Thursday 25th May 2017,
Televisual

Witnessing Whitney on YouTube (and Vintage Television)

Originally posted at Hacktivision

Some of us are too young to remember watching Whitney Houston’s iconic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” live. But now we can see it! Thanks to YouTube, the privately-owned public archive.

It’s been lamented that television’s function as a vessel for national consciousness has died in the wake of digital convergence, that, aside from a few media events like The Super Bowl, we no longer come together as a country through the screen. But the presence of an easily accesible archive of television programming, available not through the Library of Congress but Google, allows for other forms of collective witnessing.

In the wake of Houston’s death thousands are reposting the clip above, a spectacular document of post-Cold War America that reminds us not only of Houston — I heard this version every Friday in elementary school — but also of our bombastic sense of supremacy at the end of the 20th century. A YouTube commenter had a compelling take:

Only Whitney Houston could do justice to a war-worshiping anthem on a war-worshiping ‘grid-iron’ as fighter jets fly overheard, in celebration of the most boring, tactically convoluted, vulgar game ever invented. Her pipes were the biggest! the best! the most overblown pieces of vocal equipment around – a classic American icon.

I happen to find football a fine sport, if only once a year, but yes: through YouTube, I can witness Houston and America in their supposed primes, while mourning and remembering along with everyone else.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

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