I wish that I could type your name into Youtube, and be presented with a list of little films of scenes from your life before I knew you. I would love to watch, for example, the first time that you ever smoked a cigarette. The camera would have peeped over one of the corners of life’s scenery – perhaps the dank patch of ground behind a fence or in the frayed skirts of an old tree, where boys conspire and cats become themselves and no civilised man would ever think of venturing. You and your fellow plotters would have fussed and coughed over the stinking, winkling little flame as it nibbled away the cigarette – as unstoppably as a caterpillar munching through a leaf – as alarmingly fast as a sun setting over a beautiful summer’s evening – and as you puffed and wondered at this phenomenon, and your trepidation fell away and danced furiously on the spot like an ignored toddler, your senses would be fresh and open to this moment of total originality. Every subsequent time that you smoked, you would be less aware, less alive, less there. Your senses, your brain, would be themselves a dull smoke, wafted uselessly this way and that.
I wish that I could watch the first time that you ever took a girl, possibly in the back seat of a car. I have watched young people making love before, and it is usually not something which anybody would pay to see. The boy is either too sentimental, or too professional. He will end up crying in the girl’s lap, or he will tell himself that pleasuring her is a responsibility and, applying himself to this important job, he will assume the blank, distant quality which somebody always has when you meet them in their workplace. As with establishing a farmstead, the most important thing is seizing territory, and the shell of this car, lost in the depths of the night, becomes your own defiant outpost, beyond the government of the adults. However briefly, you are at home here, you are free. But I do not want to witness some soaring triumph. I want to see the vulnerability, the weakness – I want to sense your misgivings and disgust at her body, your embarrassment of your own – I want the camera to unsparingly observe every shudder and distressed glance and mumbled apology.
I am uncertain whether this conception of YouTube as an archive of your life is necessarily of a public space – a great rabbit warren of links explored by thousands – and with the pit of ferocious comments below holding every little moment and detail of the film up to the light and assessing it from every angle. I suppose that I wish to challenge your custody of your own past and your authorship of yourself. When it comes to your life, I wish that I had not arrived at the play half way through. I wish that I could have appreciated the power and the artistry of the great forces which had created you. Sometimes, I wish that I could have known you when you were a child and taught you everything that you know now. I wish that all your experiences and achievements were not hoisted like the spikes of a hedgehog, to prevent me from getting at your soft, gooey reality.
But I have also re-imagined YouTube as a search engine which would contain all the most beautiful and precious moments of your life, above which I am smirking unobserved like the face of the moon in illustrations of fairy stories. I have memories of you at your most beautiful, and over the years, constant recollection has gilded what where once weightless and inconsequential moments into masterpieces of an almost unearthly beauty, like one of the old Renaissance wizards rendering exchanges amongst the Olympians.
Perhaps it is a generational thing, but it seems to me that there really are gangs of lost boys, who lurk in forests or the desolate parts of industrial estates, and communicate with the world only through YouTube. A group of boys (and they are always only boys) build a bonfire and leap through it one by one. In a dirt field somewhere, they are tearing about in an old car, lurching and spinning, like somebody trying to break out of a straightjacket. The security achieved within this pirate band will allow wild raids and attacks upon civilised society. Somebody streaks naked through a shopping mall; somebody else pisses off a motorway flyover into the clamouring traffic below; an evil falsetto giggling accompanies the unfolding atrocities like hyenas at the heels of a lion. The dumbstruck or outraged bystanders are like the civilians in war zones who have their limbs hacked off in moments of boredom.
For my own generation, this material would have ended up as shining treasure buried in the catacombs of memory, but today Youtube has allowed one’s fond memories of youth and friendship to become actually published, and launched on to a pseudo-market for pseudo-consumers to idly pick over. YouTube has become a black hole which indiscriminately sucks in all culture, from the great times of our youth – clips from the television which we watched as children or moments of mindless banter between us which have miraculously dodged the teeth of oblivion – to a global people’s memory rendered in material form. This world drifts at the fingertips of a citizenry framed by airless bedrooms, always with a fascinating display of bookshelves and posters behind them, perhaps with somebody talking in the next room or a dog barking outside, possibly with chestnuts in their laps, but gazing into a world of limitless promise and fathomless banality. Our culture can be now drunk like water, if it seemingly conveys the same kick as water.
[Tychy wishes YouTube a very happy fifth birthday. Ed.]