Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Was Zoo TV the beginning of the internet?

Back in 1992, I was lucky enough to catch U2 at the Erwin Center in Austin as their Zoo TV tour rolled through town. It was a pretty extravagant show for the time with hanging cars and stage extensions out into the crowd and banks of TV monitors everywhere. Oh yeah, and Bono wore those shades he hasn’t taken off since. But they used those monitors to do something I'd never seen before on that scale: they blasted out tons of content from tons of different sources at a disorienting/alarming rate throughout the night (I'm pretty sure this morning I took in more content before I left the house but at the time it was impressive). I like to think that show must have been what it was like for people the first time they rode in car that went faster than a horse.
“The whole Zoo TV thing is pushing it as far as we can” – Bono
Those early 90’s years were the glory years for cable and satellite television, just a few years before the internet went wide and started to change it all. There was a channel for everything: 24-hour news networks with live shots from places you never heard of, preachers from places you’d never want to go, and infomercials. Dear god, the infomercials. But whatever you were into, there was a channel for it. There was even that guy in the white suit who knocked people over. What was his deal? Was he healing them? Was he Indian? British? Whoever he was, he had a channel. Hell, anyone who wanted one could get one.
While TV obviously lacked the true interactivity we’re accustomed to now, by deftly working the remote we could explore whatever interested us at an amazing clip. It all started to run together. Where we once gathered around one TV to watch like four channels (then later five) there were suddenly like 100 of them (50? I don't honestly remember). And we had multiple TV’s in the house. Color ones, even!
Soon watching TV became less about sitting down for a show but more about sitting for hours just flipping or "surfing." Searching became the game and in school we found ourselves talking more about the shit we saw on channel 35 or 57 more than we did whatever happened on "Beverly Hills 90210" or "Melrose Place." 
It wasn’t just the beginning of the end of mass media, it was the beginning of the end of mass emotion.  We all started watching our own channels. And having our own experiences.
That’s essentially what U2 tapped into on that tour and why it worked. If the Joshua Tree tour was about sincerity and soaring choruses, this time out it was about discord and coming untethered. Over their nightly Zoo TV broadcasts of love and war and sex and crashes and joy and greed was an album full of bravado and self-doubt, love and despair, beauty and blindness—all of it living side by side. Everything was splintering. Media was morphing. 
Roots form trunks that splinter into branches before eventually creating new trees. We come together, we splinter, we start it all over again. Same as it ever was. 

The point is, that tour was pretty cool and probably their last great one. 


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