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A marker of some kind on the vast digital landscape
There exists a perfect YouTube video.
Maybe exists is the wrong word; existed might be better. It’s lost now, like seafoam washed up on the shore, only to be taken by the next wave or the rising tide.
The title was generic, so generic it was nearly impossible to Google. It was called ‘Hit in the head with a rock,’ or something like that. My old links to it are broken and my attempts to find it again have been entirely in vain.
Nevertheless, it was perfect.
Hit in the head with a rock
It was posted sometime in the early-to-mid 2000s and looked to have been filmed on an old cellphone camera, or maybe a camcorder. It was only a couple of minutes long.
It shows four teens in the woods playing some form of stickball. One boy has a large branch and the girl picks up a big rock. Another boy is standing around and the fourth person, an unknown, is filming.
They get ready, batter at the plate, pitcher throws the rock but at the last second the boy turns around aaaannnd CONK! Right in the head. The boy stumbles a bit and falls to his knees.
Here, the video cuts to the group walking along a suburban street towards a car. The boy seems all right, but he has a nasty gash. The girl says she’s sorry, in a tone that implies she’d been saying that the whole walk back. The boy, clutching the back of his head, says he’s fine but they should head to the hospital.
The video cuts again. They’re in the car now, the boy in the passenger’s seat, the girl in the back. The camera lingers on the girl’s worried face, but it breaks into a smile as she pushes the camera away.
The music from the car stereo provides the soundtrack, some soft guitar with an indie vibe I don’t recognize. Nearly identical box houses form the backdrop as the group drives slowly through suburbia.
A few seconds later the car passes by a boy walking down the street. The car stops.
“Drew! You wanna come to the hospital? Get in quick! Get in!”
Drew, thoroughly confused, climbs in the back seat and the car drives on. He looks over at the boy with the wound and his face distorts in horror.
The girl says she’s sorry again.
The soft indie rock continues to play.
Then Drew says, “This day just keeps getting worse and worse for me.”
And that’s it. Cut to black. Related videos.
The decisive moment
I don’t know if I can convey in words exactly why I think this video was perfect. Maybe you just had to see it. Maybe you just had to be there. Maybe that’s the point.
This video was a window into an in-joke. It was a chance to be a part of a story that wasn’t even that interesting unless you saw it for yourself.
It was a slice of someone’s life, where the before and after are left only to wonder at. It was a moment, a snapshot frozen in time, now lost to it.
And that’s beautiful.
If you’ve ever seen the photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson of a man leaping across the water, you might know what I mean.
But why write about something that can’t be described? Why am I telling you to watch a video that can’t be watched?
Ozymandias, King of Kings
There’s a poem I’ve loved since I was a kid, ever since I heard the late Leonard Nimoy quote a line from it in the video game Civilization IV. In the game, when your civilization discovers the technology for construction, Nimoy’s voice rings out:
“And on the pedestal these words appear; ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!’ Nothing beside remains.”
The line is from Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley (husband to Frankenstein author Mary Shelley), published in 1818. It’s worth reading in full:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Human beings, if we’re defined by anything, are defined by our mortality. We die, which sucks, but even more depressing is that eventually, everything we do and make dies as well.
If that wasn’t clear 200 years ago, the digital era has removed all doubt. Strange and wonderful things are constantly born and fade away, sometimes without anybody knowing they existed at all.
But still, we make statues. We build monuments, we write songs. We act as if the things we make will live on, even when we don’t.
This piece is that, for one of those items that was born and died without anyone knowing about it.
And I’ll be the first to say it: maybe it’s useless.
Maybe memorializing a piece of the ever-changing Internet is totally futile.
Maybe someday these servers will die and this and everything else will be just as lost as ‘Hit in the head with a rock.’
Maybe it’s like trying to hold water in your cupped hands, where it’s gone before you even get a chance.
But it comforts me to think that, for a brief moment in time at least, there’s a fragment, a memory, a marker of some part of the digital landscape.
An ode to the perfect video.
Jesse Scott is a writer and cartoon-watcher who spent too much time and money in school. He lives in Halifax with his cat.