Forty-Five Seconds Of A YouTube Video Where Someone Flips Through US Cable Channels At 3.15pm On January 29 1989, And What It Tells Us About The Human Condition

  • 10/27/2011 12:31:00 am
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones
  • 0 Comments

YouTube, the internet’s home of pretty much everything recorded ever (until the rights holder insists it’s all taken down immediately). A world of possibilities, where anything from the whole of (visually-) recorded history can live on once more, in a form accessible by anyone on Planet Earth (except where the rights holder insists that etc etc and so on).

So, which type of video has been mesmerising us this week? Pretty much every pop video of every single we’ve ever liked in the history of always? Revisiting footage of childhood holiday locations as they are now? Donkey porn?

Nope. It’s time for the inaugural instalment of…

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Today, we’ll be looking at ClassicGarth’s work “Channel Surfing: Sunday, January 29, 1989 3:15 PM”.

It kicks off with the tail end of an NBA Sports interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then coming to the end of a long career with the LA Lakers. With this, we can’t help but feel that the uploader is trying to point out how this signifies the end of the last truly American decade.

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With recession, the first Gulf war and New Kids On The Block looming large, the giant Lakers no. 33 represented a fading dream, the dying embers of an ideology where a clearly defined bogeyman could be railed against, and the middle classes may soon have to face up to the fact they it is they who are responsible for their own future, any failings could no longer be blamed on an overblown Red Menace. Eastern Europe was in the last throws of communism, sure, but the clearly defined distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of the globe were soon to become as dim a memory as deely-boppers and Coke II. Abdul-Jabbar, most famous for wearing a purple Lakers uniform on the court, of course represented a then aging but still adept American everyman (purple = what you get when you mix the red and blue of the US flag), an everyman the Joe American could still unequivocally revere even though he has a name that sounds “a bit Muslimy”.

It’s a brave way to spend the first four seconds of the video, but one that we feel says so much. On to second five seconds of the video, and ClassicGarth really gets things going. Via a split-second clip of a film that looks a bit European, we’re on to a clip of a silver-haired rich white man in a suit with a microphone in front of an indistinct logo. A toll-free phone number sits in the bottom-middle of the screen, as names of callers scroll along beneath it, complete with small quantities of cash. Here, it almost seems as if ClassicGarth has pointed out how this was still an America that doesn’t wish to take in any of that cockadoody foreign culture (that European film was on-screen for less than half a second before being callously whipped away from the gaze of the viewer), but rather an America that much prefers the sight of Old Rich Men In Suits telling people about the value of things.

Some might say the man is the owner of a local chain of stores, cheerily imploring viewers to phone in and announce how much they saved in their previous visit to whatever the name of the store is (our guess: “Westernoids”). Other, more correct viewers might point out that it’s some kind of telethon, but maybe that’s ClassicGarth’s masterstroke? Where does commerce end and charity begin?  If you spend money on goods and services, you’re proactively helping the unemployed, by keeping their employer in business, meaning that they never even become unemployed in the first place. Effectively, is capitalism not the very ultimate act of altruism?

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This charmingly simplistic view of capitalism also provides an evocative view of Western civilisation in the late 1980s. Hard-bitten modern day cynics might point out that if a company sees profits rise nowadays, they’ll probably sack everyone anyway, and move their manufacturing plants to Timbuktu in order to protect that precious double-digit growth, but back then things were so much simpler.

Onto the ninth second of the video, and the viewer finds themself confronted with another rich-looking white man in a suit, but this time a person who is somewhat less jolly, and is speaking in a language we can only correctly categorise as “foreign”, before another final fleeting glimpse of Jolly Silver Haired White Telethon Man In A Suit. Perhaps this is there in order to reinforce the view that the 1990s are lurking, and a deregulated Europe that promised to be simultaneously confusing, frightening, bewildering and brilliant was then just a few years away. It took ITV’s brilliant comedy drama series Root Into Europe about eight weeks to make the same point, but ever the auteur, ClassicGarth wraps it all up within five seconds of footage.

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From here, we’re tossed headlong into a dizzying whirlwind of marketing, whizzing around our eyes at such a rate we can barely take it all in. A barely perceptible glimpse of an advert for the Chevrolet Astro here (clear subtext: Detroit is dying along with North America’s manufacturing base), a garishly animated ident for a segment of something seemingly called “TRAVEL TRAVEL TIPS TIPS” (subtext: 1929 is all happening again, the second great Wall St crash cannot be far away. Travel far, far away from all that you treasure, everything you hold dear, it’s the only way to avoid seeing it all crumble and die before your sobbing consumer eyes), a crappy photo-stop-motion advert for hair product (subtext: knowledge and skill is now bunk, superficiality is the only currency of worth for the next two decades), are all thrown at our staggered face before some more sedate footage. OR SO IT SEEMS. A cute little bear climbing a tree in a forest might seem innocent enough, a hark back to frontier days, perhaps. Except of course: the bear represents Wall Street. The tree represents your 401k. Subtext: FEAR CAPITALISM. MONEY IS A LIE. Most telling of all, is the lack of the other large mammal usually associated with Wall Street. NO BULL = ALL OF THIS WILL DEFINITELY HAPPEN.

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Okay, at this point ClassicGarth must be well aware that our entire belief system has taken such a kicking we’re not altogether sure the very air molecules that we breathe aren’t somehow bugged by a CIA sleeper cell, so there’s a bit of nice classical guitar, played by a well-dressed man in front of a blue background (one of the colours of the American flag, of course. And the man is wearing a white shirt, which is another of the colours of Old Glory. There is no red to be seen in this part of the video, reminding us that communism is still very much alive in Eastern Europe at that time). But, there IS a midpoint of those two poles. Between communism and the laissez-faire utopia that is George Herbert Walker Bush-era America, there is…

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Aah. Footage of a Frenchman with a beard debating something. A spectacular choice by ClassicGarth here. Could this be signifying the ways of neo-socialist France, a nation very much still in thrall to the power of unions, but still maintaining a publicly-acceptable corporate political overview? We can’t quite tell, because we failed French at school, but we’re going to say “definitely yes”, even though we just guessed at all that stuff about French life in 1989.

Then, another flurry of frantic flipping: a man panning for rice or something, a shopping channel promoting a thing in a box marked “The Promax 57 Chevy Full Function”, a clip of an old Tony Curtis movie, the half-time statistics of a match between Ohio State and Louisville. In short, the natural world takes no heed of events elsewhere, rice will always need to be panned (or something), objects in boxes will always need to be hawked by excitable men in cheap television studios, the history of art grows ever larger therefore relentlessly diluting the good while simultaneously making it more rewarding to find, and the same applies to pointless sporting statistics. Is that Tony Curtis’ best film? Was the rice panned to an acceptable degree? Is Louisville having amassed 18 rebounds in the first half of their match against Ohio State a good thing, or a bad thing? So many questions, so many things that we will never know, our souls before increasingly insignificant when set against the totality of human knowledge, so hey, why not buy a lovely Promax 57 Chevy Full Function.

The last few seconds of the first forty-five try their best to sooth our now frenzied and frankly frazzled minds. A single shot of a calming winter scene in an old-timey town, the screen filled with relaxing blue lights falling upon crisp white snow (again, the colour red is ominously absent). This represents the ‘winter’ of our years, to remind us all that death comes to all men, be they rich, poor, or women. We start as a zero on the statistics page of life, and end it with a ‘score’ of the sum total what we were able to bring to the lives of others.

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Then, 1.7 seconds of a shot panning outwards, taking in a clock and the studio of a radio station. Time marches mercilessly onwards, ClassicGarth seems to be saying here. The studio microphones, placed unattainably behind a pane of soundproof glass, represents the public voice that we all wish we had, but one that we shall never be able to attain. No-one will ever truly hear our thoughts, especially if they only ever update their sodding blog once every four weeks.

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Then, two frames of a weather report. This represents the uncontrollable elements that shape our one and only spell in this godless universe, about which we can do absolutely nothing. All that is left to do is keep calm, and do all that we can to simply carry on. Lower your expectations. Re-evaluate all that you think you know. The Last Great American Decade is drawing to a close. A tumultuous storm is coming (which THE GOVERNMENT REGULATED MEDIA will almost definitely report as ‘scattered showers’ in order to quell rebellion). Say everything you need to say, and say it quick, for there is at least a 40% chance of precipitation (subtext: precipitation = an existence filled with a nagging sense of ennui and self-doubt).

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The final frame of the first forty-five seconds of the video contain several heavily VHS-ravaged frames of a man (possibly representing The Establishment) clasping his hand over the mouth of a woman (possibly representing The Free Thinker). This seems to have been chosen by ClassicGarth to clearly underline the central theme of this, possibly the finest and unquestionably the most personal of his 27 YouTube uploads. Don’t speak out, you won’t be heard (see also: the radio station scene). And even if you think you might be heard, the dodgy tracking on the great VCR in the sky will ensure that a great big static line covers up most of your face. That’s if The Establishment’s Big Hand Of Censorship doesn’t do it first.

Now, at this point we got a bit bored of the video and went off to do something else, leaving the last ninety seconds of the clip unwatched, but we feel this is what ClassicGarth was truly aiming for. The unwatched portion of the clip represents the fact that life simply carries on without us when we die (/stop watching the YouTube video). All the children you’ll never see grow up, all the great works of art you’ll never get to experience, all the incremental improvements made to mobile phones, they’ll all carry on long, long after you’ve gone.

Some might say we should just watch the rest of the clip, that we’ve embedded it at the top of this update anyway, and if we were so bored about it why have we written all of this horseshit? This, we feel, would be an affront to ClassicGarth’s masterpiece.

 

We couldn’t do that to him.

 

It wouldn’t be right.

 

It’d be like asking to see Mona Lisa’s tits.

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NEXT UPDATE: 8,500 words about a video of someone waving their iPhone camera about at an Arcade Fire gig.

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