Deeply touched by the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata. Veda Hille and Bill Richardson have written a non-linear musical that uses actual Craigslist ads for its lyrics. Craigslist, in case you’ve been in a hole, is an online one-stop-shopping for finding whatever it is you want— from someone you saw on the train that day, to an old trumpet, to homes for your cats. It’s a pared down, non-glitzy site—just text–where you have to use words to sell what it is you want to sell, or get what you want. Ads are quirky. I think with the number of them, people have to come up with newer and more outlandish ways to make their ad stand out. It’s not a Tumblr site so there’s no pics in your subject line to make you stand out–just a line of text. What is Craigslist anyway?
The musical is episodic, going from ad to ad, occasionally reverberating or repeating a motif in another ad, enough to make it stick together well. There are a number of “characters” who have very specific and ludicrous (sometimes even strange) desires and wants. It would be easy just to laugh at all of them–and we do. Audience tonight was having a great time laughing it up at the woman trying to sell her 300 stuffed penguins, singing an alphabetical list of the different species of penguins and hoping to find a special child who might want them all. Or the man who wants someone to sit in his bathtub of cooked noodles… Or the wanderers who keep missing each other–though having a brief moment with someone they fall for.
It would be easy to laugh, except Hille and Richardson don’t let us off that easy. They have found a way to make that search poignant, a statement on 21st Century technology becoming the medium for expressing our desires. There’s a song though that Hille sings in the middle–a quite surprising song about Noah and the doves he sends out into the world to find land. And this becomes the central metaphor that pulls the show together in a quite exposing, vulnerable, emotional way— that Craigslist is a collection of those doves, sent out–with no replies, really. “No one learns how the story ends. Did they find each other? We don’t know,” Hille says in the Artist talkback tonight. There are only beginning moments–story starters, if you will–but we don’t know if any of the missed connections actually connect.
While Star Trek might have been the inspiration for the cellphone and the iPad and numerous other inventions, there is a noticeable lack of messaging, social media, or even constant chirps on the cells. The lack of computers running scheduling and communication on the Enterprise is interesting to note.
While the first Star Trek communicator, in its ST: TOS format, certainly looked like a cellphone and sort of acted like one–it actually worked like a CB. Citizen Band Radio was open and easy to use–you picked up a small palm-sized black speaker, pressed a thumb button that turned a microphone on, and spoke the name of your party into it, and they answered back. “Breaker One Nine, this is Foxtrot. Are you listening?” And Foxtrot would answer if he were listening. On TV, nobody dials a number, nobody speaks into the Star Trek devices in a tone suggesting they are talking to a computer: “Commander Riker,” Picard says–AS IF speaking TO Commander Riker, not accessing his number. Even ST:TNG Picard and crew were using little more than CBs on their shirts to communicate with each other. They would bang their chest, making it chirp, just like you would press the button in on the CB, and then announce who they wanted to talk to. Officers would look up at the ceiling, as if that was where the sound was coming from, and announce that they were, indeed, coming quickly. To say that it used name recognition software is ludicrous because no one ever spoke into their communicator like we do into our telephones when the “menu of choices” voice comes on to ask us to specify what we want.
Further, no one used their communicators for much more than a quick call. They used the interstellar version of SKYPE in all versions of Star Trek. For short calls they used this CB on their chests. But the CB didn’t come with any apps, any cool devices, games, nor was there any social media. People used the device simply. Except for the Enterprise computer, each technological device seemed to have one simple function. They had an episode on ST:TNG devoted to computer games–and it was the villain of the story–or at least the addictive brain-altering drug in the hands of villains. Think about it, though. No one in the 24th Century had a cellphone that took messages or that vibrated. No one looked on their phones for scheduling. (We’ll come back to those iPad things in a moment). No one got a text message. Computers did not command the social life of the crew, of any of the crew. In ALL of its incarnations from 1964 to 2009 there is a HUGE lack of the presence of any social media, any social life that is facilitated by computers.
Imagine, if you will, a large room, completely dark. The room is crowded with people, most of whom you can’t see. Only those next to you can you see dimly. You don’t know what others are doing, thinking, or what they look like.
However, a flashlight comes on and you can see a person, and also hear what he is saying.
Let’s say he’s ranting about something. There is a murmur in the darkened crowd, and suddenly six other flashlights pop on. The people highlighted now chat about that rant. No one in your area. But you can see all the others and hear them talking about it.
Then a strong murmur sweeps the crowd and seventeen new flashlights pop on, the people responding to the first flashlit rant. Sometimes, you notice, they try and correct the rant, sometimes the person rants about the rant, and occasionally a spotlighted man or woman will talk about how this rant is felt through the entire room.
But you don’t know what everyone else is thinking about the rant. And even more importantly, you don’t know if they would have been thinking about the rant had the first person not been flashlit. Why was that person flashlit in the first place? Hmmm. Maybe those with flashlights enjoy the reaction of the crowd, or they may be paid by someone to flashlight on a regular basis, and sometimes those with flashlights are concerned about other people with flashlights getting more attention.
This is Media.
I work for the media, and I know that my flashlight is used to highlight something I want people to know or talk about. To keep my job, I have to have things to light up. To move up the career ladder, I must highlight things that will get people talking–and even to flashlight more people talking about what I talked about–to create the bigger murmur. I can either join the chorus of voices, lead the chorus of voices, or attempt to highlight something else–and wrest the focus, the murmur of the crowd, the other flashlights, on a topic I want to highlight.
Recent articles on Sarah Palin forget one thing–they turned the flashlight on her. Her Facebook page is one of a billion Facebook pages; her opinion is one of a billion opinions. She has no more sway if we don’t flashlight her. We would never have known about her Facebook page, except that someone with a flashlight wanted to get the crowd’s attention. Media control people’s knowledge and awareness. In that darkened room, no one really is aware of my opinion without the media. My blog comment here will reach exactly 120 people over the course of my life–only because these are my friends and they don’t need a flashlight to see me. I’d be lucky if this post made it outside my close circle of friends. My opinion here couldn’t make the murmur happen–and flashlighting someone without the expectation that this will cause a murmur is a waste of batteries, it seems. Fluff stories. Feature articles to pass the time.
I hope as new technology transforms all of us into Media—with our own flashlights–that we choose carefully what to highlight–that we don’t spread the rants of bigotry, lies, distortions, and divisive arguments around the internet or TV. Let’s choose truth to highlight–even ugly truth, but we make sure it is truth first.
As flashlighters in a darkened room, we are responsible for vetting what we highlight—we are asking the whole room to turn and look at us. We are asking the whole room to think about what we are flashlighting them to see. What we flashlight may not be indicative of the thoughts of the whole room, but it can influence people so much that other people will think they are the thoughts of everyone, might even change their minds, or it might cause them to assume that the whole world is thinking this or that. Gradually, that assumption will win over naysayers.
You can use this to the world’s detriment, or use it to sway the world for its good. Palin may cry foul over the media’s flashlighting, but she loves the light. And she knows how to manipulate it. You can END this story by turning the flashlights off of her. Ignoring someone is the fastest way to shut them up, to make them irrelevant. You can kill “news” by putting it in a vacuum. You can choose to flashlight INTELLIGENT opposition, not lies. It doesn’t help the Republicans or the naysayers to the Healthcare plan to continue spotlighting Palin’s rants. Turn off her light; let smarter voices be heard.
The media, ultimately, is responsible for the life of a bad, or good, story.
Please, for the sake of our time and sanity, stop highlighting things that tear down truth, and spotlight the truth instead. You can still get the murmur, get the crowd talking. We have to train the crowd to murmur against real injustice, murmur about the making the world better–something that makes a difference, not that makes a buck out of a murmur.
In the dark, the flashlights are the only way anyone can see. Use them well.