Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

YouTube Brute?

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Over the past decade, teachers, lecturers and other sages of the stage have morphed into transmedia performance artists, spending much of their time scouring online archives in search of visual content for their presentations. I begin my graphic odysseys on YouTube, that great mausoleum of media. Within this online vault resides the mother lode of past collective consciousness, a vast treasure trove of the world’s neglected narratives crowding virtual discount bins. Each clip is a discarded time capsule, representing a once shiny aesthetic, dulled by the passage of time.

While a few great films like Citizen Kane manage to retain their currency, it is the often the blatantly commercial, dated dreck that provides the most useful measure of human progress. It is through the transparent B movie lens, with its predictable and simplistic storyline, one-dimensional dialogue and characters, that we see social evolution most starkly revealed. Pulling back the protective veil of sunny, rose-colored nostalgia, we see not only faded memories but also the overt sexism, racism, homophobia and destructive ideologies of times past. It is through this primitive content and antique aesthetic, accentuated by YouTube’s often gritty resolution and fragmented narrative structure that we see the past in sharpest relief.

Even the great cinematic stories begin to creak and groan under the weight of time, including, sadly, the works of many of the iconic European masters (consider Godard’s Marxist musings, Antonioni’s bleak existential theses or Bergman’s brooding God tomes). Despite the innovative brilliance of these giants, their themes no longer resonate in an age of distraction, technology worship, social networks, surveillance societies, business agendas, God particles and quantum physics. Their ground-breaking messages now feel more like dusty paintings discovered in a dark attic.

Still, the past clings. Once cutting edge, reduced to kitsch and finally rediscovered by a new generation, old narratives are continually recycled, reinvented and repurposed, revealing a nascent charm more subtle than simple nostalgia.

Apart from occasional recollections of youth, we prefer to forget the past. It reminds us too much of our mistakes, our mortality and the things we refuse to change. In our headlong rush toward absolution in a bright, gleaming future, we dismiss the past as dull, like an over-played pop tune that once delighted but now merely irritates. Still, the past is anything but, for its naïve narratives offer a way of seeing an equally naïve present, a world in which everything seems so shiny and new and yet, on closer analysis, repeats itself.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

David Tucker

David Tucker is an award-winning television writer, producer and director. His short story collection, One Way Ticket, is published by BookLand Press.

Go to David Tucker’s Author Page