The Union Forever | JumboTron

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The concept of the super television screen is hardly unfamiliar to anyone. Better known to the populous as a JumboTron, the screen that changed the way we look at live events can be seen everywhere from Times Square to Tokyo. While the word JumboTron is technically a brand name developed by Sony in the 80’s, it has become synonymous with large screens in the same way Kleenex is with tissues. It is so prevalent that anytime I go to a large event and there are no JumboTrons, I get a bit upset. Good thing I’m not a Cubs fan.


But, these modern marvels have their drawbacks. At sporting events, we rely on them for instant replay and cheap entertainment, lessening the impact of the events on the field. Whether we are distracted from the proceedings on the field by electronic versions of archaic games or we are unconcerned with the play because we know we can always fall back on the replay, going to a live event has become merely showing up.

If television is the detriment of the youth, then the JumboTron sustains the habit into adulthood. The comforting glow of the electronic scoreboard and information center relaxes those accustomed to vegetation on their couch. Do not fear, young professionals, going to the game is just like eating pudding on your couch after a soul draining day at the office! I admit that the JumboTron is an amazing accomplishment of technology, but are these multi-million dollar filters really improving the material they claim to enhance?

Normally I would ignore something so newly traditional as too well-liked by the public for any kind of change to happen, but last weekend at Lollapalooza, something inside of me triggered an anger unforeseen. As I was listening to the opening notes of Chromeo, one half of the band, P-Thugg, took his shirt off to reveal his less than appealing bodice. Instead of everyone looking at the stage, heads whipped around to whichever JumboTron was nearest. The laughs and shouts commenced, but they were spread out and contained to small groups that discussed the events like they were happening in prime time on an episode of Lost. There was no communal response, just a number of similar responses in a similar location. Not that this event was paramount to my Lollapalooza experience, but I never felt part of the crowd since I was closer to a JumboTron than I was to the screen.

There is something compelling about being able to see your subjective view of one thing translated into one common viewpoint. I enjoyed being able to relax far away from the stage for The National and their dense crowd, but too often the people around me traded glances at each other between sips of beer with eyes up at the JumboTron complete with commentary among friends. There were few looks towards the stage that lasted more than a minute. I think this is because it is hard to reconcile choosing the lesser of two views simply because the lesser is live and the better is filtered. People are so used to televised live events that their presence at the event takes second chair to the quality of exhibition.

And because everyone past the first 50 or so rows was satisfied to check the JumboTron for updates on the set, not everyone felt the same way I did about The National, which was in awe. They were so good and the set was right before the sun completely disappeared making the show perfectly suited to their music. They even surprised a lot of people with their Alligator energy, but when people’s ears perked at an unsuspected sound, they usually checked the electronic representation of the band instead of the actual band. It was distracting and a bit upsetting to see such a concert turned into a beer garden, but such is the world of arcades we inhabit.

So here is what I suggest. We do away with the JumboTron at Lollapalooza and cut down the capacity from 80,000 a day to a much more manageable 40,000. Yes, that would cut profits in half, but pass the charge on to the VIP crowd that took up all of the good hill spots for the entire weekend. Ok, that was a bitter solution. But there are some solutions that are serious and beneficial. Let’s examine a few.

1. Multi-angle screens

We have some stationary cameras film some parts of the set and have a few roaming cameras fill in the space. That is standard, but the trick would be in the relay of those images to the audience. Now we have an edited image replayed on every screen the same way, with two main screens for each stage. Up the number of screens to four and have a different narrative on each screen. It’s more similar to the user generated choices we are used too and it lessens the authority of the director or editor. More choices are better than less.

2. Encourage video art

Radiohead is accustomed to playing venues that use JumboTrons, so when they stroll into Grant Park they are prepared with some video art that is simple yet additive. It is a hyped version of iPhoto graphics, but at least they utilize the screens. If the situation requires JumboTrons, then do something creative with it. Beck is another innovator, but his puppet show is in need of some updating. Two artists that I would like to see art from are Girl Talk and Daft Punk. They have the highest energy shows around, but something is missing if you are not in the first 20 or 50 rows. Simply relaying an image does nothing for the people in the back except televise the event, so more of an effort to incorporate everyone is needed.

3. Smaller shows

This is obvious and probably not going to happen. Why is bigger better? Why can I never see Daft Punk at Sonotheque or Radiohead at The Hideout? Money, I guess. That is sad and I regret ever adding to these band’s popularity for this very reason.

4. Virtual Tour

Have a concert in every city on the same day via webcam. No band, just the JumboTron. Do this until everyone is sick of television and the market demands the exclusion of any televised or reproduced live events. Everyone then destroys their television and makes trips to concert venues sober to enjoy a night of dancing peacefully. The internet self-destructs, cell phone towers collapse and every one is forced visit each other in person. During these visits everyone laughs about JumboTrons and hype. Beautiful.