Bad Video: From meaning to feeling, YouTube Tour #4
February 27, 2008
In my Tour #4, The Vernacular, Visual and the Vlog, I propose that there are two dominant forms of video YouTube: the vlog, characterized by its poor quality and vox populi, and the corporate video, easily identifiable because it is all the vlog is not: high quality production values referring to corporate culture. My students nuance this list by suggesting that there are 5 forms (see “The Video Forms of YouTube,” mperry08)—talking heads, spoofs, corporate videos, inside jokes, and appropriated—but I think these fall nicely into my big two.
“Bad” videos are made by regular people, using low-end technology, with little attention to form or aesthetics while attending to the daily life, feelings, and thoughts of the individual (so here we’d include dumb inside jokes and also badly-shot event-footage: birthdays, parades, baby’s first step). They are typically unedited, word or spectacle reliant, and accrue value through the pathos, talent, or humor of the individual. “Corporate” videos look good, like TV, because they are made by professionals, are stolen from TV, or are re-cut TV. They express ideas about the products of mainstream culture, in the music-driven, quickly-edited, glossy, slogan-like vernacular of music videos, commercials, and comix. Vlogs depend upon the intimate, mundane communication of the spoken word. Corporate videos are driven by strong images, sounds, and sentiments; they consolidate ideas into icons. Meaning is lost to feeling. (See “Worst Movie Ever Made,” by baxteric1)
YouTube is a radical development in that the production of real people holds half of the vernacular of the medium, and undoubtedly this dramatic opening up of expression profoundly alters how we must think about media. However, by reifying the distinctions between the amateur and the professional, the personal and the social, in both form and content, YouTube currently maintains operating distinctions about who can own, make, and change culture.
And, what to make of those very many videos that fall off this binary—beautifully rendered art video, professional documentaries on politics, the video essays my students and I experimented with for this class? Yes, the serious work of those attending to form and ideology outside of dominant culture can be found on NicheTube, but this functions as does all alternative media in its ongoing role as marginal, if inter-dependent with mainstream media, force-of-conscience. Given the imperatives of corporate culture, YouTube is already thought of as a joke, a place for jokes, a place for regular people whose role and interests are not of real merit. A people’s forum but not a revolution, YouTube video manifests the deep hold of corporate culture on our psyches, re-establishing that we are most at home as consumers (even when we are producers).