This is a reprint of the featured essay from Exploits #8, our magazine dedicated to the culture we love. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for $2 or subscribe to never miss an issue (note: Exploits is free for subscribers of Unwinnable Monthly).
We’ve never had more access to prerecorded media than we do now. In this latest iteration of high-speed internet, we can stream movies, music and podcasts at pretty much
a moment’s notice. Think of everything being recorded and placed on YouTube every single day, over 300 hours a minute. Cord cutters are even breaking the mold of pre-recorded television, opting out cable or satellite in order to watch what they want at their leisure and not on the schedule of a broadcaster. But the power and allure of “live” has never been stronger.
I can listen to all sorts of music streaming, but I’ll still pay hundreds to see a band live. I pay for multiple subscriptions for various ways to watch movies, but I still pay to go to a theater. Even better, I’ll pay hundreds to see a movie with the music being played live. And I’m not alone in that. Lord of the Rings live concerts regularly sell out. So, too, do Star Wars. What’s the allure?
In short, community. Seeing a live taping of a podcast is seeing something in a room full of people like yourself, all passionate about the thing they’re seeing right at that moment. That’s weird and beautiful. Outside of sporting events, it’s kind of odd for mass crowds to be assembled because of entertainment. When else is it appropriate to be effusive about your passion for one particular thing? Watch parties are limited to friend groups. Rallies are rare. Sports tickets are expensive and there’s a good chance a number of people there are rooting against you. When else is it not only acceptable to be passionate with strangers but to have their passions aligned with yours?
That power isn’t fading away, either. Traditionally solitary practices like podcasts aren’t the only arena bringing people together. Streamers are putting on live shows. Overwatch League is free to watch online but draws a massive in person following to those able to attend. And people will flock to a screening of a favorite movie no matter how many editions they own or how accessible it is to them.
As the internet puts us all in silos, the enjoyment of having fun with like minded people constantly keeps us together. There’s a special joy in hearing a song you know being yelled back at the stage by several thousand people. There’s a unique community bonding that happens when everyone in the room knows a call back and the hosts invite you to say it. Live is here to stay, and no matter how distant or fractured we become as fans, we’ll always have opportunities to come together and be together.
David Shimomura is a writer and critic who relishes nothing more than tearing down things that have been put on pedestals. Actually, he relishes petting all the dogs more. To recap, first dogs, then irreverent critique. To hear more about those things, follow him on Twitter.