Being There

Nowadays* when you go to a concert at a stadium or an arena, there are invariably large LED video displays of the performers in action. On the one hand, these are highly beneficial to those who are sitting in the higher tiers of seats where otherwise there are only tiny animated objects visible on stage. On the other hand, I know that when I am confronted with said screens, particularly when the setup is one where the displays are immediately adjacent to the stage, even with a reasonably good seat and sight-line, I have a tendency to opt for watching the image.

Part of being at a concert is the environment. It goes beyond the performance. It goes to being there. Being there with other people. Being part of something bigger than one’s self. Being part of a community (even if some members of that community are highly annoying under the circumstances: why is it that the people who sing along the loudest are those who can’t sing—and doesn’t it occur to them that the reason that they bought the ticket was so that they can hear the performers, not themselves, and that if their personal-but-public performances are so essential, there are karaoke bars?).

But let’s get back to the LED screens.

Some of my friends are journalists. Some cover politics. Some cover motor sports. In the cases of both, there are instances where they are on-site where something is happening, but they are not there.

To explain: sometimes if there is a speech being made by a politician there isn’t a sufficient amount of space in the room where the speech is being made to accommodate all of the reporters. Consequently, there is an overflow room nearby where there are screens that the reporters can see and hear the speech.

For big motor sports events, there is a pressroom that is typically located so as to overlook the start-finish line. But within the pressroom there are also video monitors that display other portions of the track that aren’t in plain sight that the reporters can watch. If there is a crash, say, in turn 3, they can see it. As pretty much the entire racetrack is covered with cameras, it is sometimes more useful to watch the feeds rather than to look out the windows.

So here’s the question: Let’s say someone throws a shoe at the person making the speech. Is the reporter in the other room who sees it “there”?

Let’s say that the aforementioned crash in turn 3 is the causal factor for the outcome of the race. Can the reporter describe the crash as though she actually saw it happen?

In either case, are the reporters in attendance or in adjacence?

Most new stadia have been built with all manner of suites and even conference rooms such that when there isn’t an event occurring there is the opportunity for businesses to rent out rooms for meetings or celebrations, thereby helping amortize the cost of the structure.

Let’s say (and we’re saying that a lot, admittedly) that a band decides that rather than holding a concert within a stadium proper, it would prefer a more intimate setting so it rents one of the conference rooms and sets up in there. Maybe there are a dozen or so tickets “sold” (let’s not pretend that happens in a meaningful way) for the room.

But there are seats in the stadium sold and the concert-goers witness the performance on an array of LED screens. The musicians are in the building. But they are not in the arena.

Are the concert goers actually watching a concert or are they watching an image of a concert? (Yes, there is the audio portion, as well.)

Now even a concert like that isn’t going to happen until there is the elimination of the requirement for social distancing.

But there is something sort of like this occurring as there are concerts being held at drive-in theaters. You sit in your vehicle. I sit in mine. We are in the same parking lot. But we are not in the same “space,” at least not in the context of what had heretofore defined “being at a concert.”

Let’s say that because there is a desire to have as many people in attendance as possible, there are tickets sold for every one of the slots in the drive-in’s lot. Because drive-ins have large screens, there aren’t really bad positions. (Yes, you can be off to the side which means that the viewing isn’t optimal, but if you’re a person who is interested in an optimal viewing experience, you probably aren’t going to the drive-in.)

But the performers on the stage is not as big as the screen, so there are bad parking spots in terms of visibility. So the promoter decides that it is good for the attendees to use the screen to display the performers. What’s more, even if the attendees have their side windows rolled down, there is still that sheet of safety glass between the attendees and the stage so the sound is attenuated. So the promoter decides to use the FM band to broadcast the music, too.

Is that “being at a concert”? How is that better than sitting in your car in your driveway watching a concert on a big screen TV through a window and using a Bluetooth speaker to hear the audio?

Ideally, we will go back to a situation where we are at Ford Field or in Madison Square Garden with thousands of others, all experiencing a concert.

But where will you look?

*Much of this is predicated on a pre-COVID-19 existence.

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