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Bystander Recordings

May 6, 2021 | Trends

In 1963, as John F. Kennedy’s motorcade was passing by, a man born in the Ukraine, Abraham Zapruder, used his 8-mm Bell & Howell Model 414 PD Zoomatic movie camera to capture the moment Kennedy was assassinated.

It was the birth of a new trend, “bystander recordings,” one that would burst on the scene in 1991 with the beating of Rodney King and accelerate with the arrival of YouTube 15 years later. Here are some of the most remarkable bystander recording manifestations:

  • Most expensive recording – Life magazine purchased the rights to the 26.3-second Zapruder film clip for $150,000, equal to $1.5 million in today’s inflated dollars. In 1975, five years after Zapruder had passed away, Time-Life sold the rights to the footage back to the Zapruder family for $1. The U.S. government paid $16 million in 1999 for the 494-frame film; the highest price ever paid for a bystander recording.
  • Police killings – The nine-minute video that captured the death of George Floyd ranks as one of the most agonizing bystander recordings of all time. Remarkably, the U.S. does not maintain a comprehensive public database of deaths caused by the police. It’s impossible to estimate how many police mistreatments and shootings have been captured on video since the Rodney King beating, but the figure exploded after the arrival of the smartphone.
  • Crash videos – Another category of bystander recordings that have gained prominence are videos of major mishaps. The Jul. 20, 2000, crash of Air France Concorde Flight 4590 was caught on video by a Spanish truck driver’s wife. Of the many air crash videos on YouTube, one of the most spectacular ones was captured via dashcam — National Air Cargo Flight 102 — a Boeing 747 that crashed near Bagram, Afghanistan on Apr. 29, 2013.

But nothing could prepare viewers for the highly graphic videos showing the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. People around the world were mesmerized by the bystander recordings of two airliners crashing into the twin towers, and the subsequent nightmarish collapse of these massive structures. As the Voyeurgasm Ubertrend suggests, one day, just about everything will be recorded digitally, much of it by random bystanders.

Michael Tchong

Michael Tchong

Founder, Author, Adjunct Professor, Futurist

Michael Tchong is a distinguished analyst renowned for his expertise in scrutinizing and dissecting societal, cultural, and technological trends. His invaluable insights serve as a cornerstone for guiding businesses and organizations towards more informed decisions regarding their products, services, and innovation strategies.
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