Thursday, February 12, 2009



I've always found that when I begin a sentence with 'hello' I feel a bit like a nametag. That said, in all my time spent getting around to getting this blog up and running I have yet to come up with anything less obvious so HELLO everyone and welcome to the viral vaccine, MY fake NAME IS: Thurl Chessor and I am a twenty-two year old cinema major in the final lap of an education that began sixteen years ago. In my thinking about starting this blog and the endless rumination over what angle to take on viral video culture, it became increasingly clear to me, as it has in incremental shades with each passing semester at USC, that I really wasn't getting anywhere and should probably just start writing. If you are reading this right now, I have gotten started, and will hopefully nail down a purpose for this blog in the next few hundred words.

I realize the title of my blog might suggest that it provides of some form of cure. This is unfortunate, as I don't claim to know anything about medicine and for that matter am not even sure that youtube or viral videos are things to be 'inoculated' against. I have, however, decided to live with my last-minute titling decision in the true spirit of "whatever-you-put-on-the-internet-is-out-there-forever," and treat it as irrevocable. Lets break it down - While a vaccine is a preventative measure, it can, in some circumstances, have the unintended effect of transmitting the disease. I have decided that the title is ironic and that this blog will be a perverse exploration of that possibility. Let me explain-

The difference between youtube and traditional broadcast media is that youtube is just the shit, whereas traditional broadcast media ultimately fails to present any sort of accurate portrait of the human condition it reports on/is inspired by. Humans are strange creatures - if you don't believe me, ride a greyhound. Higher purposes aside, my fascination with youtube stems from its quality as a swamp for this general eccentricity - the runoff of ideas of an entire species. Youtube is an unaltered, unaffected view into the minds of millions - what they find to be meaningful, traumatic, funny, normal (which is often turns out to be very funny) or whatever adjective merits using video as a means to explore it (which is all of them).

I suppose now is as good a time as any to drop all pretense and really set the mood. I was going to continue to pontificate on the humanistic qualities of youtube, but I have a whole blog ahead of me for that. I should let you know I fully intend through this blog to spread my unhealthy addiction to the strangest, most affecting videos youtube and the internet at large have to offer. Through strategic use of my misleading title I will lure unsuspecting, refuge-seeking webgoers to my blog where I will bombard them with strange and hilarious videos. With intent to distribute, I will amass lethal amounts of weird videos - videos weird enough to embarrass even the most isolated viewer. Weird that won't leave. Weird that haunts. I mean weird like when you were a kid and you invented back-stories for all of your bath toys, even the non-anthropomorphic ones. Oh you didn't? Me neither, my point is that anything is fair game.

Readers may also be subjected to analysis and ponderings on the nature of said weirdness, as informed by 94% of a bachelors in film criticism.


For this post I will be profiling a blog that is not entirely dissimilar to mine, if only in that we work with roughly the same raw material. While anyone writing about viral video must pull their subject matter from the same wonderful cesspool as all the others, as far as ethos goes, this particular blog and mine share very little. So then- to perhaps gain a little perspective on the phenomenon of viral video and to anchor some of the more enthusiastic claims made in my hello-manifesto, lets take a look at the Viral Video Research Blog. The blog itself is a satellite to the website of Visible Measures, a silicon-valley company that specializes in providing "new capabilities and metrics that allow Internet video publishers and advertisers to understand audience behaviors and more accurately predict and analyze the success of Internet video programs" - in their own words. In other words, they are part of a fairly recent wave of firms that essentially hawk more hits on youtube.

But maybe thats a little harsh. Aside from offering placement options on various high-ranking sites, youtube among them, they also provide very detailed viewership statistics from a database of over 100 million videos on the top ten video sharing sites on the web. While I suppose this is a perfectly respectable example of modern capitalism, I can't seem to shake this feeling that I should somehow morally oppose what appears to be, at its most basic form, the commodifying of a new arena for creative expression. I'm sure there are complexities to the business model I don't understand and any number of salesmen that could smooth over any ideological concerns I might have, but ultimately I'm not here to bleed my heart out or buy anything. My interest in this blog lies in the statistics and research - rigid portraits of phenomena as they happen. I also feel that the limited commentary on the videos behind the numbers may help to illuminate a point I one day hope to make, but more on that later.

I have a feeling that it may come in handy to have a cold, hard, mathematical point of view to fall back on when attempting analysis of a video's most affecting qualities. One post I found to be particularly interesting features one of the first youtube mega-sensations -
Judson Laipply's The Evolution of Dance. Contributor Matt Cuttler, writing shortly after the release of The Evolution of Dance 2, illuminates the possibilites of the sequel as a concept in the viral video world, versus the established model of the sequel in traditional media. Posing a question only answerable with time, Cuttler asks - "Is this evidence of an emerging trend, or a flash-in-the-pan that's destined to be a footnote in the history of our industry?" While he does not (and I assume dares not to) answer the question outright, the statistics provided raise interesting points about online viewing habits. Cuttler points to an incease in daily views of the original after the release of the sequel as evidence of what they call "viral activation," where interest in a new clip "drives a corresponding increase in viewership to related, but older clips."

While terms like "viral activation" certainly point to the commodifying aspect of corporate research I expressed fear of earlier, they are also fairly transparent in their meanings. Just think - how many times have you watched Jizz in my Pants, remembered Dick in a Box and then wound up watching the classic Lazy Sunday at least four times? Maybe never, but my point is that we all, as internet viewers, are more familiar than we might think with emerging viewership patterns detailed by firms like this. We invent them as we click about, leaving firms like Visible Measures to speculate about what that could possibly mean. We will be keeping an eye on this one and the trends it claims to capture and categorize, if only for the purpose of juxtaposition against the more cult-like, rabid-fan aspect of youtube I hope to delve into.


Lets continue to tread the water of other people's blogs and examine the voice and writing style of Alexandra Juhasz in Media Praxis. While this blog is not geared specifically towards youtube and viral video, Juhasz maintains a lightly humorous, intelligent, acacdemic voice in her discussion of media theory and practice at large. Her post Even Obama: Irony in the Time of Youtube outlines a thesis (the theme of which is highly visible in the second half of the title of the post) for an upcoming talk, and is an interesting display of academic online barb-trading - much more the gentleman's game than the customary torrent of hatred and stupidity that seems to emanate from traditional youtube comment wars. Juhasz begins the address of her thesis with a quote:

“The week after the election, in a talk at the New York Public Library, Joan Didion lamented that the United States in the era of Barack Obama had become an “irony-free zone,” a vast Kool-Aid tank where “naïvete, translated into ‘hope,’ was now in” and where “innocence, even when it looked like ignorance was now prized.” Andy Newman, Sunday Styles Section, New York Times, November 23, 2008.

Quite the scholarly method of commencing to prove a point, Juhasz immediately takes a contradictory stance to such established academic names as Joan Didion and a bit later, The Web Is Us/ing Us creator Michael Wesch. Juhasz does this in what at first appears to be a pejorative maner, casually referring to Didion by her first name - "Joan, seriously (umm…ironically?), have you spent much time on YouTube?" - then quickly and gracefully begins to lay the theoretical groundwork under her taunt - "You of all people must be aware that Barack Obama, heralded by The Washington Post, no less, as our first “YouTube President,” also announced after his election the commencement of weekly broadcasts of his presidency’s “fire-side chats” on-line and on YouTube. While the tone, form, and message of these networked national addresses are decidedly serious, presidential even, Joan, you’re savvy enough to get the joke, to intuit the wink, the implied aside to a history of worn out presidents, tired fires, and cornball communications."

The subsequent explication of her thesis proves to be just as eloquent and cutting, but I'm not trying to re-post the whole thing to rack up my word count. To put it one way - recent worries I harbored concerning my possibly excessive use of commas, adjectives and generally (what I feel like may be) lengthy sentences dissipated instantly upon reading this post in its entirety. Juhasz's masterful use of commas creates an ease of reading reminiscent of completely informal blogs, but without the advent of irritating 'lol's and excessive use of parentheses (although parentheses can be done tastefully. wink). The overall tone created by this provides a legitimate academic backdrop for conversational humor - indeed, the effect of her writing is akin to what I imagine being in a starbucks full of P.h.Ds is like. At any rate, highly evident in this first jab is the effective, balanced combination of casual and scholastic tone (something I'm beginning to sense is neccessary for all blogs and indicative of the balance that life requires in general) that informs her overall writing style.

To neatly package this first thrust of her thesis in a flurry of excellent word choice, Juhasz refers to Obama's fireside youtube videos as "...a new kind of president-talk produced through documentary’s oldest, most eloquent sobriety, fireside-hot, only to be elegantly plopped into his society’s silliest platform. Incongruity-free? Naïve? I’d say not." Ending memorably seems to be a blogging rule of thumb, so in the spirit of this post and the one before it, I will appropriate the memorableness of that last passage and re-post it here, only one sentence later, in italics for emphasis.

His move, like most on YouTube, is irony-full: a regal black American taking up the hot-spot, filling the usually-segregated head-shot, a new kind of president-talk produced through documentary’s oldest, most eloquent sobriety, fireside-hot, only to be elegantly plopped into his society’s silliest platform. Incongruity-free? Naïve? I’d say not.

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.