The organizers of Live Earth, Saturday's 24-hour, seven-continent concert extravaganza featuring everyone from the Beastie Boys to Yusuf Islam, predicted that two billion attendees/viewers/listeners would tune in. With dozens of acts on eight different stages strewn across the globe, and broadcasts on TV, radio, and the Internet, how could you miss it?
Actually, I did. And nobody I know thought to change their regular Saturday routines to catch any of it, either. What made such a big event so ho-hum for so many? Has the idea of "We Are The World (and we're gonna prove it by listening to pop music for a whole day)" finally played itself out?
The whole pop-music-as-global-unifier movement began in the summer of 1967 with the broadcast of BBC-TV's "Our World," which featured the Beatles in the studio playing a brand new track, "All You Need Is Love." One of the first programs to be broadcast to a worldwide audience, it attracted a then-astounding 150 million viewers. The idea of television and pop music being able to bring people together, if only to say they were watching and listening to the same thing at the same time, was a revolutionary idea, and an early step towards instant global communication on a mass scale. And for the Beatles, of course, it meant another worldwide chart-topping single.
The global-pop music-super-mega-feel-good-extravaganza-as-seen-on-television movement peaked in 1985 with the broadcast of Live Aid, which attracted 1.5 billion viewers in over 100 countries. I, and just about everyone under 30 that I knew, spent the entire day and evening camped around our TVs, many of us with our VCRs recording the entire broadcast, just in case we had to take a bathroom break and missed a bit of history. After all, who knew when we'd ever get to see it again? (The answer: Not until the DVD was finally made available a couple of years ago.)
In 2007, the world is a different place for music-lovers. Those of us who taped Live Aid as it happened, 22 summers ago, may as well have been cavemen huddled around a campfire compared to the technology we have today, and how we use it. Now, with the click of a mouse, once-in-a-lifetime events can be relived at our convenience. Which makes participation in those events seem, perhaps, a little less important.
Thanks in large part to the iPod and the Internet, the global village has continued shrinking to the point where it's now more of a global studio apartment. Pop music and television have become more isolators than unifiers. We watch and listen to what we want, when we want, how we want, and if that doesn't jibe with what anyone else does, so much the better. Even the producers of Live Earth, by putting on eight concerts more or less simultaneously, tailored the event so we could mix-and-match as we pleased.
So even though more than a billion people (short of the predicted two billion, but still pretty impressive) saw or heard at least part of Live Earth, did anyone watch or listen in the same way? How many felt a connection to anyone else? After all, when everything shows up on DVD or YouTube or someone's blog within days if not hours, we can tailor our participation in a global event to suit our own needs. Want to skip over all the public service announcements in between the music? Easy. Want to watch that ballgame before checking out Madonna's performance? No problem. Want to see the reunited Police but promised you'd go bar-hopping with your friends? Just DVR it and catch it... whenever.
Throughout the new millennium, we've been told by everyone from Steve Jobs to major record labels to our local cable companies that we should manipulate our home entertainment to fit our individual needs, tastes and desires. Is it reasonable to expect us to suddenly come back together by the billion just because a bunch of overexposed pop icons are lecturing us about global warming? Could we remember how even if we wanted to?
So hats off to you, Linkin Park, for having your hearts in the right place, but I've got a barbecue to go to -- I'll just TiVo your performance and watch it later, so I can skip past the songs I don't like. Oh, and if you could text me when everyone's ready to sing "We Are The World" in unison, I'll tune in. Maybe.