Hard to see site as anything but comprehensive

DULY NOTED: Tom Scocca of the New York Observer wrote a long appreciation of the YouTube phenomenon this weekend, wondering at how the online video sharing site has suddenly given concrete form to our ephemeral TV memories.

“The thing about television used to be that once you saw it, it was gone,” Scocca writes. “It was disposable, and it was mostly dispensed with — the old signals, from what we used to watch, streaming out past the Oort Cloud, carrying Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp away into infinity.”

Without the half-life of syndication, so many of our TV memories become just that — memories, recalled with varying degrees of diminishing precision to other people, in the hope that they’ll corroborate how hot Geena Davis was when she played Karen on Family Ties, or the time that Johnny Carson told Raquel Welch to “move that damned cat” when she asked him if he wanted to pet her pussy. (For the record — never happened, and depending on the age of the person telling the story, it was Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ann-Margret, Dyan Cannon or Farrah Fawcett-Majors sitting on Johnny’s couch with the fictional cat.)


For Scocca, his big YouTube revelation comes with a clip of The Pixies performing on Dennis Miller’s doomed post-SNL talk show. Scocca was in college when he saw the band’s 1992 appearance on Miller’s show, and as far as he’s concerned, time hasn’t been kind to Miller, who he remembers as achingly funny and hip as he went up to introduce himself to the band he was savvy enough to book. Watching it again on the tiny video window on his computer 14 years later, Scocca is crestfallen: “He was smarmy; he was stilted; his floppy West Coast suit was ridiculous. He wasn’t funny.”

The thing about YouTube as an archive, however, is that it’s only as comprehensive as the enthusiasms and collections of the users who root through their old VHS tapes to find that old episode of Knight Rider they’ve been carrying around since high school, complete with period commercials. Provided this viewer has the skills to convert their faded old tape to a tidy little video file, it’s still hard to see the YouTube museum as anything but comprehensive.

It’s as if we entrusted the preservation of literature, in every language and genre, to a few thousand pack rat college students, and built our future reading lists from whatever they’ve managed to hold on to after 20 years of moves, thieving roommates, absent-minded friends, marriage, kids and many garage sales.

If there’s one law that needs to be respected, however, it’s that you have to assume anything you ever do in front of a camera can end up on the Internet, as Melanie Martinez, host of a PBS kids’ show found out last week, when a satirical public service announcement she made seven years ago — advocating anal sex as a contraceptive option for horny teens — found its way onto Google Video.

PBS fired Martinez and made actors everywhere sweat about that herpes commercial they made back in New York, or the stuff their girlfriends shot on Spring Break back in ’98.