The hanging of history

History just went to the gallows. It got hung on YouTube by a Shiite guard with a cheap cellphone camera and access to the internet.

According to digital utopian par excellence Adam Curry:

The Saddam Hanging video will go down in history as the Shark Jump moment for mainstream media worldwide. The “people” get what they want to see and no bureau chief or network boss can stop us. Recorded on a cellphone by a single citizen in Iraq, seen worldwide the very next day.

The "people" get what they want to see. No -- that's not exactly right. The truth is that the people know what they want to see before they see it. Thus, Sunni Iraqis (and their anti American chorus) had confirmed, in a single short internet video, what they already saw about the history of Iraq since the invasion. Nobody learnt anything new from this hideous video. All it did was inflame pre-existing hatred, confirm paranoia, compound sectarianism.

What YouTube provides is history packaged up a three minute clips. It's history-for-idiots -- undigested, viciously unedited, counter educational. The ambiguity and complexity of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime is lost forever, forgotten amidst the videographical absurdity of his last moments. All we will remember is a sick old man being taunted at his execution by a bunch of thugs. Rather than history, this is soap opera. To most internet users, it's indistinguishable from Lonelygirl15 and the rest of the anonymous garbage on YouTube.

History needs to be carefully edited if it is to be understood. We get perspective from standing back rather than crowding around the past. This YouTubification of the past, with its handheld close-ups of headline events, loses perspective and thus fictionalizes history. Memory is the ultimate casualty. It's (almost) enough to make one nostalgic for CNN and Fox News.

So what will future generations remember of the past if their knowledge resides in handheld videos filmed by participants in the events? Each great historical event will have its own library of three minute user-generated videos. The people will get to see what they want to see -- Lonelygirl15 and Saddam's execution...

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town