Mr. Zapruder’s Camera

Posted: 2011/03/15 in Education, High School, Media, Students
Tags: , ,

When everyone’s favorite hip hop dancer took the stage at our school talent show dozens of students held up their cell phones to shoot it.

How many kids today can connect the dots? Do they understand how it is we can have TV shows like “Survivor” or “The Real World” while 25 years ago these would have been impossible? Twenty-five years ago film and video cameras were bulky, expensive and required trained cinematographers behind each lens. Today it’s possible to plant a few dozen cameras all around a house and record everything.

Why is the Zapruder film of the JFK Assassination so important?

A Dallas businessman named Abraham Zapruder purchased a Bell & Howell Zoomatic 8MM film camera. He had a vantage point in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963 so that his camera was pointed at President Kennedy’s limousine as shots rang out. It was less than 27 seconds of footage and it became exhibit 885 in the Warren Commission Report on the Kennedy Assassination.

Where were the network cameras? Could anyone imagine a presidential visit today without multiple camera crews? A president traveling through the streets of a major American city today — that footage would be shown live on all local stations. And of course these days various cable news networks would also be recording.

Twelve-year-old kids today have already posted their dumb skateboard tricks on YouTube. Can they understand that film cameras were once so bulky and so expensive that local TV stations weren’t able to follow a presidential motorcade? A major network might set up cameras in a civic hall where the president would speak later in the day. But the mobility of a motorcade was too difficult at that time.

Do kids today understand that without camcorders  Rodney King would have been just another black man complaining about police brutality. His story wouldn’t have even made it to page 28 in a local newspaper. But a man named George Holliday happened to have a video camera nearby. Holliday’s footage of police beating King left its mark on history, leading to a court case followed by riots.

Police have changed the way they behave because of the ubiquity of cameras. We have all changed.

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