Saturday, June 10, 2006

free falling into YouTube

I resisted a foray into YouTube just about as long as I could. It’s been just a little too prominent in the trend watching reports, a little too over-hyped, a little too MySpace.

“Narcissistic New Media. Hrrrmph! America’s Funniest Home Videos. Hrrrmph! Whole thing gives me the ass.” I sit at my laptop, muttering. Talking to myself.

But then someone sent me a link to the video of the guys doing the Bellagio fountain bit using 500 Mentos and 200 liters of Diet Coke. Which in turn had a link to the exploding British lass who had performed a bio-assay on the Mento/Diet Coke formula. Pepsi Girl's Super Burp was on YouTube. My heart and mind were won over; how can you not like such creative silliness?

I’ve wasted quite a bit of time there in YouTube-land. YouTube – and a family trip to Carmel, a town with no apparent purpose except to elect a celebrity mayor and give dozens of banal art galleries and Thomas Kinkade outlets a place to go – are to blame for my lack of bloggage for the past week. (Even Carmel’s “more Los Altos-than-thou” attitude couldn’t wreck some of the most beautiful coast in California. The sand is as white as the gallery-goers and much finer.)

How can you blog when you’re watching a video of two cute-as-a-button Korean girls singing and dancing (apparently as part of a bad TV show; one can only guess at the premise)? It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand any Korean.

How can you blog when you’re assembling a day-in-the-life playlist of MTV videos circa 1983, when Twisted Sister was still a happening thing and MTV hadn’t fallen victim to advertisers’ demands that the network follow the constraints of conventional programming? I’ve been pining for the Free Falling Tom Petty video (starring a young Johnny Depp and an always fabulous Faye Dunaway), and there it was. There’s plenty of poorly shot concert footage, but most of it is new to me and fun to watch – lots of punk and glam shows taken pre-MTV.

I might’ve gone crazy if I were really looking for something – tagging video is even more of an art than tagging images – but I wasn’t. Without closed captions or some kind of extended narrative, it’s notoriously hard to search video. But sometimes girls just want to have fun and browse without a care (or an information need), and I did. No worries that I don't own a TiVo -- if it's important, it'll be posted. Fox News wouldn't have had to run that Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction every half-hour on the half-hour; everyone would've been able to live the notorious (but disturbingly uninteresting) event over and over again until they were satiated.

Soon after my gluttonous dumpster dive into YouTube’s extensive collection, I listened to a discussion about the site on NPR. Naturally there was a caller whose first thought was, “Oh my god! It’s going to be filled with porn! The children! The children!” I envisioned her wiping her fevered brow with the back of her hand and seeming almost to swoon.

I do wonder why parents have such dirty minds; their first thought about *anything* seems to run to sex, perversion, and porn. Perhaps that’s why they have children: too much attention to sex, perversion, and porn to remember to use birth control. This mom could not be reassured. For every reassurance, she’d worked out a scenario where the kids’d see porn. YouTube visitors can easily mark a naughty video as being inappropriate for the site; but in her mind, the kids’d be right on top of the submissions, just waiting for the porn to come gushing in.

Really I doubt she’s taken a careful critical perspective on homemade porn: often it’s horribly unappealing and it’s darned hard for the uninitiated to identify what’s what and even what’s going on. The lighting and camera angles reveal that it’s just as difficult to make good porn as it is to make good comedy. All the pros are in the San Fernando Valley, and they aren't giving it away for free.

Unfortunately it’s clear that what’ll do the site in is not hypervigilant parents, porn, copyright violations, or bad cinematography, but rather the lack of a good advertising model. I’m guessing that even Axe Deodorant Body Spray won’t want to sponsor a half-naked guy lisping frantically about how *hot* it is and how *bad* his video is (it’s actually quite funny and he is disturbingly sweaty). Nor will Coke want to sponsor a pirated 25 year old Purple Rain video nor MySpace the MySpace parody skits (which are funny in an in-joke sort of way -- "the MySpace angles").

Even though quite a few of the videos are better than The Simple Life and more informative than the 367th Hitler show on the History Channel (and still others are illicit copies of The Simple Life and the 367th Hitler show), there are many that are just plain bad. It's the "million monkeys" effect though -- some of the monkeys are going to shoot some great videos; others will pirate just the clip you want to see (thereby eliminating the need to watch a whole movie or find an ancient music video); and still others are evolved monkeys who have collected the classics (I didn't even know about that incredible Crispin Glover interview on David Letterman; Crispin Hellion Glover made Mr. Letterman look like quite the assclown: "I'm a movie star," says CHG, sounding on the verge of tears).

I can see there are still many hours to waste on YouTube, 5 minutes, 19 seconds at a time.


Anonymous Stephen Smoliar said...

I just posted a comment to a CNET interview with Brewster Khale about the Internet Archive. Basically, I invoked Sturgeon's reflection about 90% of anything being crud and wondered to what extent IA was going after only that 90% and disregarding the other 10%. I think the point of your story is that one does not live by that 10% alone, so we need places where we can indulge in that 90%. Unfortunately, by the time I followed the Super Burp link, the video had been withdrawn!

9:56 AM  

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