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My Fetish: Watching Old Men on YouTube

Your reading of the title says more about you than it does me.

I spent a few minutes going through my fetishes – as anyone might when confronted by this theme. I realised that a [hu]man can turn almost anything into a fetish; any action, any piece of clothing, any smell, any material. I guess this is in line with the postmodern condition as discussed by Jean-François Lyotard – we are able to enjoy a profusion of small narratives and this leads to a plural of fetishes. Or maybe we just have too much time and media on our hands?

I found myself YouTubing “Jean-François Lyotard” and started to watch him discuss La postmodernité with Luc Ferry in 1989 (in French, a language I only partially understand). I realised that this was my fetish, or at least the one I am willing to discuss here!

I like to watch old men on YouTube.

Or maybe more accurately, I like to watch men of old on YouTube – although in most cases, both titles fit the bill. I find myself sitting and watching discussions, old TV-shows, lectures and debates from the past on an almost nightly basis. I can watch Richard Feynman talking about Quantum physics, and then in the next neatly suggested video enjoy him describing how one might explain to an alien the concept of ice skating (to know about skating you might ask first about ice, to know about ice you might ask about water etc.).

I might then be turned on to Lawrence Krauss, as he explains with great clarity and panache the incredible fact that for this moment we are able to see what came before (the big bang) and what is around us (the universe) and how, in just the blink of an eye (some several billion years), none of this will be observable to the future inhabitants of the world (or any other world).

From Krauss YouTube might recommend I might watch some Christopher Hitchens, who I enjoy a great deal – he sits with whiskey in one hand eloquently responding to such big questions as “why is religion dangerous?” and “what was the relationship of the Catholic Church to Nazi-ism?”. His style, his knowledge and his ability to set out logical arguments and respond to them seem a lost art today. Hitchens’ discussion with Tom Metzger and his son is a sight to behold; Hitchens barely conceals his vitriol for these white supremacists - yet the debate is fascinating and the discussion is one that exposes the racism in a way that doesn’t seem to happen today.

I might see in the side-bar a video with William F Buckley – a conservative thinker and commentator who speaks with a slow drawl about his relationship with Ayn Rand, and about how his publication reviewed Atlas Shrugged and as a result, she would never be in the same space as him again. His views are contrary to the majority of the others I’ve discussed in this piece, but his delivery, poise and clarity of thought are extremely enjoyable to listen to.

I often search for Hunter S Thompson – a man that found the world so changed, he left it. Videos with him range from drunken, drug-fuelled rants to razor sharp insight and critique. He sees the world differently to anyone I have met in the present day. This portal back into his mind is more visceral than reading any of his books (although I suggest you read them all!). His meetup with Skip Workman is both funny, shocking and shows an age and a man that has passed.

I might also mention Noam Chomsky, Jon Berger, Michel Foucault and many others – but I often end up finishing off a YouTube session fixated on Marshal McLuhan, who is able to explain the most complex of ideas, the most simple of ideas and the most important of ideas with such lucidity and urge. There is no dumbing down, no simplification, no apologies and no explanatory graphics – just brilliance. Reading is just form of rapid guessing.

I should at this point mention two things about all of the above:

1: Many of these videos are from television – not only are the presenters and hosts intelligent and articulate enough to explore discussion with these old men, but the opponents in debate are most often a match for those mentioned in this text. I am left thinking, would these kinds of shows be made today?

2: I am aware that there is a severe gender bias in this article that I have put down to the age of the videos I have been fetishizing – they come from a time where women were not videoed as much as men, not some kind of bias in YouTube’s suggestion process. This leads to an somewhat tongue in cheek title, but I am glad that the YouTube fetishizers of 40 years’ time might find a more equal gender split for their late night pleasure.

I encourage you to try out my fetish, and hope that you are videoed in discussion so that it might be enjoyed in the future.

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