Watching us, watching you

May 6, 2008

There are 4.2 million closed-circuit television cameras in the UK, making us European leaders in something other than teenage pregnancy and drinking outside pubs. Most of them are a waste of space, at least according to one Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector. But Kermodian* rants decrying the infringement of our civil liberties appear at odds with a society obsessed with capturing images of anything.

Dev Hynes, lead singer of Lightspeed Champion, had barely begun the first few words of Galaxy of the Lost at a gig last night, before five hands shot up in front of me, each illuminated by the blue light of a mobile phone. For four minutes they remained, and these fascinating rockumentaries are now probably sitting comfortably in the land of Mytubespacebook.Picture of Lightspeed Champion on stage

The compulsion we have to record aspects of our lives is nothing new. Fifty years ago the Cine-Film was king. Fathers spent hours trying to project silent beach holidays onto walls. The clunky home video recorders of the 1980s slowly became the modern devices which are permanently on hand.

The result? Some people spend less time living their lives than capturing them.

I blame Game for a Laugh. Possible the ‘greatest’ television programme of the 1980s, GFAL was a collage of practical jokes, surprises and hidden camera hoaxes, a rung on the TV ladder between Candid Camera and Big Brother. The weekly farewell – we very much hope that you’ll be … (Henry) Watching Us, (Jeremy) Watching You, (Sarah) Watching Us, (Matthew) Watching You, (All, in unison). Goodnight” – put many millions at ease. Another show had passed without their car falling off a cliff. From GFAL spewed the wonders or Beadle’s About, Surprise Surprise and You’ve Been Framed.

Me being British, and him being dead, I am no longer allowed to be nasty about Jeremy Beadle. (Had I previously known that he was important in the early days of the Campaign for Real Ale I would have been much nicer about him in the past). But his long career did much to make people think that they are interesting on film. Without him, perhaps fantastic views would still be for looking at not snapping, kids birthday parties would be about cake and tambourines, not Dad’s with video cameras, and weddings would start when the bride is ready, not the photographer.

We are on film every day whether we like it or not. Perhaps the archive of millions of hours of CCTV footage could be made available online. Then we could all spend more time creating memories and less time capturing them.

*Kermodian – to rant tirelessly without pausing for breath in a habitually well-informed manner; unable to admit occasional mistaken view.