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The Editor's Spin: Role Over
Posted Sep 29, 2004 Print Version     Page 1of 1

In his 1945 novel Focus, Arthur Miller reflected on the growing perception among American Jews that once the United States finished fighting Nazism abroad, it would implement its own final solution back home. In doing so, he accurately chronicled the rise of anti-Semitic organizations and radio hatemonger Father Coughlin in the U.S. during the early 1940s. Later, many argued that only revelations of the death camps' horrors kept the U.S. from confining Jews to internment camps in the post-war years, as it had the Japanese-Americans during the war. The shock and shame didn't defuse the problem so much as diffuse it; instead of mass internment we saw the smaller-scale roundup of writers and artists (many of them Jewish) and other perceived dissidents (like New Dealers in the State Department) in the McCarthy years that followed the war.

Focus in particular concerns an apathetic Gentile named Newman who loses his job and finds himself the target of neighborhood bullies when he starts wearing glasses that make him look Jewish. Thus he becomes an accidental ally of a Jewish corner grocer who is enduring similar attacks. When Newman implores the grocer to get out while he can, the grocer tells him a parable that's the heart of the book. The story concerns a small Jewish settlement in Poland that stands outside a large baronage. No one knows what goes on within the estate walls until one day they hear sounds of an uprising. The Jews climb the walls and see several hundred peasants—still living as serfs even though feudalism was long since abolished—attacking their overseers. With the overseers overcome, the serfs storm the baronage, and in their looting discover a strongbox with thousands of what appear to be identical pictures of the king.

The baron returns home from his travels to find his overseers killed and his strongbox—once full of 1000-Kroner bank notes—emptied. He summons Itzik, the peddler from the Jewish settlement, to enter the estate and sell his wares to the peasants. Itzik protests, saying the peasants have no money. "They will pay," says the baron. Itzik grudgingly enters and shows his wares; in return, they offer the purloined pictures of the king. Knowing full well he is providing justification for a pogrom by delivering the stolen money to the Jewish settlement, Itzik reluctantly accepts payment and returns to the settlement with millions of Kroners in his cart. The baronage serfs descend on the settlement that night and slaughter the Jews.

What does the story mean? Newman concludes it means this: a pogrom may be inevitable but inviting it is not—so long as you don't accept the role they give you.

Complicity and consequence aren't as closely linked as cause and effect, but they're far from unrelated. When public information fails and outmoded forms of government prevail—be they feudal or latter-day dynastic—pogroms happen. From preemptive action to the Patriot Act, this isn't pre-industrial Eastern Europe; they don't (and won't) just come for the Jews. Or the Muslims, for that matter. We all have decisions to make. The point is, unlike Itzik, we don't have to help.

But as Cicero said, that isn't what I came here to talk to you about. I just spent the last week at WEVA Expo, watching the event video world we cover in EventDV come to life. It's a vibrant, well-wrought show, and one that anyone working in the business would be wise to attend. I attended informative and thought-provoking sessions on innovative approaches to video storytelling, integration of video and photography, how to market and grow an event video business, aggressive and effective sales techniques, and getting work on the weekdays. I saw EventDV columnists take their trademark pith and punditry live and met other luminaries in the field. The community dynamic that WEVA has fostered is truly impressive. And that's to say nothing of the wonders of the exhibit hall. I got a first look at Focus Enhancements' new FS-4 digital video recorder, toured Avid Studio, and—perhaps coolest of all—got a closeup look at a periscope-like monopod called Hi-Pod that lets you (or rather, your camera) get in people's faces from farther away than you'd ever guess.

But what really got me thinking at the show was a more expansive sort of intrusiveness. It was all the storytelling stuff, as well as the stories I was told about groundbreaking projects shown at WEVA over the years. We've come a long way from the days when the knock on videographers was that they were too intrusive, if the popularity of videos where the videographer is encouraged (nay, paid) to impose is any indication. Tastes vary widely, of course, but with the prevalence of interview segments, love-story and other narrative videos (like TV show spoofs), and the famous and influential award winner of a couple years ago—in which a British wedding videographer actually got the entire congregation to help make a music video after the ceremony—the videographer is more a part of the story than ever.

It just struck me kind of funny, since my tastes run more to the fly-on-the-wall observer approach. And I still wonder how and when you cross that line from invisibility to presence, and actually impose your will on an event. I'm not sure that time would ever come for me as videographer or videographed—which, ironically, is why as a fly-on-the-wall journalist, I have to embrace that line-crossing.

Or do I? We're all part of the story whether we're in the picture or simply taking it, whether we're the written about or just the ones writing. We can't avoid being part of the story, even if we don't like the roles we're offered. And we've all got the right to reject our roles, even if the prevailing winds whisper that we don't. The question is, when it comes time to choose, what role will you play?

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