Thursday, April 30, 2009



Hello. The internet knows me as Thurl Chessor and I am a twenty-two year old cinema major in the final lap of an education that began sixteen years ago.

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 in a 'rogues gallery' - something I hope this will become.

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.


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 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, as with any buzzword, its meaning is often less frilly and ornamental than the word itself. 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), and presents 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 most youtube comments. 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.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

presentation links

eisensteinian collision
damn copyright hawks
the mother of all funk chords

more thoughts on the tool

As I was saying, using online rippers illuminates certain aspects of the nature of ripping files that are somehow isolated and inoculated when using a desktop program, hidden behind the inherent shiny niftiness that most 'widgets' seem to inherit. Its entirely possible that its just me, but something about pasting the url- metadata, a key part of the framework of the object in question-conjures sensations of loopholes and savviness and beating the system. Many of the reviews of online rippers highighted their usefulness in not only breaking copyright law, but circumventing it altogether by serving as a means to capture controversial or otherwise videos before they are taken down by the powers that be. I find the idea of copyright control and censorship on the internet using traditional media as a model to be quite absurd - hell, the film and television industry tried using legislation to stop the first home video recording devices from being mass produced. In my mind, if it is part of the media stream in the grand scheme it is fair game, whether that takes the form of graffiti on an especially nauseating billboard ad or a humorously re-cut trailer of a mainstream film. The now-incredibly-popular street artist Banksy has a fantastic quote about why he defaces advertisements (bear with me here): "You owe the companies nothing. You especially don't owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs." Now ripping/remixing isn't vandalism because the original is left intact and not by any stretch are all youtube videos promoting or advertising something, but the idea that someone knowingly put it out there, maybe didn't shove in under your nose, but put it in a public place means I can do what I want with it artistically. Reminiscent of the artists plight: whatever meaning you placed in your work often has no bearing on how people interpret it. Once you put it out there, it is not yours to control anymore - it is the rest of the world's to experience and manipulate and derive meaning from. This is getting long-winded - the fact is with Zamzar and others, not only can you keep your own personal library of videos and have the abilitiy to dodge copyright law, it is absurdly easy and fun to generate remixed or reappropriated content and contribute to the leveling of the playing field. It is your right as a human introduce your own viewpoint to the conversation. Here is a means.

the tool

while perhaps not its chief concern, deeply entwined within the roots of youtube and web video is a wonderfully idealistic and unabashed disregard for copyright in the name of reappropriation of meaning. What I mean is that ripping and remixing are very close to the heart and soul of our generation, and those concerned with web video should concern themselves with generating some user generated content themselves, given how absurdly easy it is to do so - which leads me to the web tool my 'readers' absolutely cannot live without - a youtube ripper.

I chose this tool without doing any research, relying on my faith in the internet that such a thing would exist when I finally googled it. Lo and behold, there were so many I still don't really know where to start. The difference between something like this and a nifty little widget is that this isn't one unique device created for a nifty little purpose (concrete examples fail me this close to graduation, lets say a visualizer- an especially unique and trippy visualizer) but is rather a concept, as elementary as cut and paste on the simplest word processor.

Before I get ahead of myself though, I should say that there are plenty of rippers that exist as these sort of self-inclusive widgets, mostly for PC. VDownloader and KeepV are examples of decent freeware desktop rippers for windows that can rip into several different formats, with the latter having the advent of a built-in format converter (something a reliable freeware version of can be suprisingly hard to come by). As is the fate of the software spectrum for Mac users, there is all of one reliable desktop application for OS that I have found - GetTube. Whatever. At any rate, I am going to ignore these partisan desktop apps in pursuit of a reliable, unbiased web app - not only because the assignment was to find a web tool, but because it reveals (for me anyway) the beautiful simplicities of digital information that underly all the crazy confusing tangled code that I'll never understand and the possibilities it provides for piracy and mischief.

These various web apps were the easiest to find, yet the hardest to sift through in terms of tangible differences between each one. The one aspect of their simplicity which struck me is that to use all of these rippers, you simply paste the url into a box on the website which then downloads the video to your desktop. is probably the simplest to use of them all, but along with KeepVid, the downloaded files have strange extension names that must be changed manually to flv (the extension for flash videos). To sidestep this and the whole flv thing if you want (most editing software doesn't support flv yet), I reccomend Zamzar, an online ripper/converter in one that supports many different video sharing sites and file extensions.

Anyway, now that we've picked one, I can continue making my point. Using something that is essentially metadata (the url) to rip an entire video fascinates me. It is merely a signpost that points to the spot where code is stored and can be copied quite easily. It had never really occurred to me until recently that when I watch a video on the internet, my computer is processing code that it has the capacity to remember, simple as that. This just flips the switch. more on this concept in the next post - lip service time. Zamzar is based out of the UK, and while you can pay for more options and larger file sizes, the best stuff is still free. Their name is inspired by a Kafka character, and on their about page they have a simple mission statement:
"To provide high quality file conversion for as many file formats as possible." Perfect.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

the discussion up until now

As stated in my previous post, much of the scholarship surrounding viral video phenomena tends to focus on things from an advertising perspective, so lets review where they're coming from.

On a reccomendation from none other than media scholar and popular YouTuber Michael Wesch, I looked into scholarship by Henry Jenkins sourrounding the 'myth' of viral video. His paper "If It Doesn't Spread It's Dead" is compiled on his blog in eight separate posts, the first of which focuses on the use of 'virus' and 'meme' as terms to describe media functions. In his words -

Use of the terms "viral" and "memes" by those in the marketing, advertising and media industries may be creating more confusion than clarity. Both these terms rely on a biological metaphor to explain the way media content moves through cultures, a metaphor that confuses the actual power relations between producers, properties, brands, and consumers.

Jenkins illuminates several points about the discussion of viral video up until now: it has not been entirely consistent and is something inherently tied to the producer/consumer relationship that dominates traditional media.

Dick Stroud further emphasizes the relationship to advertising in another paper, "Guerilla Video: why and how Web Video will change the fabric of the Web," discussing why embedded video will be one of the most significant developments in online marketing. The paper explains the developments that have "...enabled the explosion in web video to occur and the opportunities it creates for marketers."

Jose Castillo attempts to demystify some of the discourse in "Attack of the Giant Web 2.0 Lies," among them the idea that small business cannot make money from web video, something left to corporate sized budgets with the capacity to hire third-party firms. With several concrete examples that speak to the humanistic quality of YouTube and 'authentic' viral campaigns that benefited small businesses (something that is at least not wholly corporate), it is still derived from the thread of web video as a capitalistic enterprise.

Discussion in the blogosphere also seems to speak to a growing cynicism toward 'viral video,' evinced in a post by guest blogger to TechCrunch Dan Ackerman Greenberg entitled "The Secret Strategies Behind Many 'Viral' Videos." As an employee of an anonymous YouTube view-hawking company, Greenberg makes several bold claims about artistic merit and its relative unimportance when it comes to graduating into the neighborhood of 100,000 views.

Hope exists, however, in the revolutionary rumblings of the more art-inclined blogs, VideoArtNetwork in particular suggesting the creation of an artist's YouTube, free of the content restrictions (copyright among them) and also aesthetic restrictions caused by limited file uploading capability.

implications and consequences

I fully realize the implications and/or consequences of my argument for my last paper may seem inconsequential given the sequence in which they were produced. That said, here they are.

I began my research for this paper from the standpoint of an artist examining the possibilities YouTube and other video sharing sites present for the proliferation of creative content, with emphasis on the 'myth' of 'viral' video. Much of the scholarship surrounding viral video phenomena tends to focus on things from an advertising perspective, seeing the viral phenomena as a potential gold mine with which to purvey their product. Ultimately, the conclusion of my paper is that 'viral video,' aside from being almost impossible to nail down a definition of, is something an artist shouldn't be overly concerned with, as there exists many ways in which an individual can interact on a very meaningful level with an online audience of less than a hundred.

In turn, the implications of this conclusion lie somehwere along the lines of careful self promotion within spheres of people the artist may already know as a means of getting your foot in the door. This method stands in stark contrast to that suggested by much of the advertising-related writings - finely engineering the form of your video at the expense of content and hoping it is streamlined enough to gain views fast.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Been a while. With a little room to move this time I am going to subject the internet to my... analysis (only time will tell if that's too strong a word) of a not-so-obscure favorite that is by no means new but rather has settled into its place among the first few hints of a collective nostalgia for YouTube's first few years. Man that sounds like a thesis - Watch the video while I scholarly tone it down a notch.

Ahh, yes. Weezer. A large part of me feels like other devotees have gone through the same rite of passage in their fandom - become disillusioned every few albums or so, lately after Make Believe, yet eventually sense undercurrents of the early years, the stupid and obvious energy that drew you to their music in the first place in this song, despite all efforts to resist its catchiness. But maybe thats a little self-centered - off topic at the very least. The sentence might have been an attempt at an anecdotal paragraph introduction in spirit (it was a little long), but mostly an excuse for me to bring up Weezer's wondrously self-aware salute to dull care and lame emotion that, in one way or another, manages to come crashing through in nearly all their music and is brought to a finely tuned crescendo in this video. There I go again. Commence bullet points to induce brevity.

--- I have a good friend from back home who goes to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. As it is a school just this side of 2,000 students, he knows everyone, including Austin Hall, user generator of the thirty million views oh my god Daft Hands. Perfectly tangible, second-hand example of king content creating as close as we may ever come to an 'organic' viral phenomenon, ( "the beauty of the plan, dude, is its simplicity...") and much more importantly a pretty cool example of my buddy's friend in a Weezer video.

--- Clunky and tired film theory engine very prone at this point in our degree to groaning loudly at the sight of any sort of pop-culture pastiche-milkshake montage, (a la the 'Scary' Movies) and the hollow, fleeting excitement that comes with every 'hey I've seen that too!' and ' but that just came out a month ago!' (disclaimer: just like parentheses in the blogoshpere, when used tastefully, any cinematic device can have a profound effect. For further reading and a perfect example, see South Park, whom as many people know often finish their show mere hours before air time to ensure that a stupid degree of the last minute is visible in every episode. They also happen to have a very funny one centered around nearly the same cast of YouTube stars.) Anyway, a video like this, with youtube celebs and their viral offspring as ammunition manages to side-step the guilt I usually feel when the "i've seen that!" fades quickly into the realization that I saw it courtesy of big brother on a billboard. Let me be clearer: when I recognize a reference to a YouTube video, the package comes with a certain fondness for the spirit in which it was discovered - usually from a friend under the honest pretext of 'you gotta see this,' as opposed to the exasperation that comes from reappropriated hollywood jokes and the not-so-fond recollection of the trailer which gave all the good stuff away just so people would be quoting it when they sat down to watch it in the dark, which is the way you remember all movies seen in a theater. In layman's theory, the fact that these are YouTube phenomena from the last few years that we all remember makes the pastiche okay. I find this particular aspect of the video somehow akin to my affection for the Beatles and the funny way one can still be protective of something loved by millions, as long as it means something to the individual.

My bullet point strategy fell apart there, but this post is getting too wordy anyhow. This video is the perfect companion to a nerd anthem for the ages - a crafted montage of human beings who didn't 'give a hoot about what you think' and in the vernacular of the internet - epic win.