Adventures In Nitpicking

I was up early (fine: “early for me”) to see the Orion launch. NASA livestreams are totally exciting. Jargon jargon jargon (my ears perk up at every third or fourth line, when I recognize an acronym; I feel very clever) change of camera angles Three!…Two!…One!…Lif




Yeah, at the critical moment, when I should have been watching a massive piece of engineering urge itself into the sky amidst blossoming clouds of fire, I was looking at a spinning Buffering circle.

But Orion launched successfully (hooray!) and I got a Funny Little Tweet out of it.

So I guess you can say that both NASA and I spent our morning productively and have ample cause for pride.

It was less a complaint about the livestream than it was about how things tend to go wrong at the worst times. But it did get me thinking about how easily our tendency towards smirk can dampen a brilliant moment.

Orion is amazing. Every time we launch something into space, the meatbags are gloriously flipping the bird at the selfish mudball. Screw YOU, planet! YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF US!!!

Orion excites me in a way that the shuttle didn’t. As impressive as that spacecraft was, it was clearly a ferry. Orion feels like a true multipurpose vehicle, suited to tasks that make complete sense today (get people and cargo to the ISS) and to missions that are so far-fetched that it’s possible none of us will live to see them. Orion, if it meets its potential, can be the line of continuity that connects multiple eras and venues of exploration.

As for the video, well, livestream buffering is annoying, but this technology is still a huge improvement over getting live video by mail, in printed form.

While waiting for the launch, I read the reviews of last night’s live production of “Peter Pan” on NBC. Many of the complaints seemed preordained: “You could see the wires holding the performers up”; “Christopher Walken looks weird”; “The pirates weren’t exactly butch”; “the Lost Boys were way too old.” I didn’t see the show but I get the impression from the AV Club review that the producers (wisely) decided to let a stage show be a stage show.

Many of these complaints are simply that this was a stage musical produced for a live broadcast and not a $280,000,000 Peter Pan Cinematic Universe production complete with digital wire removal, lens flares, and a post-credits sequence that links “Pan” to “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.” I suspect that the show was perfectly fine, if not perfect.

(Aside: I wonder why NBC doesn’t stage these things before a live audience and go all the way. As-is, this kind of broadcast is a weird hybrid in which there’s all of the risk of live performance without the primary benefit: the reactions from the audience that feed energy to the performers.)

And then there’s Mariah Carey’s “vocal FAIL” during the live telecast of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting. Audio of her raw mic feed is all over the Internet and I love this chance to hear a pro sing without any help from engineers. Was it at the same technical level as a studio recording? Hell no, but isn’t it time to acknowledge that “Photoshopping the vocals” can disrespect the natural human voice in the way that massive photo editing disrespects the natural human figure?

Singing is really, really hard. Raw audio proves it. You can hear the strain and stress on Mariah’s voice and you can see the effort she’s making to control the notes. And tell the truth: if a woman at your bus stop were singing along to her iPhone with that voice, you’d be in awe, wouldn’t you? All in all, this is way more compelling than any Dick Clark-produced special with lip-synced pre-roll.

We’re entitled to not like things. I’m just reminded that Orion was much bigger than a streaming issue, that if the best thing an audience can say about a live stage musical is “You couldn’t see the flying wires at all!” then it couldn’t have been worth watching, and that a high-end singing voice, like a high-end sports car, is meant to be driven at the edge of its limits.

The Mona Lisa is the Mona Lisa, not just the weird eyebrows.