(was it clear that that was a turntable scratching joke?)
I don’t know what this does for my image, but I really like the YouTube Rewind videos. I imagine it increases my cred as a content creator, but decreases it with my hipster readership. I’ll have to have the boys in marketing draw up some plans for a targeted campaign. Maybe photos of me writing at an independent coffee shop while wearing flannel and pants that are made from hemp or alpaca wool or something:
No insult intended to my hipster friends; believe it or not, that’s actually how I dress now when I’m not at work (and boy, are these pants itchy…)
If you’re not familiar with Rewind, check out the 2012 and 2013 Rewind videos here (actually over there, where the red text is). Basically it’s a mashup of a bunch of the most popular videos from the previous year. The really cool thing is that it’s not just a good editing job; they actually get the artists and personalities from the various videos and create a huge meta video together. They’re always a lot of fun and pretty tongue in cheek, and I find them hugely inspiring.
Not just because they give me something to alleviate boredom while waiting for the bus (although that too), but because I think that they highlight what I believe the under-appreciated reality of internet memes is: they’re something we do together. I’m not just talking about internet artists who collaborate on hilarious videos like this gem called Mexican Standoff (NSFW for language and a little over-the top gun violence), but the viewers, too. After all, it’s the viewers who make a video go viral.
Now, that might sound like an overstatement of the audience’s role, which upon first glance is entirely passive. I’m certainly not suggesting that YouTube viewers had a hand in the creation of the original Numa Numa video, any more than in the Evolution of Dance, Nunchucks Pro, Chocolate Rain, or the many, many others. The viewers did not make those videos. But they did make them into some of the biggest viral video sensations of the past ten years. Again, maybe you think this is a cop-out, a way to make the role of the viewer seem larger than it is, but consider this. That is a link to the music video for Pork and Beans, a song by the (awesome, awesome, awesome) band Weezer. Watch closely, because the “Numa Numa guy” is not singing along to Numa Numa. This is not a clever editing job. He’s singing along to Pork and Beans. Weezer reached out to some of the biggest YouTube personalities of the day and got them together to make a music video.
And I would argue that the viewers had a role in the creation of that video. Not the shooting of it. Not the dancing or the singing. And they (ok, we) didn’t write it, either. But we created phenomena out of some quirky internet videos, and those phenomena prompted Weezer to write the video that they did. Maybe that’s a good word: prompt.
And Pork and Beans and Rewind are only the beginning, because as the creation of entertainment content moves out of the hands of the few (movie and television studios, big publishers, etc…) and into the hands of the many (you, me, anybody with an internet connection or a cell phone camera, etc…), this is going to become the norm. Some of you may read that and be horrified. I hear it all the time from people that I know. “There are no original ideas anymore. Everything is a remake of a remake of a remake…” But my argument is that there is something else going on here: synthesis.
I’ve probably written about it before on this blog, but it’s a favorite topic of mine, so I’ll give you guys the extended dance remix here. most of us learned about the invention of the printing press in elementary school, and how it completely revolutionized the world. Books were suddenly inexpensive (at least compared to before) and widely available. Literacy spread throughout the world (sort of — I’m oversimplifying here in the interest of time, word count, and attention span). Blah blah blah. But what most of us did not learn in those lessons is one of the secondary effects of mass-produced texts: diverse libraries.
Handwritten texts were very, very expensive. As a result, they were rare and kept mostly where they were needed the most. It didn’t make sense for a mathematician to have a zoology text in his or her library. Such a text would have cost a fortune, and that money could be better spent on more mathematics texts. Once texts started being printed, their cost dropped significantly, and comprehensive libraries, bridging a multitude of subjects, became more feasible. If this stuff interests you, you can read more about it in Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, but the short of it is this: when these texts started appearing next to each other on bookshelves, people started reading them and analyzing them in terms of each other, and entire new fields of study were synthesized out of this phenomenon.
Now, before I move on here, I need to take a moment to acknowledge my girlfriend Rachel, the Scatterbrained Seminarian, who like so many others, is just dying to hear me say those three little words:
In The West.
Yes. I know that the printing press was invented in Asia before it was in Europe. But I also know that there was a huge geographic and cultural divide between those two continents that prevented the wildfire catching on of these phenomena in West while they were beginning in the East. The West had to wait for Gutenberg, and the rest is history.
But I digress (which, the regular readers will know, hardly ever happens…) So the next time you’re getting ready to lament the latest mash-up of three different reboots, consider the synthetic angle. What might a new director’s perspective bring to a familiar story? New actors mean new performances, which means a different experience. And don’t forget, you’ve changed, too. You have a different perspective which is rooted in history and your culture (and your pop culture), and your geography. So your experience brings something to it, as well.
Getting back to memes and the YouTube Rewinds, the implications of all this are huge and wonderful. As a species, the coolest things that we do are the ones we do together. Consider this: there’s probably a keyboard attached to your computer. There is no single person in the world who could build that keyboard. I’m not talking about hobbyists or do-it-yourself-ers. I’m talking about your specific Logitech (or whatever) keyboard. From start to finish, that thing took a petroleum drilling team, miners to gather the iron, copper, gold, aluminum, and other metal ores, petroleum refiners, metal refiners, materials engineers, people who make plastic, teams of electrical engineers, teams of designers, at least one manufacturing plant, programmers, marketers, and web designers. This doesn’t even take into account that there are specific people who know where to find petroleum, others who know where the metals are hiding, still others who know how to create drilling platforms and mining equipment, et cetera. The list goes on and on. Remove one link in the chain and you are flipping switches on the front of your ENIAC in order to check your email (OK, that’s extreme, but you get the idea).
It’s a group effort. Everything is a group effort. That’s easy to forget sometimes, but one of the great things about social media and the Internet is that the reminder is built right in. Everything we are doing and everything we have done, it’s all connected.
Thank you for reading. More to follow.