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Peter Samuelson

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Truth to Power

Posted: 05/27/10 06:19 PM ET

There's a whole lot of shooting driving this revolution, but not with bullets.

There was a time, and it feels like last week, that the way Joe Public tried to influence the course of anything he cared about in the world around him was to write a letter to the Editor, which usually wasn't published, or in the case of the very most active, to write the letter to his relevant member of Congress, where one assumes it was read if at all by a very junior person and became part of some dry tally. But that was then and this is now.

Something magical has happened to our smarter citizens and it may well be the salvation of our democracy: they bought little itty-bitty digital video cameras for $75 and not surprisingly started pointing them at things that bothered them. And then they actually learned how to edit the videos, put them together with a piece of music and then, shocking thought for those of previous generations, they actually got a very large number of strangers to pay a whole lot of attention to them online.

This video blogosphere, the world of videologs, is a rising tsunami that is changing America, changing the world and making both a whole lot better. Our next generation are no longer shouting in a frustrating wilderness of press and social inertia. When Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet wanted to show angry citizens in their 1976 film Network, they had Peter Finch as the TV anchor urge them to open their windows and shout out "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. But nowadays, there's a window that opens directly in and out of every apartment and dorm room, and it's on a PC, or an iPad or a little PDA in someone's pocket.

I've had great fun watching two MIllennials shout loudly and memorably out of their video windows these last several months. Gadi Rouache and Fred Boll are skilled, inspired, empassioned, angry, kind, connected, caring and interested video chroniclers of all sorts of important things. Good people doing good -- and also the bad results of society doing awful things, dishonoring its veterans for example. These are much more than individual shout-outs; they are a whole new wave of assertion that is harnessing the Internet to get into people's faces and change minds. And Fred and Gadi are often witty, funny and memorable. What is democratic genius? How do you really change society? Maybe these men blaze a shining path?

As this rising generation of chroniclers gets better and better at speaking truth to power, at yelling through their wide open digital windows, we are starting to hear from voices that frankly would never write to a member of Congress or write an OpEd for the newspaper: Like Darnell, for example. The key here is that Darnell is homeless and has no video gear of his own. But Gadi and Fred just opened up their own talented window to let Darnell shout through it to the world.

When I first sat a decade ago on the Foundation committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the bit that gives grants to universities to fund internships in film, there was a common pattern in college admissions to study film: hardly anyone applying had actually made a film. They had written scripts, but the whole deal of making a short film with sound, a cast, equipment, Kodak film, editing and what-not was just beyond anyone except those few who had families like Steven Spielberg's that would buy all those expensive necessities. But these days, there's hardly an 18 year old arriving in college to study film who hasn't already made not one but several short films. They might be good, they might be bad, but the barriers to entry have gone down near what was once the cost of paper and a typewriter (remember them?).

The cohort of Millennial citizens like Fred Boll and Gadi Rouache have mastered more than the machinery and the need to have something to say. They also have their own distribution, virally and massively: they own the green button of global self-expression in a previously hellaciously expensive and thus ivory tower of a medium: films that speak. And because they are passionate and alert, they have things to shout out in their compelling videos that deserve attention, and now are getting it.

Once upon a time, a person came to a village, stood on a rock, gathered a crowd, told them a story or told them about the world. Then we invented moveable type and the printing press and started writing letters to the editor to express outrage. But forget all that, forget those old-people's megaphones. Wimpy, restricted, run top-down and oftentimes with old-people gate-keepers restricting the flow of opinion. Gadi and Fred and the 75 million other Millennials like them have done a neat arabesque. They jumped straight over the top of that log jam: They are the future of self-expression and the world will be better for their video citizenship.

 

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