Bumping the Lamp

When I discovered kaptainkristian’s YouTube channel earlier this year, I veraciously tore through every video he had posted. His pop culture video essays appeal to my cultural sensibilities. Bugs Bunny re-runs are soundly in my wheelhouse. “Batman:The Animated Series” echoed through my early 90’s college years, and my kids have introduced me to Toonami, Pokemon and Gorillaz.

But there was something more in kaptainkristian’s skillful editing, meticulous production and heartfelt writing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Early on I jotted down what I thought it was, “there’s an art to curation. It comes from a genuine love of the material and the craft of curation, as well as a meaningful relationship with the audience.” What kaptainkristian does is not really curation, however. It’s more like passionate, thoughtful celebration, and that passion sets the work apart.

It was one of kaptainkristian’s video essays that got me closer to why they were having such an impact on me.

In the video “Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – The 3 Rules of Living Animation,” kaptainkristian talks about “bumping the lamp.” There’s a scene in the film where Eddie, a real-life character played by Bob Hoskins, is trying to remove the handcuffs that are binding him to the animated rabbit, Roger. As kaptainkristian points out, the scene would have been fine without any lighting changes. Hell, in 1988, having a real character interact with an animated character as seamlessly as they do in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was a pretty brilliant achievement on its own.  But the filmmakers didn’t stop there.

For no particular reason during the scene, Eddie bumps the hanging lamp. For the rest of the scene light and shadow are thrown everywhere. It’s doesn’t serve the plot. It’s not even good for a laugh. All it does is make the filmmakers’ jobs harder. Try to imagine how hard it was to put a real character and animated character in the same scene, to light them evenly, to make them interact believably. Bumping the lamp made all those things much harder than they already were and created a lot of extra work for the animators, but it also made the scene iconic.

“Bumping the lamp” is going the extra mile. It’s challenging yourself, pushing your limits, and showing your passion for and dedication to your work.

That’s what kaptainkristian does in all of his videos. He could deliver his essays over the video clips and still images common to many pop culture video essays and listicles. Instead he puts in the time and work necessary to challenge himself, push his limits and show his passion for his subjects. The results are incredible moments of insight and brilliance.

It’s that brilliance that I find lacking in my own work. I’ve spent most of my career in the non-profit and public sectors, but still most of my work has been ruled by the quest for efficiency, ROI and satisficing. In short, I’ve mostly tried to avoid bumping the lamp.

Early in my career, I worked at a public radio station on a college campus. I would sometimes spend more hours picking the music for a show than I spent actually broadcasting. I would see if I could construct a 3-hour music shift around a single narrative theme or if I could create a show stringing together biographical connections between each artist. Sometimes the results were disastrous, but sometimes I found moments of brilliance.

I’m much older now, and my time, focus and energy seem to be in shorter supply. I have an organization, a supervisor and colleagues whom I’m responsible to. I have every reason to chase efficiency as hard as I ever have. So….

Fuck it. I’m bumping the lamp.

Comments

  1. I love this post, Bob. It was just what I needed this morning. It’s true that bumping the lamp won’t make us more efficient. It likely won’t even translate into promotions and raises because it’s not what the current evaluation systems reward. But it will remind us why we got into the work in the first place and make us excited to get up and to work each morning. Personally, that’s the stuff that really “counts.”