The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all.
“The Boy in the Bubble”
–Paul Simon

When Andy Warhol said that, one day, every person would receive 15 minutes of fame, most people figured he meant through television. TV, after all, can throw a person’s face and voice into the eyes and ears of millions upon millions. Given 15 minutes of national air time, the sleaziest talk show guest receives greater public attention than many of the worthy famous folks living before TV.

Warhol’s comment shocked and excited simply because so few ever sat and smiled before the electronic eye. TV made a few people famous, but only the famous few ever got on TV.

Many have dealt with the social implications of the glowing fame-maker: we got to see only those human salmon who managed to swim upstream to the headwaters of broadcasting. There remains, however, an unexamined side to this phenomenon. This is the personal, psychological side: the inside of the people on TV. To put it simply, those famous few had the privileged experience of seeing themselves on TV.

The camcorder has changed that. Now we, the unwashed millions, see ourselves on the tube with some regularity. Note well, the children of camcorder owners see themselves on TV from childhood, even from their earliest moments. Getting on TV for 15 minutes has become easy. Simply getting there, however, no longer means getting famous; it just means getting your image onto the screen, in your own living room.

Seeing yourself on live TV is not like looking into a mirror. Try this: look into a mirror and raise your right hand. You’ll see your image in the mirror raising its left hand. Your mirror image does not face you the way another person faces you. The mirror shows you, not your opposite, but your reverse.

Now, hook up a camcorder to a monitor so that you can see the camera’s image “live” on the monitor screen. Place the camcorder side-by-side with the monitor. Raise your right hand. Lo and behold, your image raises its right hand. Go ahead, extend your hand toward the monitor. It looks as though you can shake hands with yourself. You can’t do that with a mirror. Place the monitor and camera next to the mirror and get your image both ways. (Be sure to roll tape the first time you show this to a child.) It feels uncanny the first time you try this; the monitor shows you the part in your hair on the other side, your ring is on the other hand.

For the first time, you are seeing yourself the way others see you. Of course, still photos and filmed motion pictures also preserve your right side in its proper place. With live TV, however, there is no delay between your movements and those of your image: it moves when you do, it moves as you do.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns once prayed that the Lord “a gift he would gie (give) us,/to see ourselves as others see us.” Superficially, broadcast TV made this possible for a few; camcorders make it possible for the many.

We can now walk away from the monitor scratching our heads at yet another odd technological trick, or we could take the experience to heart. It takes a great deal more than mirrors and camcorders to truly see ourselves the way others see us. The only technology that can really show this to us is strong honest criticism, from ourselves and others. This technology is seldom user-friendly, but it delivers high quality insight–the food for great videos and good lives.

Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.

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