You know what I’ve been thinking about lately? The moon landing.
If you happen to be near any hippies this week, chances are they’re downright giddy about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Mention the historic three days of peace, love and music and said hippie will probably regale you with tales of free love, good weed and the unforgettable experience of crapping in a mud hole.
As much as I love music, I was more interested in the other 40th anniversary that took place this summer: the moon landing. On July 20th, 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, planted the American flag and brought a nation together at a time when it was most divided. The United States beat the hated Russians in the race to lunar supremacy and provided the astronaut imagery that would be vital in launching MTV twelve years later.
Of course, the cultural significance of the Apollo 11 moon landing has as much to do with television as it did with the scientific ingenuity that allowed man to walk on the lunar surface. On that memorable Sunday night, the entire nation (and the world for that matter) gathered around their TVs to watch mere mortals conquer a celestial body for the first time.
The moon landing was an awe-inspiring moment in mankind’s history that was collectively shared by the entire globe. And such an event will never be seen again.
That’s not to say mankind won’t continue to reach for the stars and achieve the impossible. (After all, we did manage to conquer erectile dysfunction.) It’s just that celebrating these future achievements will be more fragmented and less communal than in decades past.
In the late ‘60s, the boob tube was still a relatively new invention. There was no cable, no DVDs, no computers, no internet and certainly no DVRs. In 1969, if you missed the breathtaking imagery of Neil Armstrong going where no man had gone before, that was it. You missed it.
However, if the moon landing happened today, would we drop everything in order to gather around and share the historic moment? Probably not. Countless millions would Tivo the broadcast rather than watch it live. Millions more would view the streaming video on their computers and handheld devices. And some would skip it altogether, choosing to view the footage on YouTube the next morning.
Sure, small groups of space nerds would throw Apollo 11 parties that would inevitably include astronomy trivia and giant, moon shaped Cinnabons. But, as a whole, our population would feel no sense of urgency to be in front of our TVs at the actual time the landing took place.
Now some might point to the global interest in President Obama’s inauguration as an event that disproves my theory. And while many people gathered around their televisions en masse in January to witness the swearing in of the first African-American President, his historic inaugural address was, as I explained, an event consumed in a variety of forms over many different media outlets.
I’d also argue that despite Obama’s groundbreaking victory, his inauguration was somewhat less unifying to our country than the moon landing. After all, there’s been no shortage of news clips this summer illustrating that some in the United States are clearly not comfortable with a POTUS of color.
I guess the “birthers” are the moon landing conspiracy theorists of their time. Both groups are certainly similar in that they’re made up or idiots and morons.
Inevitably, times of tragedy will still draw us all to our TVs and create unified national memories – September 11th being the obvious example. But I think it’s safe to say the days of the shared cultural experience on par with the moon landing are as long gone as bell bottoms and love-ins.
This development isn’t the end of the world, just an example of how technology, while making our world community smaller in some ways, is also pulling it apart in others.
As an old Hippie might say: Bummer, man.