The YouTube Top 10: analyzing the potential for caturday and MJ to change our lives
*Extra Credit* Thematic Essay
To begin this musing on YouTube, I think it is only appropriate that I refer you to something that began this class for all of us way back in February: the 300. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNqiSkd1M6k&feature=related
This is the PG Version, where swords and guns are replaced by cakes and candy. It is international relations done right. Utopia indeed.
As of 2007 it was calculated that every month, YouTube receives 20 million visitors. Each day, 100 million video clips are watched and 65,000 new videos are posted. Much has been made about the popularity of YouTube and the reverberations felt in mainstream news outlets by its videos. The phenomenon surrounding such video-sharing web sites (the social, political, and/or economic) has been called “The YouTube Effect”. In the current presidential race, campaigns have used the YouTube platform to reach out to young voters. And who could forget the first ever “CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate” on July 23rd 2007, which as some people said, helped make political debate matter again.
Millions of people spend time on YouTube, but what are they watching? The question posed to me for this class was what this week’s list of the most popular videos on YouTube say about the influence of YouTube and society at large. But I wonder, does video popularity necessary translate into influence? Does this really mark a shift in how the average person interacts with the media, and the community around them? These are big questions, and perhaps a look at the “most popular list” will help.
For those YouTube newbies, one should know that the politics and strategies behind making it on the “most viewed”, “most favorited”, or “most discussed” lists are heated points of discussion (and controversy) among the YouTube community. In fact, the ability of these lists to accelerate a video or user’s popularity can not be underestimated. I, like many others, have often clicked on a video in the “most viewed” list, only to finish the video with the aching feeling that I deserve those five minutes of my life back. You learn quickly about the capricious nature of celebrity and that numbers are too often misleading. The influence that the sheer set-up of YouTube (layout, list organization, featured videos ,etc ) has on the dynamics of video sharing and thus, “The YouTube Effect”, deserves its own separate discussion.
So in acknowledging that these different lists give different meanings to the term “popularity” I chose “most favorited videos of the day” as a good balance. On Monday night I looked up the Top 10 most favorited videos of the day and spent the next half hour watching… a Michael Jackson impersonation, a pseudo-music video, a video game review, a time-lapse painting, and the always popular booty-shaking female. The latter will not be included in this analysis. Yes, a very typical day on YouTube. More entertaining than it sounds.
In describing the list, I will do my best to connect these videos to broader YouTube trends, and if I’m lucky maybe even psycho-social critique.
So taking the #1 spot is a clip from Britain’s Got Talent, favorited 4,446 times and viewed over 400,000 times. No surprise with this one. The demonstration of exotic and impressive talents is a hallmark of YouTube. The average Joe or Jane or even Mohamed, can easily have their spot in the starlight. In this clip, Suleman Mirza, who notes himself as “one of the best Michael Jackson tribute artists”, adds an Asian Banghra flair to his dance with the help of a turban-clad dance partner.
The second place video, favorited 1,578, is difficult to describe, because I am withholding the particularly strong feelings I have about the band’s music. It’s the teen sensation the Jonas Brothers and their song “Kung-Fu Grip” played in time with a slideshow of the three dark-haired bushy-browed brothers in their signature tight pants and purity rings.
A moment of Jonas Brothers lyrical zen before going on to the #3 spot.
“ Sometimes I wish I had a kung-fu grip;
Never let her slip away, she'd be my girl
I'm so in love with her.
I don't care who knows that I'm ready to fight, ready to go;
Just like a GI Joe ”
Walter B couldn’t have said it better.
In third place is something this class will appreciate. “Funny Cats #4”, subtitled “Caturday Forever!”, shows us all that the internet’s mutual celebration of cat obsession will never stay contained to Fridays. Favorited 1,396 times on Monday night, a check today revealed that over 637,000 people have tuned in. The #4 heading belies the impossibly large volume of similar pet-hommage videos, particularly of cats. Users compile funny cat photos into slideshows, often with some animation to amplify the sheer hilarity of seeing kittens tucked inside a woman’s bra. I have stayed away from these videos in the past, but while watching the whole 1 minute and 55 seconds worth of cats and kittens (set to pulsating techno music), I couldn’t help but crack up at the sight of “zombie cat” or “invisible onion and knife cat”. Kudos to user “HilariousVideosLOL” for converting me to the dark side.
Grabbing the #4 spot with a close 1,068 favorites is “Grand Theft Auto 4 Video Review – Exclusive!!! (Xbox 360)”. I am not a video-gamer, but the review was informative and well done. Praising the storyline, the game play, and the ability to play your friends online, user Mysteriouskk shows continuous scenes of the game being played in all its realistic graphic glory. He adds that a new feature is the “occasional morality twist”, meaning that your decisions to kill or not to kill somebody will affect dialogue and future missions. It appears that reality has finally been inserted into virtual reality. With all the hubbub about GTA being a violent soul-sucking video game, it seems that the makers finally threw parents a bone.
The #5 spot is a video of an artist painting a classic Pin-Up-themed woman, but sped up to meet the continually decreasing attention span of our generation (a quick search on YouTube reveals 24,700 time lapse videos). To be quite honest, even just five minutes left me unsatisfied. In a strange way, watching it made me long for The Joy of Painting; those simpler, better days, when Bob Ross would explain why we never really make mistakes, but rather just “happy little accidents”.
#6 or “RSMV Lay Down- Priestess” is a music video of the song Lay Down by Priestess made by assembling graphics and characters from the video game Runescape by Jagex. In the description the user explains “If you are not a fan of Runescape, and found this as a search result for the band Priestess or the song Lay Down, please simply go back and continue searching the results. It's not my intention for this to be a common result”. To him I say, enjoy the accidental fame, enjoy it! The video does seem to have a serious contingent of fans though, who inquire with such questions as “How'd you do the sleep emote?”, which is of course “a spell from the Lunar Magic spellbook”, not to be confused with “a teleport orb from goblin city Dorgesh-kaan”.
Trust me, I am just as lost as you are.
#7 is Prince performing Radiohead’s “Creep” live at Coachella. Famous musicians frequently are in the top favorite lists. This is especially true for music videos for songs that are on the Billboard Top 100. And the nature of online video posting frequently produces an instaneous concert clip or celebrity snafoo caught on tape (or both – see “Beyonce Falling Down Stairs”).
Taking the #8 spot is “Speak Out Against Hate Speech” : a seven minute video posted by tyleroakley but made through the collaboration of about a dozen youtubers. The video description explains, “Through the new Sharing options, this message could spread internationally and could be featured globally. Do your part to fight for peace and equality and make the message be seen.” The video shows YouTubers, many of them well-known faces among the YouTube community, repeating certain words of hate and then asking the viewer how they think those words make people feel. It’s a simple, well edited video with a powerful message.
A frequently overlooked aspect of YouTube is the networking done within the YouTube Community. Video collaborations like these are a frequent siting. The ability of YouTube to connect people across the world through video adds a whole new dimension to internet socializing.
#9 is “Many Chinese Students attack Tibet People in Seoul, S Korea 2008. 04. 27.” There have been many videos posted recently in reaction to the olympic torch run and violence in Tibet. The chinese government has received repeated hits from YouTube's free media. Frankly, I am surprised such a serious topic made it to number nine, though “violent titles” automatically get an advantage in attracting hits.
For #10 or “Ron Paul Hits it out of the Park on CNN American Morning”, Ron Paul proclaims to John Roberts that the “GOP can’t shut me out” and that he is still in the race. The author celebrates the fact that the video made the front page of Digg magazine, reflecting yet again, the ability of YouTube to infiltrate other media sources.
Despite all my loyalty to YouTube, I still question the hype about the “YouTube Effect”. I see it more as an evolution, rather than a revolution. In many ways this way of video sharing is a great equalizer. The common man is both judger and judged. There is much excitement about the interaction of YouTube and mainstream television news outlets. Yet the videos referenced, like any other news clip, are often taken out of context, used to advance political agendas, or meaningless fluff. The biggest effect in my mind is that the average American, presented now with so many diverse video formats, is being forced to learn that video, like any other medium, is something that must be read. And this, is a major contribution.
But above all, YouTube is what you make of it. Depending on what you are looking for, and where you click, YouTube can be bare bones escapism or mind-opening education. It can be a source of exposure to other cultures or a place where stereotypes are mocked and reinforced (for example the Japanese seem to dominantly represented by gameshows like Human Tetris). And yes the trash, hate speech, and propaganda videos are there. The mainstream wins more than you would hope. The amount of tribute videos and movie re-edits seems to reveal an America ( a young America? ) that is bored, so so bored. YouTube can seem to embody a neverending pursuit of and obsession with celebrity. And of course, it is a place where reputations are made and broken. Many an awkward teenage boy have been forever sent into hiding. (The first to fall was Star Wars Kid, I predict “Fat kid on rollercoaster” will be the next).
The ability of YouTube to give people a sense of voice and influence is undoubtedly incredible, however contested that actual influence is. The ability to film and upload a video doesn’t require the kind of technical know-how of website creation. You don’t need to have a mastery of language (the butchery of the english language is more than welcome on discussion boards). While scouring YouTube videos, one can’t help but marvel at the sheer diversity and complexity of humanity. YouTube can be the source of that warm nostalgic feeling when a video awakens a memory like nothing else ever could. It often appears like condensed soup: American pop culture in a can. And in a world where time is crunched, saved, and cherished, YouTube fills a necessary niche: compacted entertainment for the ever growing pace of this global human network.
1. Naim, Moisés. « The YouTube Effect ». http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3676. Foreign Policy Online. January/February 2007.