A Facebook Haggadah, a Twitter Passion Play and the Beginning of the Post-Absurdist Era
Last week someone sent me the story of Passover as explained by Facebook. It was intended to be amusing, and I suppose it succeeded in a limited way. There are status updates from Elijah on his tipsiness, a list of “25 things you don’t know about me” by God, etc. I gave it a quick glance and then didn’t think much more about it. Then today I read in the Telegraph of London that Trinity Church, the oldest Church in New York (which also occupies the oldest building in New York) has used Twitter to tell the story of the Passion 140 characters at a time. This was not an attempt at comedy. The church was trying to connect with young people by using new technology to tell an ancient story that is one of the cornerstones of Judeo-Christian civilization.
My immediate thought upon reading this was that absurdist expression is no longer possible. Satire and gospel have become indistinguishable. How can we reduce the central mythology of western civilizaton to a handful of Tweets? How can we not do it if we want the mythology to remain relevant to people whose attention spans are measured in fractions of a second? What’s more, if the most sacred texts of a civilization cannot resist being rendered by technology not to paragraphs or sentences but to mere utterances, what chance does the lowly advertising business have to cling to any form of articulate communication in the coming years?
In a documentary made to promote Monty Python’s Life of Brian, John Cleese ridiculed American Terry Gilliam’s limited vocabulary. Cleese claimed there were only two possible responses from Gilliam regardless of the stimulus to which he was exposed: “Hey man, I really like that” or “hey man, that really pisses me off.” Is this where our use of language is headed? Does it create a business opportunity to start “the next thing” after Twitter–something that reduces all human expression to either “like it” or “pisses me off”? Are indecipherable grunts and dumb shows the next (or last) stops on this ever-narrowing road?
I am worried, not as an advertising professional but as a human being. Advertisers can and will concoct a new semiotic system to sell floor wax without verbs. What I’m less confident of is the next generation’s ability to squeeze Ulysses from an eyedropper.