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YouTube, Me-tube
December 24, 2013  | By Eric Gould

The poet Charles Simic has a wonderful article on The New York Review of Books website this month (“It’s on YouTube, Kid”) about finding even his most obscure childhood TV and film remembrances all readily available on YouTube with the click of a mouse.

Simic, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress, is one of my all-time favorite poets. He’s a surrealist and literary trickster of deceptive simplicity, writing what have been called "Chinese puzzles" that scratch deep into the basic perceptions of life. He’s written about forks and coat hangers and other banal objects as if they were monuments, pregnant with the meaning of great plays and epic novels. His 1999 poem “Watch Repair” mused on looking into the tiny machinery of a wristwatch, its impossibly small cog “incandescent, shivering like a pinned butterfly” and the repairman's sliver-like tools as “splinters of arctic starlight.” Reading Simic, one learned that images could be acrobats, leaping from tiny worlds into delirious polar expanses in the space of a few short lines.

Simic grew up in war-torn Yugoslovia during and after World War II as a child, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1954 with his family when he was sixteen. The New York Review piece has recollections of him trying to find American jazz on Armed Forces Radio stations, watching Soviet films with haunting folk songs and eventually, in the U.S., following Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows – and being able to start up Caesar’s still-hilarious “This is Your Story” skit in a matter of a couple of clicks.

In other words, what used to be unlikely and impractical – the assemblage of multimedia culture that formed your most indelible memories and helped, in some way, form your drama and comedy identity, would have been all but impossible just 10 years ago. If you wanted all that, it would have been hours looking things up, and hundreds of dollars ordering them online or at the local video store.

We’ve all spent a night surfing from one tangent to another on YouTube, but with Simic’s example, I did it again, finding early Beatles performances on The Ed Sullivan Show (top), title sequences for the Sixties UK series imports The Avengers and The Prisoner (above, right), and clips from Miami Vice and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

I found a favorite I hadn’t thought of in a long time, called "American Time Capsule" by Chuck Braverman. Shown first in 1968 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, it’s a lightning-fast short history film with millisecond bursts of paintings and photographs spanning 200 years in a little over 2 1/2 minutes.

Maybe best of all was just typing in “Six Feet Under Finale” and finding the final 10 minutes of that show and, following the series’ weekly theme of showing a death, the way it leapt forward into the future for its conclusion – an emotional montage of the demise of all the major characters. It choked me up all over again, even though the series has been long gone since 2005.

None of this surfing speaks to rights, whether all of this should be freely available or, if there is advertising money at YouTube, whether royalties should somehow be distributed, in part, to the original artists. But it does underscore the fact that your most obscure, and presumably fondest, media moments aren't necessarily just part of your personal gray matter.

Given the petabytes, exabytes, and zottabytes of coming digital storage, almost any video moment you can remember could be collected on servers in anonymous gray buildings as part of a vast, shared, worldwide virtual vault.

Thanks for the memories, YouTube. We no longer need worry about forgetting. If we can remember what we want to revisit, it’s all been recorded. And it's waiting.

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