It’s the Pictures that Got Small

At the second annual Producer Guild’s “Produced By” conference last month, veteran television and movie producer Marshall Herskovitz expressed deep concern that the headlong push of content to every new platform by media conglomerates could end up reducing the value of that content and cheapen the audience experience.

Days later, I watched a YouTube clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in Swingtime on my laptop – already a platform far from the full movie screen the film was originally intended for – and marveled again that this was at my fingertips whenever I wanted it.

The next day, while waiting in line to order lunch, I pulled up the same clip on my iPhone

(not my normal behavior; I’m happier looking at a tree than a screen). Of course the size and sound/video qualities were compromised, but my reaction wasn’t annoyance but something much deeper. There I am, at Wilshire and La Cienega, holding Fred and Ginger, dancing, in the palm of my hand, a miracle of art and science and, what? It’s awful. I’m flushed with sorrow, shame even, that we’ve somehow managed to diminish something so original and delightfully joyous into something less visible, less delightful, its artistic brilliance dimmed by its processing through this wondrous technology. Even if it were crystal clear at iPhone size, it still would seem like something you buy at a checkout counter – gum, breath mints, an LED keychain, – than what it is and what it was designed to be. My food’s ready, I don’t even watch to the end of the clip.

It’s hard, almost impossible, for me to put into words how wrong this feels.

And as screens and platforms – from next gen video consoles to iPads and their progeny to fingernail-sized screens or implantable screens for your next girlfriend’s back or boyfriend’s shoulder – continue to proliferate in the years ahead, I can only guess how much more wrong this will seem.

These cultural “products” – and maybe we should stop calling them products – are the marrow and muscle of our culture. They offer resonant emotional, spiritual and physical experiences and values which we take with us all through our lives thereafter, good or bad, and probably even unto our deaths. So maybe we should hold them to a higher, more respectful level of attention and consideration than if they were a 10-pack of disposable razors or a bulk pack of batteries or a zero-carb candy bar.

Heaven help us, Mr. Herskovitz.

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