There are many things for which I am inordinately grateful. Indoor plumbing. Outdoor dining. Popular music that derives in part from blues and folk music and is marked by a heavily accented beat and a simple, repetitive phrase structure (“rock and roll”).
But nothing makes me want to thank the Big Fella/Gal upstairs as much as having grown up in an era where every moment wasn’t captured for posterity. Thanks to the absence of smart phones and other camera-equipped gear during my sustained portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-stupidhead phase, I can credibly represent myself as a person who’s lived his life with a modicum of dignity and respect to others. It’s possible to maintain the illusion - because, hey, corpus delicti.
And yet there’s still a small part of me that wishes GoPro mini-cams were around when I participated in activities more adventurous than programming the sprinklers. Have you seen the video quality these things produce? Holy hopped-up resolution, man. I almost feel for the gnarly dudes and rad dudettes who use GoPro doohickeys to document their X-treme motokayaking runs down icy mountainfronts. Imagine the mortification that comes with the hi-def rendering of a facial blemish during footage of a shark-surfing expedition? Like anybody’s going to remember the extraction-via-bungee-cord after that.
All this said, I don’t know exactly what to make of GoPro’s most recent web-busting superclip, “GoPro HERO4 Session: So Small. So Stoked.” I am a member and corresponding secretary of the “brand videos in which a product is used in a manner consistent with the way it would be used by normal beings” fan club, and “So Small. So Stoked” toes that line. It’s nearly five minutes of rapid-cut highlights from activities that involve the intersection of water, cliffs and narrow footpaths, the types of leisure turbo-pastimes for which GoPros were invented to chronicle. There’s no artifice here. We see what the camera sees; the GoPro branding starts and ends with portability and video quality. It is what it purports to be, just like flooring or hamburgers or garden tools.
On the other hand, how many times have we seen this kind of stuff before? Red Bull has been dutifully pumping out beautifully renderedextreme-sport travelogues for some time, many with plots and contexts that give them appeal beyond the WHOA! “So Small. So Stoked” lacks that ambition. Instead of attempting to forge even a half-assed narrative, the video bumps from one act of extreme bravado to the next. A guy jumps off something or other. A gal careens into something or other. Add a stereotypically bouncy pseudo-electronica soundtrack and, voilà: branding!
Tedium sets in at the 90-second mark, but the clip goes on for another three minutes beyond that. While there are a handful of moments that elicit the intended that-is-indeed-cool-sir response - inside-a-wave footage captured by a surfer, seagulls scattering as a motorcyclist zooms along the beach - there are around 700 moments in the clip, rendering the watchability ratio embarrassingly low. It doesn’t help that the most defined personality attribute of the heli-hikers and low-country ski-bikers featured in the clip is “sunglasses.” Meanwhile, if you watched this and other GoPro clips and speculated that there’s no room under the brand umbrella for non-white people or wearers of single-piece bathing suits, you’d have a point.
In the end, what GoPro’s brand videos most remind me of is “Bikini Destinations,” a series that used to run (still runs? I’m married now, friend!) on HDNet or AXS TV or whatever Mark Cuban’s hi-def network is called these days. It was billed as a travel/adventure series, which was/is the equivalent of milk billing itself as a mixer: In both cases, nobody’s fooling anyone. “So Small. So Stoked” doesn’t push the titillation envelope anywhere near as far as “Bikini Destinations” did, obviously, but it’s similarly pretty, vacant and personality-free. It’s not unreasonable to expect more.