Sometimes it’s OK to just be done
Lessons from the Beatles’ new video
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If there was a “Not Knowing When to Quit” Hall of Fame, I would be in it. To wit, at age 47, I just cracked a couple of ribs playing in a semipro football game. This (the game) was a bad life choice similar to lots of other football-related bad choices I’ve been making for roughly the last two decades.
In the same week, I viewed the video for the Beatles’ new release, called “Now and Then,” which, like most other Beatles music, was to me very boring. But the song and video (by director Peter Jackson) were rolled out as a sort of triumph for technology and AI and stuff.
If there was a “Not Really Getting Excited About Technology” Hall of Fame, I’d be in that one too.
I played in the semipro game because I was looking to recapture the elusive feeling of anticipation, and then experience the release/relief/afterglow of getting through it in one piece—which afterglow doesn’t kick in at all when bones are broken. It is replaced with feelings of regret, and then laser-specific feelings of “Man, that was stupid.”
This is roughly what I felt when I watched the “Now and Then” video, which was quantifiably very stupid in that it featured lots of weird AI-ish footage of a sort of recreated and weirdly fake-looking John Lennon “recording” the track with the rest of his bandmates, two of whom (Lennon and George Harrison) have been dead for a long time.
The video couldn’t decide if it wanted to be deep and relevant or funny and playful, and it managed to be neither. And because he probably didn’t have a line item in his will stating, “Please don’t put a strange computer-generated version of me into a music video in a few decades when the technology exists,” Lennon couldn’t decide not to participate, which is a strange new ethical dilemma—notwithstanding the god-complex meta-dilemma surrounding the ethicality of bringing a person “back” to on-screen “life” via the technology we now wield. But that’s somebody else’s essay to write.
I watched it with a roomful of students, and we all kind of ascertained that we would have been fine with it never happening. I’m certain that this was not the reaction we were supposed to have, to a thing that people worked very hard on and spent a lot of time and money on and was supposed to be a sort of technological “miracle” in terms of letting John, Paul, George, and Ringo back into the studio “together” for one more session.
This raises the following question: Do the Beatles remain more relevant and more pleasant and more enjoyable if audiences are “allowed” to enjoy the memory of them and then transmit those memories to younger people who might decide to care about the Beatles?
Or in seeking to continue a platform for the Beatles by creating “new” music from snippets of old recordings and footage, do the Beatles (specifically as the two remaining living guys and as just a concept) stay relevant or become yet more relevant, even if the thing that is created is bad or dumb?
The following things are true: Whenever you create or do something (like football in my case), you run the risk of it potentially being bad or dumb. But we live in an era in which (to the world, at least) all attention is good attention. “Engagement” (or whatever we’re calling it) is king. A thing is regarded as inherently successful if lots of people look at that thing. To wit, Jake Paul. Nobody would argue that Jake Paul is good at being a boxer or even especially good at being an interesting thing to look at. But lots of people are looking at Jake Paul.
The implications of all of this, for us, are far-reaching. Just because I “can” play in another football game, doesn’t mean that I should. In fact, my memories of the sport would probably be gradations more positive if I’d just let it die a natural death and begun the misty-eyed backward gazing a decade or so ago.
And for those of us in the Christian writing game, just because we can write one more book or start one more podcast, it doesn’t mean we should. Doing so has implications for our families, our ever-eroding “margin,” and most importantly our probably inflated senses of self-importance.
Sometimes the best thing you do is the thing you decide not to do.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.