To Videotape or Not To Videotape

Nu & Improved

By Lenore Skenazy

Published June 02, 2010, issue of June 11, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Attending the baby naming of his partner’s niece, Jeffrey Shandler was handed a video camera and asked to do the honors. Dutifully, he recorded the event. Then he returned to the house with the family and … promptly watched it.

Kurt Hoffman

Why?

Why do we videotape major events and, increasingly, minor ones? And what determines whether or not we ever watch them again?

Mike Giel, an attorney in Jacksonville, Fla., took his video camera on his honeymoon to England and Wales. He and his wife watched the tape “exactly once,” he admits, shortly after they returned. So, the next time they went on a big trip — Italy — they decided not to bother filming it.

Smart move?

“We regretted that so much!” Giel says. It wasn’t that they actually wanted to watch a tape of the trip. It was just knowing that they didn’t have a tape that bummed them out. “Just the idea of knowing it was there,” says Giel — that would have been very comforting. So, naturally, they filmed their most recent trip, to England, again. And, naturally, they haven’t bothered to watch a single second.

That pretty much sums up a lot of the human experience with videotape. (And by videotape I mean digital videos, too. And home movies. And whatever you’ve got stored on your iPhone. The whole gestalt.) It is less straightforward than it seems.

In fact, that queasy feeling I got last year when my son graduated from fifth grade and I was one of the few parents not recording the endless songs and speeches — that’s just one small part of it.

We videotape for all sorts of reasons: to honor an event. To prove we were there. To relive it in happier or sadder times. To see how we looked. And sometimes: just because. Just because everyone else is doing it. Or just because knowing you could have recorded it, but didn’t, feels very wrong, even though never watching it feels perfectly OK.

After videotaping the baby naming, Shandler, a Rutgers professor of Jewish studies, became intrigued by these issues and ended up writing a book, “Jews, God, and Videotape” (NYU Press, 2009). When he delved into the videotape part, he thought of a perfect analogy for the practice:

“It’s an investment in the future and, like a lot of investments, they get put away — in some cases indefinitely. People say, ‘This is for my children.’ Or, ‘It’s not for me, it’s for my grandkids,’ ” he said.

That’s why, whether we ever transfer the stunning hora footage from Super 8 to video, or from videotape to DVD, or never quite move it from the Flip to the computer (guilty as charged), it doesn’t really matter.

And yet, if we learn that somehow the box of videos has been lost, we are crushed because it was more than just a bunch of old movies. It was our emotional nest egg.

“As someone who gave birth to twins 22 years ago, but whose husband accidentally taped a baseball game over the footage, I can say with confidence that video footage is something to be treasured,” Long Island wedding planner Claudia Copquin wrote in an e-mail.

“P.S.,” she added. “He is now my ex!”

Of course he is. (And did he really expect to watch a taped baseball game? I can barely watch TiVo’d episodes of “House.”)

OK — so which experiences are worthy of tape? The life-cycle events, of course. Events we may re-visit the next time another life-cycle event comes along. For instance, Shandler’s baby-naming video just may finally get edited when it’s time to make a compilation video for the girl’s bat mitzvah. (Note to parents: Make it short! Rare is the bar/bat mitzvah-goer eager to bring the party to a halt for a half-hour documentary on a 13-year-old.) Life-cycle videos pop up again at weddings, anniversaries, big birthdays and then … well … less happy times.

Yes, they’re showing up at memorials. And that may be where they are most appropriate.

After all, it seems that worrying about death is at the root of why we make and keep videos — or mementos of any sort. We want to be able to visit loved ones again. And maybe that’s why, when a video goes missing, it feels as if a magical link has been smashed to smithereens: Now we can never get it back.

“You get a hurricane warning and what do people grab? The photos, the pets and the kids — sometimes in that order,” says Shandler. “Especially the photos of people that aren’t alive anymore. That’s how we connect.”

So maybe, from now on, I’ll start making a lot more videos.

After all, it’s not like anyone has to watch them.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip of the Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now” (Penguin Group, 2009).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.