As I was sitting in class on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but remember a certain YouTube video I’d seen a few years back called Medieval Helpdesk.
I don’t include this clip because I think it’s of any great quality, but because I believe it contributes to our conversation of Walden in some interesting ways.
1. Adaptability – Let’s be honest, the content of this video is silly and long-winded in its delivery, which will lead to my third point in a moment. But for now, I think it’s interesting to reflect on the idea that people of a previous culture had to become accustomed to the idea of something as “simple” as a book. Before this, it was parchment and scrolls, but never a codex with a binding and hundreds of purposefully constructed pages. Maybe the character in this video is a bit slow, because I doubt the operation of a book was honestly puzzling for the masses. But satirical or not, humans have had to adapt to every single piece of time-tested technology ever created from the beginning of mankind. The anxiety Thoreau feels in Walden about society shifting in different ways was felt by his ancestors, and will inevitably be felt by ours, and by theirs, etc.
2. Language, Accessibility, & Artistic Reproduction – I find it interesting that many of us commented on Thoreau’s (pretentious) attitude towards classic literature, especially the part in “Reading” where he talks about the importance of text being understood in its indigenous language. The original YouTube video was created in Norwegian, and is posted online with English subtitles.
This is obviously not a piece of classic literature, but does my comprehension, enjoyment, and appreciation for it diminish if I watch it in my native language, rather than learn Norwegian and watch the original video? Consider the following comments left on the remade English version:
“Yes, the original is better, but kudos to the people who made this version, for making it available to a wider audience. The copy is very rarely better than the original. just look at all Hollywood remakes of European movies…”
“I think that the fact that the original IS in a foreign (to us) language and subtitled in fact makes the reception and mental processing of the humour even more salient. It’s the translation that allows the viewer to really consider how this is a ‘common experience’ since sub-consciously we are also relating to foreigners who experience this same thing, making the humour ‘Universal’. Just a complex view of a simply brilliant satire on how we adapt to change, no matter what or when!! :)”
This video also speaks to Benjamin’s article in the sense that the remake – a close reproduction but not exact, and for multiple reasons – may never live up to the original art object. But I suppose that’s the question: could it ever?
3. Technological Evolution & The Critic – The English version of this video was posted in 2008. I’ve been thinking about how audiences change so vastly in light of new technologies, that though this was no masterpiece to begin with, I wonder how much worse this clip is now received in 2014 than it was merely 6 years ago. I find myself in the position of critic (another idea borrowed from Benjamin) as I mentally comment on various aspects of both the original and the remake that could have been done more artfully. For example, I’m thinking that the (candle)lighting needs work, the original’s subtitles could be placed more strategically as to not block the book from view, and that the remake could have been shorter and sweeter, but still have gotten the point across. I believe this shows that as technology evolves and produces outcomes of greater quality and deeper meaning, our reception grows alongside it. Perhaps this subtle evolving goes unnoticed on a day-to-day basis, but it’s certainly clear as a viewer comes in contact with any media produced even a decade ago.
P.S. I want to say how beautifully written and insightful the previous posts are. Seriously, you all killed it!