The Voyager Gold Record
This week I’ve been thinking about the Voyager Gold Record. If you don’t know about it, you can read all about it here – essentially, it’s a golden record put out into space by NASA in 1977 containing various images, greetings and pieces of music that served as an introduction to the human race for any aliens who might discover it (and presumably had developed the technology to play records? Or maybe a record player went up with it, not sure. Be so embarrassing if they picked it up and immediately just snapped it over their knee because they didn’t know what it was. They might be idiots, we don’t know!). The contents of the record were compiled by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan, and includes images of leaves, fish, tools, and more, and music almost entirely consisting of classical music or traditional folk music from around the world, such as Navajo chants or Peruvian drumming. I was reading the contents of the record and found it funny that it very much presents humanity as we’d like to be perceived, rather than as we are. It paints a picture of a very cerebral, cultured, spiritual and emotive species and, with the best will in the world, I don’t know if that image sums up who we are day-to-day. I was thinking that if an alien found the Gold Record and thought “Wow, this lot are amazing,” and came down to Earth and discovered, I dunno, the MCU and M&Ms and Burger King and that remix of the Wellerman song, they’d probably go “What the hell is all this?” I don’t intend to say that from a snobbish “Hasn’t modern culture deteriorated?” perspective, but I just find it funny that we deliberately put things on that record that made us look cultured and intelligent as though, as a species, we never do anything crass or stupid. I think the species we resemble day-to-day is very different from the one we presented ourselves as back in 1977, and there’d be an inevitable period of adjustment for the aliens as they went “Ah, right, actually these guys aren’t as intimidatingly transcendent as that record made out, they’re kind of stupid and petty and clumsy and ridiculous and greedy and just generally silly in all sorts of ways. That’s reassuring.”
The Voyager Gold Record – Honest Version
I’ve written in this Tape before about my thoughts on comedy being the art-form that bridges the gap between all our good qualities – our intelligence and our kindness and our hope and our empathy and our imagination – and our more embarrassing qualities we so often try to hide – our stupidity, our selfishness, our clumsiness – and tries to reconcile them into one simple idea of what it is to be human. “I am a human, I aim for the stars and I try to dance beautifully, but I often end up falling over or bumping my head.” So I wondered, what would the Voyager Gold Record look and sound like if it tried to tell the same story about humanity as comedy does? What if it said “This is who we are” rather than “This is who we would love you to believe we are.”
So my simple question for you guys this week is – what do you think the Gold Record should have on it, in addition to the stuff it already does, in order to paint a more complete picture of us as a species?
Maybe I’ll share some of my favourite answers next week. Just to get the ball rolling, I’d include some sort of dumb, crass, stupid corporate thing, like the M&M mascots (although it’d be terrible if we accidentally gave the aliens the impression that that’s what we look like) and the Crazy Frog song, and maybe this video of John Otway, rock-and-roll’s self-proclaimed greatest failure, on Top of the Pops, and maybe a compilation of some of those Just For Laughs prank videos, to show what people look like when they can’t process what’s going on in front of them. What else would paint a more honest, thorough picture of who we are on this planet?
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The National Comedy Awards are open for voting! Radio comedy is criminally overlooked entirely, which is particularly confusing considering podcasting is included, so it’s not audio in general that’s being overlooked, it’s just radio. But, that aside, there’s some cool people nominated, so get voting!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Saw a crow land on a branch that couldn’t take its weight, and plummet towards the ground clutching desperately onto the branch. Then it flapped its wings to lighten the load so the branch bent back upwards, then it stopped flapping and plummeted again. Did that about four times before giving up and flying off. Physical comedy masterclass.
Book Of The Week – Why We Dream by Alice Robb. I know, I’m banging on a lot about dreams at the moment. This book is really interesting, and is teaching me how to have lucid dreams, and they’re really fun.
Album Of The Week – Nite Flights by the Walker Brothers. I’m a big Scott Walker fan, but never listened to the Walker Brothers before, so listened to a couple of their albums this week. This was a reunion album ten years after they stopped making twee 60s pop ballads, and after Scott Walker had started making mad, menacing, avant-garde rock music, and it’s very funny listening to the other Walker Brothers trying to slot into his new aesthetic.
Film Of The Week – Not seen any. Soz.
That’s all for now! As ever, if you wanted to send this newsletter to a friend, or encourage people to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. See you all next week, and take care until then,
PS Here’s a nice picture of the sun going down behind some woods.