Friday, December 14, 2007
On a recent episode of South Park called "Guitar Queer-o" Stan and Kyle have become obsessed with the "Guitar Hero" video game, in which contestants use a controller that simulates a guitar. Stan's dad comes in and asks them if they want to learn how to play real guitar, as he breaks into a song by Kansas. "Nah, that's gay," says Cartman. "Yeah, Dad," says Stan, "real guitar is for old people." For Millenials, real isn't necessarily better and might actually be worse. South Park is perfectly tuned in to the aesthetic of kids -- my own son recently tried a Wii and argued for buying one by stating that he could play the Wii instead of real sports: "It's the same thing, you're still moving your arm." On South Park, it turns out that Stan is much better at Guitar Hero than Kyle. The question this raises is "what is talent?" and is talent for playing a video game worth less than the talent required for playing with other objects? Will the winner of a Guitar Hero tournament someday earn more than Eric Clapton or Eddie Van Halen? Talent in authorship and songwriting have always had intrinsic value, but as interactive social media become more pervasive, will showmanship and style trump creative content? Will form become dominant over content? Will virtual worlds and social media beget a triumph of style over substance?