November, 2000 | Born equally of old New England
Protestant stock and shtetl-surviving Russian Jewish
ancestry, I've spent time on both sides of the assimilation
divide that Philip Roth explores so wrenchingly in Goodbye,
Columbus. As the earnest young paramour of one beguiling
blonde shiksa with a choice chunk of Maine coastline hers
for the inheriting, I was never boatsman or Brahmin enough
to fit the bill. (If only I could have kept my voice
down...) On the other hand, whenever I attended a wedding
or other social gathering in the native environs of the
only Jewish girl who ever gave me the time of day, I found
myself brimming with condescension and derision. Even the
genuine, heartfelt family pathos from the simha
to the kaddish wasn't enough to keep me from recoiling
at what came afterwards: to my jaundiced eye, a sea of rutting,
middle-aged, tract-housing tux-stuffers spouting stale Viagra
jokes and reveling in endless conga lines to soulless bands
bleating pale imitations of "Love Train" and the like.
Worst of all was the preponderance of home-camcordings
afoot, as if the ever-intrusive "official" videographer
wasn't banalis in extremis enough. Then there were
graduations and other rest-of-the-world events where I found
myself seated with the only party in the room brandishing
the garish video-taping toy. I even had to take over family
taping chores now and then, and imagined myself falling
prey to that old black-shoe-polish-on-the-binoculars trick,
with a dark ring around my eye signifying the gaucheness-by-association
encircling my soul.
At some point, my mounting bile burst forth in torrents
of vitriol. I railed at her, against her family's mortifying
garishness, the garden-variety vulgarity bespoken by that
infernal video camera's presence in every situation that
called for even a touch of understatement and grace. "Why
be one of those camcord-toting fools?" I protested. "Why
succumb to such pedestrian, gotta-get-it-on-tape mindlessness?
Who actually watches all that fuzzy, badly framed tedium
She thought for a minute and replied, "You know, when
my parents got married, someone shot it on a Super-8 movie
camera and it sat in an attic collecting dust for 25 years.
Then a couple years ago, my brother had it converted to
VHS, and we watched it and there were grandparents, uncles,
aunts, and friends who had died years ago. It was like seeing
them come back to life."
So that makes two times in my life I've admitted
I was wrong.
I'm told I met my great-grandmother twice. I remember
what must have been the second time. I waited patiently
through a line of well-wishers and other pilgrims, watching
everyone hug her after reaching the front. When I finally
stepped up for my obligatory hug, she rolled her eyes at
the six-year-old pishkeh before her, extended her
hand with wonderful old-country matter-of-factness and said,
Beyond that I remember little about her, but I'd be fascinated
to see and hear more of her now: her manner, her stories,
the way she interacted with her children, her peculiar lingering
Yinglish. I'm told there's a VHS tape somewhere of a cousin
of my grandfather's generation, in which he talks of his
years as an Old Left lawyer defending blacklisted writers
and actors in Philadelphia in the 1950s. Having only known
the man much later, when his mental and physical faculties
were well on the wane, I'd love to see that tape.
Any tape of him or my great-grandmother would be pretty
old now, and ripe for conversionlike an old Super-8to
newer tapes or a more permanent format, such as the writable
optical discs that lend physical near-immortality to scratch-susceptible
vinyl LPs. At a recent press event, Pioneer VP Andy Parsons
told me that this is precisely the applicationpersonal
video archiving, sharing, and preservationthat Pioneer
believes will prove the breakthrough consumer application
for DVD-R/RW. In other words, it will do for DVD-R/RW what
audio did for CD-R.
I don't think we're there yet. We'll much sooner see the
traditional PC desktop recording market adopt Pioneer's
forthcoming internal, half-height drive that combines DVD-R/RW
and CD-R/RW recording in a single unit. (Get the price down
on that and all other pretenders will pawn their parts and
go home.) However far off its acceptance may be, though,
I do see the potential and appeal of the "home video" application.
But it's going to take some time. Besides the prohibitive
(for this market) current pricing of drives and mediaeven
at $2,000 and $20, respectively, it just won't happenI
see significant technical obstacles to personal video's
becoming a mass consumer application for DVD-R/RW. Time-shifting
TV programs (i.e., recording for later viewing), with DVD
as with VHS, is a no-brainer once the price is right. Indexing
alone (via remote control) makes it worthwhile.
On the other hand, editing MPEG isn't for everybody; I
doubt many of us know anybody with the experience
and the necessary hardware and software to do it at home.
But that's not to say many would-be home-DVD makers won't
get there soon. Reading was once the exclusive province
of monks, priests, rabbis, and scholarly elites; so was
photography exclusive to photographers. Just as "Instamatic"
and Polaroid cameras brought photography (of the "Kodak
Moment" sort, that is, not the "artistic" kind) to the masses,
so may the widely bundled Sonic DVDit! or its progenitorsthough
currently aimed at corporate marketsmake artless MPEG
editing cheap and easy enough that it becomes a natural
extension of increasingly popular digital photography and
And though I hardly feel demographically aligned with
it, personallyespecially compared to audio recording
for CD-R, which nailed me with ballpeen precisionI
believe that home video is indeed writable DVD's best shot
at the cultural assimilation that makes fringe technologies
into household words.