Punk Catholic Thought of the Year II
Oooh, a sequel!!! And due warning: it's rated NC-13! Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the blog . . . Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!
One of my most beautiful Mass memories is from a time the sanctuary was so crowded that I had to sit behind a statue of St. Martha. My view of the altar was completely blocked, and I was feeling a bit sad that I wouldn't get to gaze at the Host when Father elevated it. As soon as everyone knelt for the Consecration, however, I felt an uncharacteristic urge to turn my head away from the altar, toward one of the glass windows at the side of the church. This was a pre-dawn Mass, so it was still dark outside and the windows acted as mirrors. And that was how I got an excellent, if reverse-image, view of the Consecration.
I've always thought of that as St. Martha's little gift to me that morning . . . and I've had cause to think of it again over the past several months. These days, if I can't get a seat up front at church, I deliberately sit where I know my view is going to be obscured. That's actually a lot trickier than it sounds because it's not one view I have to block, but several.
This is thanks to something very new in the sanctuary of my parish church. And by "new," I mean that Marshall McLuhan was all over it long before I was born. There are currently six flat screen monitors installed on pillars along the main area of the church, for the benefit of those in the congregation who don't have a very good view of the altar (or of the lectern).
I f***ing hate the things.
If you're watching it on a screen, you're not doing it right.
Ironically, the associations helping me write this post came to me through a screen--that of my own PC monitor, while I was watching YouTube clips. (Don't you just love that? =P)
One of those videos, not embedded, is an interview of British guitarist Graham Coxon, who expressed disbelief at all the people who came to his concerts and filmed the sets. He didn't understand why they couldn't "just enjoy the show." The following clip is courtesy of one of those people.
You're second only to Alex James in my heart, Graham!!!
Coxon reminds me of a former friend of mine who couldn't understand why people would spend hours arguing about some obscure (to her) plot point, such as "Who is John Connor's real father?" (That question was answered on this blog, by the way.) But the catch was that she perceived our discussions as something we would do instead of "just enjoying the movie." So she was taken aback when we replied, practically in chours, "What do you think we're doing???"
Discussing a movie, even to the point of heated argument, has become a legitimate way to enjoy that movie. And filming a live concert and uploading it later for others' comments has become a legitimate way to enjoy that concert.
Which reminds me . . . there was one time when I felt so left out of Take That's reunion tour that after a friend brought me the DVD all the way from the UK, I actually recorded some of it on my mobile phone while watching it on my TV. I felt closer to the group--heck, closer to the audience--by that act of capturing Mark Owen's face on a shaky close up in my hand.
The It Only Takes a Minute Tango Set:
Arguably one of the best show-stoppers they've ever done.
Back in 2006, before the DVD came out, fans like me were completely dependent on clips that other people filmed from the audience. Almost seven years later (Oh, how Jesuit!), such clips are very, very difficult to find--although I'm sure they're still available--because the first 100 videos or so that pop up when you search for "Take That Ultimate Tour" are grabs from the official DVD.
The footage for that DVD was filmed during the Manchester leg of the tour. This means that even those who bought tickets for different venues likely "remember" the Mancunian show the most vividly. It's a little like another 80s SF movie, Total Recall--which, incidentally, went head-to-head with The Terminator in my Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Smackdown! Watching the former film as a child, I never understood how anyone could conceive of fake memories as a legitimate alternative to actual experience. About two decades later, I see that I am doing exactly that.
Now, how about something else from the 80s to help me make my point?
Well, of course Live Aid had something to do with it . . .
Huge Screens Alert @2:13, @3:21, @4:30 and @6:24!
There were no digital cameras back in 1985, and even those who owned video cameras wouldn't have dreamed of bringing them to either of the two Live Aid venues. Filming the concert was the crew's job, not the audience's--something for professionals, not amateurs. Besides, it would have been a chore.
The salient point, however, is that they had already started taking that chore for granted. Nobody would have bought tickets for the JFK Stadium (in the USA) or Wembley Stadium (in the UK) if they thought they'd have to squint at a tiny stage a whole football field away. They expected there to be a crew . . . and cameras . . . and really big screens. And that they did so, did not at all strike them as odd.
True to its name, Live Aid was also broadcast, as it was taking place, via satellite, to 150 countries. Which meant that people even farther away from the two stages than those at the very back of each stadium could see the performers as well as--if not better than--those in the very front row. And in that sense, there was not much difference between the people who were there and the people who weren't.
Earlier that day and across the Atlantic . . .
Piddling screens @0:24 and a "posterity crew" @1:05
And at the moment, there is not much difference between those who were watching it in 1985 and those who are watching it now. (Come on! Press play! FEEL IT!)
What? Do you think I'm being too simplistic? Have I totally missed the fact that what the television audience (and you and I) got to see were images chosen for us by intermediaries in some director's booth, and therefore a controlled version of reality? If you wonder that, then you totally missed the fact that every time the stadium people turned from the stage to the screens--which you can bet the majority of them did quite often--they, too, watched nothing more than the same controlled reality.
In these digital days, the reality of a concert fragments even more, directly corresponding to the number of recording devices pointed at the performers. I'm not crazy about it, but I can live with it. What I cannot stand is the same thing happening to the Mass.
Yes, it's the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
No, watching this does not fulfill your obligations.
Wrapping it up now, the Punk Catholic Thought of the Decade is that screens in the sanctuary are a bad idea, because they let someone else decide what you should be focussing on and turn you into a passive consumer of a controlled "feed." You may still be looking at the altar, at the celebrant, or at one of the lectors . . . and saying the correct responses at the correct times . . . but you are more distant from them than if you had your view blocked by a thick pillar and a life-sized statue of a saint.
A last note . . . While drafting this post, I asked myself whether I would also do away with the sound systems that make the readings and prayers audible no matter where you are in the church (and sometimes, even if you're outside). And to be honest, I don't know. The only time I heard a Mass in my largish parish church that didn't involve microphones, it was in the middle of a city-wide power failure and Father had had the front pews moved several metres closer to the altar. There's no way to answer that question fairly without regularly assisting at Masses without microphones.
I think this is what we will face in a few decades, if the screens become an accepted part of the architecture: people who cannot imagine what the Mass would be like without them. Doesn't that strike anyone else as wrong?