Being There: Missing Eyes Bother the Ringmaster

Bozos_Circus_postcard_1960s_optThe clowns are watching you. They really are, but evidently you are not watching them. At least one ringmaster has something to say about it.

There is an American circus association and they have a magazine White Tops. You probably do not care or Ringling Brothers would still be a circus and not a memory. Yet an experienced ringmaster has entertained thousands of people live and gathers data as he does so. Live entertainment is a biconditional relationship. We forget that as we watch them, they are watching us.

Listen to some wisdom: “Working as a ringmaster I have plenty of time to observe our audience. What I see every day is that our performers need to do the act for phone lenses instead of smiling faces. This is a new angle to work. How to entertain without a connection to the audience?”*

It is an interesting problem and one I have seen in students. It is hard for kids and young adults to be there. And I share their problem.

Recently the cabinet at The Saint Constantine School suggested that we not take camera pictures of events and that included (ahem) the President (me). I bridle, not liking the check to recording history, and then realized that if I was always recording history, I was missing living history. Do I really wish to see college students through a screen or enjoy kindergarten wisdom only on Facebook later when I watch the video?

No. God help me: no.

That’s obvious and the ringmaster has the right reaction. There is something wrong with an inability to be there. The guy who stays home looking at women on his phone screen and does not bother to talk to a human is not just sad, but in embracing an “inhumanism:” the philosophy of screens.

There is no virtual baptism or communion anymore than the Incarnation of Jesus was virtual. The Word became flesh, God did not send an avatar.

Why? We forget that selfishness is harder in reality. When engaged with the world as it is and not through a screen, we are there and so might be bored, made uncomfortable, laugh out loud, or be entertained. We lose control and put nothing between self and another soul.

When a pastor speaks, and a congregation is listening, he can see the response, feel the disagreement, and pivot if he needs to do so to a new explanation. When those hearing and the one speaking come together, there is power. This power is both ways. The speaker gains and those hearing gain and no video can do the same, because no filmed person can experience what you are feeling.

The ringmaster is right: there was something that could have been, but the screen stood as a barrier against spontaneous entertainment, failure, boredom, reality. The screen is the “net” we use to try to reduce the dangers of the high wire act of living, but by doing so we drain the world of drama, passion, and the frisson of love.

There is something else gone wrong: some experiences are best recollected by memory and not imperfectly captured from one angle by a camera. The streamed video imposes a perspective on us . . . and prevents us forming a memory. The memory may be less literally accurate, but more mythically true. We edit to the essence and the camera captures the floor, the ceiling, and millions of extraneous data points. We film, stand behind a screen, so are not there, and then gain a memory based on not being there, but viewing a film of what we might have seen if we had been there.

Our memory is an image of an image.

Our history recorded is not a lie, because what we film happened, but a loss: we got the details by missing the day.

God help us.

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*”Looking Around” by Sebastian Taurianen in White Tops Sept/Oct 2017 (page 15).


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