Take a moment to consider the gravity of the word event — it has a sort of uplifting weightiness to it, doesn’t it? In the best terms it implies anticipatory elation, the onset of something long awaited. The word is still relevant today, of course, but within the context of retrospect it feels diminished and aged, like Bob Hope movies on weekday afternoons, or crumbled bleu cheese in your fancy salad; it looks moldy but it’s actually not.
For those of you above the tender age of, say, thirty, you might remember some of this stuff; if you’re mid-forties and above you will remember . . .
Remember Evel Knievel and his hyped up jumps? Lots of spectacle and showmanship — each one an event full of drama, and often a bent and broken Knievel.We still had our favortie TV shows and other distractions, but these jumps were almost guilty pleasures back then.
How about Star Wars when it first appeared in theaters . . . or Jaws? Those were the movies to see, often multiple times. Star Wars had so captivated the imagination of moviegoers that lines stretched around buildings for months while it played. The impact of Jaws played out on beaches everywhere — people were literally afraid to go in the water . . . not just a few people, but lots of people.
As a kid, the circus coming to town was a big deal. People used actual cameras with color film, then took them to any number of stores to have them processed, which took days. Just getting the pictures back was a mini-event in itself, allowing you to relive the moments captured forever on celluloid.
Concerts were, and to a degree still are, events. But the acts aren’t as hugely anticipated from what I can tell. Back in the day you had weeks of build up before it happened. Now there’s a couple radio spots and probably a website, certainly a Facebook page dedicated to it.
Remember going to a record store and browsing through rows and rows of albums? Remember what a big deal album art could be? That’s long gone since the advent of CDs. Now a movie comes out more as a precursor to its release in retail outlets than as a true event, Deathly Hallows 2 notwithstanding.
Our entire entertainment culture has shifted from one that used to be a shared, almost communal experience, to a fragmented encounter of individualism. We have smartphones and tablet PCs now that bring those same movies into the palms of our hands. We don’t have to go and breathe the same air as 200 other people in a cineplex. And how about that . . . remember real movie theaters, with huge screens and could seat hundreds of people at a time? We’d see cheesy disaster movies like Towering Inferno or Airport ’77 on those screens, or comedies like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run. Hell, now we can, if we choose, have almost as big a screen as those in the cineplexes installed in our homes with a nice surround-sound unit and HD projector and we can have buttered popcorn and snacks in the comfort and convenience of our living rooms.
“Events” are dramatized for us because we have become somewhat desensitized to their prior effects. Look at how wildly popular competition shows are — American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, So You Think You Can Dance?, etc. They work in an element of audience, even viewing audience participation, which heightens the drama for the next night. That next evening’s program then becomes the event. We need to be goaded into coming back . . . sorta. We could always go online immediately afterward to find out who won, right?
Sometimes I feel like our youth today are somehow cheated by not being able to experience events as they were when we were kids. But the reality is that their events are different than ours. Their world is faster and exponentially more complex that ours was. They are the Digital Generation and most of them can’t possibly conceive of how draconian things were “back in the day.”
I have a small iPod and a Kindle, but I still prefer to read books in the traditional book format. I ‘get’ the convenience of an e-reader but feel I’m missing an important component of the reading experience when reading off a screen. I am part of the Digital Transition. I grew up with Atari and Coleco Vison, Commodore 64 and Pong. I bought vinyl records but embraced CDs when they arrived. I owned a 4-head, hi-fi VCR when they were just coming out. I understand the functional revolution I participated in, but I never saw what lay over the horizon. The gap between then and now is staggering.
Perhaps it’s best if I remember events not so much as long lost, but as endeared to me as only each one could be for me. Maybe, ultimately, each event is what I made it — an attachment of fondness I have for those moments as opposed to a societal gestalt of passing culture.