As I mentioned, last week I saw Cat Power at the Vogue Theatre. As soon as the lights dimmed, a bunch of eager young things stormed the area in front of the stage. When Ms. Power strode out of the wings, the standing audience was probably ten people deep before the first row of seats.
I was up in the balcony, so I had an excellent view of what happened next. As the band kicked into the first song, dozens of people whipped out their cameras and camera phones. The crowd glowed not with the warm aura of lighters held aloft, but with the cold blue glow of device displays.
(I’m reminded of a germane Doonsbury–or possibly Bloom County–cartoon. It’s a scene from a standing crowd at a concert. Nobody has a lighter because everyone has stopped smoking. Someone suggests “hold up my beeper–it glows.)
For the first few songs, there were always at least ten cameras visible from the balcony. The venue had signs telling people to turn off their cameras’ flash, and these were mostly heeded.
I’m not complaining about this. Aside from the worrying possibility of documenting an event instead of experiencing it, I can see little downside.
It is, however, a remarkable sea change. A decade ago you’d have gotten a stern warning or booted out of the venue for waving around a camera. I’ve got a Dave Matthews bootleg recording where Dave, from the stage, asks an audience member to turn off a camera (“I’m sure you’re a nice person and all, but will you turn that mother-fucker off.”).
Now, though, nobody seems to mind. I’m sure that musicians recognize the value in camera ubiquity. All that digital content just helps spread their brand.
I am getting old, though, because all those cameras feel a little rude. The presumption is that Cat Power has given her tacit permission by appearing on stage, but that’s actually a very new idea.
That idea is a second cousin to the argument that the paparazzi often makes. That a person’s fame makes them fair game, whether they want their photo taken or not.