Yes, Virginia, some things remain that video can’t explain. For example, how do you say “idea” in the language of video?
Eskimo languages, we are told, include over 400 words for different types of snow. They’ve got, say, a noun for the snow that turns slushy after a rainfall, another for the kind that spins in the air like powder, and still another, I suppose, for the snow they shovel away from the igloo entrance. By examining the glossary of a language you find the deepest concerns of its speakers. Eskimos obviously think snow important. Italian has 400 words for different types of pasta, which surprises no one.
Video too speaks as a language. It communicates with great nuance things that you can see, things that move and things that you can hear. Like Eskimos with their snow and Italians with their pasta, videomakers master communication of the visible, the moving and–shall we say–the noisy. Just as the Eskimo languages speak acutely of the world of snow, the language of video speaks best of a world of images, speed and noise. This explains the popularity and utility of television in a world speeding with a great din toward belief in appearances.
We gain something and lose something when one language supplants another. Say an evil tyrant forced Eskimos to give up their languages for Italian. They might delight in the discovery of the subtle differences between noodles, but they would lose their linguistic equipment for dealing with their own environment.
Will the language of video someday supplant spoken language, written language and the languages of art? For example: will “snow” come to mean only “video noise,” the white dots that sometimes break up poorly received TV pictures? Already, best-selling novels read like TV; paintings look like TV. People, when they speak, often sound like TV.
As “speakers” of video, we develop acute perceptions of the visible, the moving and the noisy. Will we someday suffer, though, like Arctic dwellers who traded snow knowledge for macaroni wisdom? Will we finally lose all perception of things invisible, still, silent? Will they become to us simply so much video snow–and then melt from sight? Metaphysically mute, we’ll no longer speak of such things. Then they will cease to matter to us.
In the near future, no one living will remember life before television. Will future generations understand their world only through the language of video? It’s a question worth asking today, while various other means of expression are still alive. One could argue that videomakers’ production language develops nuance if we keep our literary, artistic and spiritual roots well watered.
There is, after all, nothing forcing us to make video our only language, is there?
Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.