Norm MacDonald and the Reclamation of Voice

I’ve been a huge fan of Norm MacDonald’s since he hosted SNL’s Weekend Update. I believe this was the last time SNL was semi-dangerous. No one knew what Mr. MacDonald would say, and this inability to keep him under censorial wraps apparently led to his untimely dismissal (see exhibit A below; apologies to all who are offended – sort of).

In any case, he’s back (we shall not discuss his short-lived network tv show), and is now hosting a sports show.

I know this not because I’m a sports fan, but because I follow Mr. MacDonald’s tweets.

In this way I became aware that he would be providing audio commentary during the Masters Tournament.

Again, not being a big sports fan, I don’t imagine I would’ve watched any of the Masters had it not been for Mr. MacDonald’s audio commentary, but, out of curiosity, I tuned in — ” both to the network broadcast and the Norm MacDonald online commentary (done via UStream) Sunday afternoon.

Within about five minutes of having audio on from both the network telecast and the MacDonald webstream, I muted the network commentators, and listened instead exclusively to Mr. MacDonald (and his less-entertaining cronies).

Beyond making golf more tolerable, this concept of sort of hi-jacking one form of programming and adding another layer to it is very interesting to me.

Certainly, this isn’t new. I remember my Granddad muting the TV and listening to the radio commentators during Washington Redskin games in the 70s and 80s.

And, of course, there was (is?) Mystery Science Theater, which added snarky comments to “B” movies.

What makes what Mr. MacDonald is doing different from the above examples is that it shows – in theory – the accessibility of this gambit to just about anyone.

If you have a voice and some modicum of (real or perceived) expertise about a topic, you can now use free tools to commentate on just about anything, and (potentially) provide an alternative to the “programmed” approach.

This is, of course, consistent with all sorts of “re-mix” culture (mashups, remixes, artists supplying constituents with ProTools stems, etc.), but something else is going on here as well.

It has more to do with the continued reclamation of the voice that – to a certain degree – began occurring with the dawn of the Internet, and has accelerated with the development of social channels.

No longer must we sit passively and listen to the inane patter of some “commentator.” If we elect to do so, we can provide our own commentary, and, depending upon our POV, skills, network, etc., provide an alternative.

I don’t for a minute think that more than a fraction of the people who listened to the Masters commentators listened to Mr. MacDonald’s commentary stream, but, the fact of the matter is, there was an alternative, and for me at least, a far superior alternative.

I hope that this type of thing takes off.

Why, for instance, wouldn’t Perez Hilton provide commentary during the Oscars (God, Help us. And, yes, you can send me angry messages if he decides to do this). Or, better, Scorsese?

What about some musical “expert” providing commentary for the Grammys?

What about someone like Ana Marie Cox providing audio commentary for the next RNC? (I loved her live blogging (now twittering, I guess) of prior political events).

There are numerous financial experts for whom I would gladly mute CNBC’s commentators in order to listen to as the market day evolves.

I imagine we’ll see more of this type of stuff; how can we not?

Remember, we all have megaphones, and, increasingly, there are creative ways to use them.

And now… vintage Norm MacDonald:

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