Tarot and Talking Heads
This will be a contentious topic and I may offend a few of the more experienced purveyors of wisdom in the online divination community, but they aren’t my target here. My goal is to encourage improvement for everyone in the overall effectiveness of knowledge transfer and not just to criticize its shortcomings. For the less established would-be pundit, please take my comments in the spirit in which they’re given and try to shrug off the occasionally biting tone; I’m not much good at conciliatory soft-peddling.
I’ve already taken a few swipes at what I consider to be the fallacies of remote reading where there is no hands-on, face-to-face (or even mouth-to-ear) contact between the reader and the seeker, but thanks to the Anthony Louis book Tarot Beyond the Basics, I eventually came to terms with how it might be done without violating my sense of “due process.” Maybe the same thing will happen in this case as time goes on, but I will need to see more convincing evidence before I concede the argument. The subject of my current skepticism is the proliferation of tarot-related YouTube videos, and my objections are aimed mainly at those tyros who are either ignorant of or intentionally ignore accepted standards of elocutionary style and pacing than at any deficiencies in substance (although their content is often uneven as well). Quite honestly, it can get painful for the viewer (or perhaps I’m simply not as enamored of the wonders of social media or as forgiving of its weaknesses as most younger people.)
I’ve seen more than my share of televised “talking heads” in my life, and I don’t have the patience to sit through tedious amateur productions that are either glacially slow and erratic (as in some of the deck walk-throughs I’ve tried to watch), or clumsy in presentation, punctuated by “umms” and “ahhs” and awkward pauses (and even once a sotto voce “Oh, shit!” at a random fumble) that leave me cringing and squirming uncomfortably in my chair. I just want to shout irritably “Get on with it, already!” (and I sometimes do). It makes me wonder how many of these people actually rehearse their offerings by recording themselves and screening the results critically before putting them out for public consumption (one of the recommended practices for gaining proficiency). If you’re embarrassed by watching yourself, chances are good that your viewers will be put off as well. I would submit that it takes more than an irresistible urge to express oneself, an abundance of personality and chutzpah, a video-capable camera or phone and an internet connection to make for worthwhile discourse, and the budding YouTube entrepreneur must be wary of the pitfalls attending “diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain.” Those who are accomplished at traditional public speaking seem to fare better at YouTube since their delivery is more likely to be precise, polished and persuasive.
To be fair, I should add that I’m not one of those, although I’ve done a modest number of public lectures and teaching gigs over the years where I’ve had to “think on my feet,” and I also appreciate the stimulation of having a “live” sitter at the table when I read. But as a consumer of knowledge I tend to prefer the thoughtful written passage over the unscripted spoken one. The key difference seems to lie in the amount of mental effort that goes into the drafting, editing and finalizing of the product. Just as anyone can self-publish a book these days, anyone can pass themselves off as an online expert on virtually any subject, whether or not there is merit in their self-estimation. (“Hey, it’s so easy a caveman could do it!”) Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be, and “caveat emptor” looms large in any consideration of whether to pay for the experience, even if only with one’s time and attention.
I suppose if I spent extended periods in my vehicle, podcasts would hold more appeal for me as an alternative to listening to music or “talk radio” (an even more annoying “opinion-mill”). But I don’t, and I would rather spend my available at-home hours reading, thinking and writing about divination than watching someone with marginal oratory skills try to explain their own take on the subject. I do often turn to YouTube when I have something complex to assemble or repair because the presenters typically (but again, not always) go straight to the point with little superfluous flair or fluff. But I only expect to be informed, not entertained or charmed, and I have the same expectations for divination-related videos. Don’t try to beguile me with your showmanship, just give me the ideas you want to convey in as simple and economical (oh, and professional) a manner as possible and I will walk away satisfied. More importantly, I will stay until the end to hear you out and not just “flip channels.” (For counterpoint, I would like to direct my readers to the wide-ranging esoteric site, Balthazar’s Conjure; here is a credible speaker who knows how to keep things lively and interesting, particularly impressive since English is obviously not his first language. There should be more like him.)
Value can be a slippery thing; it’s not the same for all people and its presence is often apparent only in “the eye of the beholder.” In manufacturing, adding value to something is defined as “the amount by which the value of an article is increased at each stage of its production, exclusive of initial costs.” In commerce, it’s less abstract: “having features added to a basic line or model for which the buyer is prepared to pay extra.” Planned obsolescence — the intentional retirement of items or features as a goad to get customers to spring for the “latest-and-greatest” — fits in there somewhere too, but it’s beyond the scope of this essay. Someone else can tackle the high-tech industry on that one.
In personal terms. the southern rock band Molly Hatchet put it much more succinctly:
“One man’s loss is another man’s gain.
One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain”
While my purpose here isn’t nearly that visceral, having more to do with needless embellishments of the “bells and whistles” variety (the piling on of features or trimmings to make something more attractive), I admit to occasionally reaching my pain threshold over questionable attempts to reinvent the tarot. It has been said that “Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one,” and this is nowhere more evident than in the burgeoning field of extraneous tarot “modernization.”
In a world that is increasingly suspicious of the time-tested and the intricate, people will flock to the standard of those who claim to have a fresher (or even just a simpler) idea. But innovation for its own sake, or even for the sake of selling one’s opinions in books or videos, is just so much pointless grandstanding when there is no real or perceived need for change. I have greater respect for those who work from within a paradigm to further its understanding and application than for those who would tear it down and remake it to their own liking, unless the aim of their initiative is entirely without historical precedent. I may have ideas of my own regarding the validity of the occult trappings that have grown up around the tarot, and I might even post some of my misgivings here, but I have no intention of trying to convince anyone that I’m right. If I can stimulate thought on these matters, I’ve met my objective.