The New York Times and director David Lynch recently began similar internet-based projects. David Lynch’s Interview Project is a series of video interviews which were conducted by David Lynch, his son Austin and partner Jason S., and their team during a 20,000 mile road trip across the United States. The New York Times’ One in 8 Million is made up of audio interviews accompanied by photos, all with New York City residents. Interview Project clips are released once every three days, while One in 8 Million pieces are released once every week.
The Lynch crew trekked across the United States profiling people they met on the street and in bars. Most of the interviews they have posted were conducted with old men in the American Southwest and South so far. They are not camera-friendly, frequently quite directionless, and I found myself often drifting to sleep as they talked about their tedious lives. But almost exclusively from the lower echelons of the working class, with lives fraught with ups and downs, they tell stories that are likely to resonate with many.
Although One in 8 Million’s introduction proudly proclaims New York to be a city populated entirely by “characters”, truthfully The New York Times profiles colourful eccentrics exclusively, not the average New Yorker. Some interviews include a book store clerk with a Taxidermy hobby, a blind globe-trotting wine connoisseur, and a retired firefighter who hunts for antique bottles. The audio is accompanied by attractive photographs of the subjects and the things they discuss. The interviewees are not universally beautiful, but they are all at least camera-friendly. They are also more reliably interesting those in the Interview Project. Those sneaky storytellers at The New York Times are out to portray New York City as a Mecca for the unique, daring, and beautiful.
Underneath the sometimes-boring initial impressions one gets from the Interview Project bubbles a more submersive message fraught with bleakness, regret, and even the sinister. One interviewee bemoans not being able to see his three children. The most recent had a son during her teenage years; he went on to take his own life at 18, leading her to a period of substance abuse. Another is on parole for helping his girlfriend bury an abusive ex-boyfriend that she had killed, and is waiting for her to be released from jail.
The Lynch interviews aren’t all that sobering, but compared to The New York Times’ project they seem a lot more honest. Although One in 8 Million does include some more melancholy tales (the most recent is about a cancer patient), they are predictably laced with an overwhelmingly hopeful message. As a result, the interviews come off less a series of character profiles, and more a masturbatory offering to the shrine of the New York City mythos. If you did a tally of quirky characters following their whims and dreams in NYC, how would it compare to the number of people breaking their backs just to get by in a city that smells like rotting garbage all Summer long?
Not that the Interview Project profiles more “realistic” characters; it’s just telling the American fairy tale Brothers Grimm style, while The New York Times has the inspiring Disney version. Even if the Interview Project‘s subject selection method isn’t as heavy-handed as One in 8 Million‘s, who would agree to be interviewed David Lynch and his friends/family? Lynch is an abstract man, who can’t open his mouth without sounding like he came from the Moon. He once appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s radio show, purportedly to discuss his 9/11 hoax theories, but instead insisting talking about how Transcendental Meditation can save the world*. His interviewees are bound to be either so boring they don’t have anything better to do than talk to a man that looks like an old lesbian, or tuned into the same weird frequency as he is.
So which is better? It depends what you’re looking for. In an world quickly unraveling through economic crisis, some are going to be looking for escapism while others are just looking for the support of knowing they aren’t alone in their troubles. The New York Times trumpets the ongoing triumph of the American dream, while David Lynch reads its eulogy.
*When I found out Lynch planned on opening a Transcendental Meditation school in Scotland with 60′s Folk/Psych-Rock artist Donovan, it was the first time I realized I was just as susceptible to excitement over celebrity gossip as your average National Enquirer reader. I’m simply interested in different celebrities, and they have to be doing more unusual things than getting fat or dating another celebrity.