Recently, many artists have urged fans to quit taking and uploading photos and videos, instagramming, tweeting, or otherwise documenting their live shows. I explain why this is totally messed up and why we shouldn't live through the lens.
This is the participation trophy generation. This is the generation of the unpaid internship. We came of age on AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook, amid rampant ADHD diagnoses. Our legacy begins as the overly educated and the highly medicated, and it can be experienced or dismissed by our “over sharing.” Easy enough to categorize as entitled and cynical, in 20 years, this generation will comprise almost 50% of the electorate. So…get used to it? These distinguishing factors, the “special snowflake syndrome” and the addiction to technology, our need to share so much of our lives – our ideas, our photos, our tax dollars and what we ate for lunch – provide a blueprint for things to come. It's for this reason that when I hear bands griping about fans uploading cell phone pictures and grainy videos from live shows (under the guise of some high brow born nostalgia when really all any monetarily successful artist wants to do is protect his/her image and therefore paycheck) all I can think is, “Meh…you're old.”
In recent years, many performing artists have urged fans to forgo their cell phones during the course of a live show. The ways in which performers broach the issue vary from Louis CK's opening of 2011's “Live at the Beacon,” in which he addressed the crowd with, “Don’t text or twitter during the show. Just live your life. Don’t keep telling people what you’re doing. Also, it lights up your big, dumb face,” to The Lumineers stopping halfway through their song “Ho Hey” at a show in Brixton this year to request that the audience “put away cameras and recording devices, and just be human with us for awhile.” The Yeah Yeah Yeahs sparked a sensation over the internet this April after posting signs at their show, in New York's Webster Hall, bemoaning cell phone usage as distracting to the band as well as other fans. Many bands, including The Savages, have followed suit.
It is absolutely within the rights of artists and proprietors to set up regulations for the experience they are attempting to create. These requests are in line with “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs in restaurant windows, and the only decent response, if you wish to enjoy the food and atmosphere, is to comply. But alt-rock bands and incendiary comedians, performing to a fan base comprised largely of the very demographic that made social media what it is – A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH – is not only short-sighted but condescending. It's the epicureal equivalent of opening a restaurant with a dress code policy on the Huntington Pier or Venice Boardwalk. In fact, most eateries lining these populist beaches bear kitschy signs like, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem!!” because they know their audience. If they wanted closed-toe-shoes-and-button-up-sorts, they would have opened up shop in Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons. So while I respect fundamentally an artist's prerogative to voice his desires about the way his art is experienced and shared, I am of the staunch opinion that these are divisive and stupid desires.
My opinion is not the popular one if internet comments are any indication. It seems a large part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' fan base at least (as it is the instance that has garnered the most media attention) stands by the band's assessment that “[Enjoying] the show through a screen” is a bad thing. Part of the argument is that people standing in front of you at a live show (or sitting and having the camera “light up your big, dumb face”) is distracting to others. I call foul on this analysis on the grounds that I am short and I have attended tons of live performances. There will always be someone standing in my way. There will always be someone stepping on my toes. My view will be blocked during really cool parts of the show by unaware drunk people, girls on their boyfriend's shoulders, and dudes who just really can't help that they're that tall. I've gotten really good at dodging limbs poised to do me bodily harm and to find pockets between unbelievably tall people that afford me a pretty consistent sight line. So complaining, “You're blocking my view!” is just about the whiniest, most entitled excuse for a legitimate distraction that I can think of. You paid to come pack your body into a dingy, sweaty room where people large and small can and will spill beer on you and you choose to be upset at the 5-inch thing that person is holding? You couldn't like, crane your neck somewhat?
The more disturbing part of the argument is the idea that recording the show for your Vine, Instagram, Twitter or just for the sake of taking up GBs on your cell phone is somehow offensive to the human experience. There's an attitude that poor quality pictures and videos of live shows discredit your existence. The Tweeting masses are incensed over being inundated with the sharing of their friends' concerts and shows, food stuffs, pets and family members. “They're not even good quality!” “It sounds/looks like shit!” “Who benefits from those grainy videos, anyway??” “Just because you have an Instagram doesn't make you a photographer!” are popular complaints. The problem with that is, nobody ever claimed her Instagram account made her a Photographer, but apparently all these people complaining about the image quality consider themselves none other than Larry Gagosian. It's so hypocritical. By demeaning another's output on a social media site, you are indirectly yet very clearly asserting that your own output is empirically superior. You assert that Thoughts with a Capital T go into your Twitter account and your Twitter account only.
The Grateful Dead, in addition to providing free food and medical services to their concert goers at many of their (often free) live performances over the past four decades, introduced a sub-sub-culture of Dead Heads called Tapers. Since none of their shows were ever the same (all hail the jam band!) they encouraged fans to record audio and video with whatever devices they had on hand. The only caveat was that whatever media was recorded was strictly not for profit. The point was to distribute tapes widely among the band's gigantic fan base, since Dead shows were so wildly eclectic. Some lucky Tapers were allowed to plug their recording devices directly into the PA system, but many just stood in the crowd holding microphones. The quality could not have been great, and the devices were almost certainly larger than an iPhone 5. And Grateful Dead fans are like, the happiest and coolest people in the world. Maybe it's because they do not hold irrationally elitist views that make it impossible to not be irritated by every single thing every single person around them says and does. I don't know, I'm just guessing.
It is up to nobody to decide how we process the experiential. If you want to be removed from the culture of sharing and the age of “what's mine is public,” then by all means do so. But nobody, not even The Lumineers, has a responsibility to decide what it means to be human. Our particular human experience in our particular day and age moves in 6 second increments and 140-characters – get used to it, or get offline.