n these last two-and-a-half years of editorial-writing, I've found real fascination in exploring the craft and character almost any practitioner brings to the task. I'll read editorials anywhere--I can't get enough of them. There are lots of folks I admire, but my sentimental favorite remains the back-page baron of the one magazine to which I've faithfully subscribed since early adolescence--Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly. He's sharp, and witty, and timely; he cranks out great columns nearly every week; and in several attempts spread out over the last couple of years, he's written the most moving pieces on the Columbine tragedy--which happened in his own community--that I've read anywhere.
When last week's issue arrived, at first it seemed as if Reilly had simply mailed one in, submitting what appeared to be a straight transcription of a conversation with Earl Woods, punch-proud father of newly crowned grand slam champion Tiger Woods. While I find Tiger Woods immensely cool for--among other things--busting open a lily-white sport and for being just about the only reason to watch or follow golf, I find Earl Woods a remarkably objectionable figure. Reading interviews with him over the years, I've felt like the narrator of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, when he discovers that his friend Owen--who's convinced he must drive his life toward a future mission he's foreseen--was told by his hillbilly parents that he was a virgin birth. Earl Woods has been compared to fanatic skating mothers, to gymnastics father-coach-promoters, to all the sport-obsessed parents who drive their kids to compensate for everything they never became.
But Earl Woods is worse than all of them. He doesn't just expect his son to have a big impact on his sport and become the golfer he himself never was. He's said repeatedly that his son's impact on the world beyond golf will be even more significant, that he'll mean more to the 21st Century than, say, Gandhi did to the 20th. "He's the bridge between the East and West," he's said, whatever that means. And he never lets anyone forget who it was that so loved the world to build this bridge to its brighter future: "The painting isn't complete
I haven't signed it yet."
Not that anybody takes this guy seriously. Right? After all, we live in a time when even presidents can't talk like that; this culture hasn't been that ingenuous for nearly 40 years. It's hard to imagine any less marginal a figure being allowed to carry on with such pomp and puffery. But if he even convinces one person, I'd hate to see this sort of thing create unrealistic expectations. What's so great about a sports figure like Tiger Woods is that he gives us so much to marvel at, always raising the bar of how good he can become at the thing he does so well.
I got to thinking about all this as I stumbled warily into the keynote at DVD PRO last week, dreading the prospect of a speech heralding the dawning of the DVD age, in which that hallowed 1.2mm platter would align the stars and planets in some swelling convergence. At the least I hoped I'd be spared hearing the phrase "Michelangelo of DVD" yet again.
I'm happy to report that it didn't happen. Much to the chagrin of his near and dear, Earl Woods' poor health has forced him to cancel many speaking engagements of late, his much-anticipated DVD PRO keynote included. Stepping up in Earl's place was Jim Griffin, founder and CEO of Cherry Lane Digital, who pulled off a remarkable feat: delivering a talk that was satisfying and inspiring, specifically because it was so sobering. He encouraged conference attendees not to think of DVD as a be-all and end-all; rather, he said, they should keep the focus on digital content delivery, whatever the means or medium, if they hoped to stay in the game awhile.
When you name a conference after a specific kind of electronic media in this fast-changing computing world, you set yourself up for some risk. You build a brand around something that your conference, and the creative and business interests of its attendees and exhibitors, will likely outlast. There won't be a Michelangelo of DVD, any more than there was a Michelangelo of X-weight canvas, or X-brand ceiling plaster. High-definition TV and interactivity and the Web and on-demand video may start converging while DVD is the reigning physical electronic media container in some circles, but if anything is to come of the convergence, it'll have to continue after we discover a bigger, deeper, or denser container. Or discover that we don't need a physical container at all.
More to Griffin's point, however long DVD survives, the DVD market as we now know it will surely change. Much as the music industry is coming to grips with the fact that the selling model for its content must change as electronic delivery evolves, so must those who currently think of themselves as "DVD producers" realize that what they're producing won't always be distributed as DVD, once online and on-demand delivery becomes the norm. What's more, they'll have to learn how to profit from the content they develop when the money no longer comes from selling a round disc. And they'll have to keep their core skills set marketable, when the intricacies of DVD image-building become less relevant.
I suppose the important thing, really, as we continue to engage ourselves in the important task of building DVD's image in a world outside computing that doesn't quite get it yet, is to keep in mind that DVD may indeed be the Second Coming of CD-ROM, or VHS, and, while it's certainly better than its predecessors, it's not the Second Coming of anything else. And when some other form of digital content delivery takes its place, the demise of DVD as we've known it won't be the end of the world we've known, anymore than its arrival was.
Meanwhile, if anything Michelangelo-esque happens to land on DVD, and alight there for awhile, we won't need to sign the lucky disc to know we helped make it happen.