggler's Blues". The reason ZZ Top's album Eliminator became a classic while Afterburner was largely forgettable is in no small part because the Eliminator videos -- "Legs", "Sharp Dressed Man", all those -- told stories, while the ones from Afterburner were just odd surrealist imagery.

If you look at the new videos on MTV today -- on one of those rare hours when they actually deign to show them -- you'll find that the medium has reverted back to the '60s. Lots of shots of the band playing -- usually interspersed with clips of whatever movie they're pushing.

The music video as a storytelling medium died as the really good music video directors jumped first to network television and then to movies -- and they made those jumps as the trailing edge of the Baby Boom and the leading edge of Gen X got older and entered more lucrative demographic zones. They took their distinctive style with them.

I first noted this trend 20 years ago, during the heyday of MTV. Since then, I've watched the MTV -- the Sesame Street -- style of directing, editing and pacing gain a foothold on television and in the movies. Unlike the critics and reviewers aghast at the "short attention span" of modern audiences, I don't find this style a universally bad thing. Like any technique, tt can be quite effective when done well. I would in fact submit that, when it's done well, the critics aren't actually cognizant of the mislabled "video game" influences.

I also submit that a movie like Memento simply could not have been made before these stylistic influences settled into the cultural mainstream.

Next on Athelind's Culture Corner: "From Bewitched to Charmed: The Magical Girl in American Pop Culture"

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