The art of digital invisibility

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In an age where everything seems available, we’re actually being steamrolled by new creations as some of our most valuable movies, books, and music (let alone high art) are disappearing from view – many times they’re not physically available – but the bigger challenge is just keeping the important things front of mind. Otherwise you get lost in this sea of mediocrity that’s increasingly sweeping through Netflix and every other source of contemporary entertainment.

Here’s my problem, and it’s not a huge life altering one but I do think it has insidious effects on our culture. Say I want to watch some of the quirkier movies or TV shows that I remember from my youth? Example A: Try to find 1984’s “Mike’s Murder” which I won’t even try to characterize because I saw it on VHS sometime in the 80’s. Or Wim Wenders’ epic “Until the End of the World” which was an Arthur C. Clarke grade prophecy of the digital era – replete with a new understanding of how pop music would change along with a soundtrack that featured many artists who would do the changing. Then there’s the strange case of Die Kinder, a cracker jack preview of what TV would become from PBS’ Mystery series from 1990 starring Natasha Richardson and Frederic Forrest.

Go look, you’re not going to find them streaming. You can find Mike’s Murder on an old DVD but Amazon punks you with their SEO pumping page for a streaming version of Until the End of the World while EBay has DVDs.  As for Die Kinder the digital traces are thin except for this nice synopsis. I did manage to finally get someone to burn me a DVD from their old VHS copy. Welcome to contemporary samizdat culture in San Francisco.

As far as I can tell these are all victims of the tangled web of media and digital rights as they intersect with commerce – who wants to spend the money doing a digital release if the rights are tough and the financial upside is ephemeral? Of course there’s nothing absolutely new here. In the era before VHS your only shot at older movies were repertory movie houses. Forget it if you wanted to catch that TV episode from last week. And even after the era of the VHS tape and the waves of recordable media that followed, it became almost more difficult to find older media just because it all felt so tantalizingly close, as if you could suddenly dig through every version of Stagger Lee on Napster and every movie on Pirate Bay. Alas, that expectation of easy access to all media is one major issue. A bigger problem may be that any media that doesn’t exist digitally now will just disappear absent some passion project because the torrent of the present is what matters today, so much so that you can barely even remember that something old may be forgotten.



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