I Proclaim the stuff of YouTube to be Leprous

February 29, 2008

I turned the manifesta I wrote for these pages (2007-08-27) into 7 YouTube videos about YouTube as part of an experiment I am trying for this year’s SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) meeting.

This is the fourth from my YouTube series “Mp:me Variant of a Manifesta.”

For the panel, “Technologies of the Self, ” instead of a talk, I will technologize myself and appear only through these 7 autobiographical/theoretical rants mixed into a specialized tour of videos on YouTube. Given that my manifesto is ripped from Dziga Vertov’s 1922 “WE: Variant of a Manifesto,” almost all the other videos on this tour are YouTube variants on his “Man With A Movie Camera.” You can watch the tour by hitting Playall and they will roll for you.

I believe the experiment is a failure, but that’s really okay: it tells us things we might need to know about this newest technology of self. First off, my videos are really truly superbad. I’ve been trying to think how badness affects things on YouTube, and certainly for vlogs it is the mark of sincerity, but since my videos attempt not for sincerity but rather a little “artiness” (but done DIY), they simply look messy, especially compared to the visual brilliance of what I attempt to learn from: the “cinematography” of Dziga Vertov (part 6 of my Manifesta calls for the Death of Cinematography [to be posted here soon], but can I really want that?!) Aesthetics matter if you are trying to convince people in a visual language. I need to keep thinking about BADNESS for sure. Furthermore, the cuts between my videos and those I highlight (which I make YouTube perform for me by using the Playlist function), lag, and so are also sloppy. This again compared to the brilliant rush of editing that is Vertov.

While my critique of YouTube may be pointing in the right direction (as a theory), I do not have enough talent as a DIY maker to produce a powerful enough YouTube form to artfully relay the critique (that’s why he was a genius and I am a hack). Yes, the majority of YouTube videos are “morally dangerous, contagious” in that they promote distraction, consumption, and inaction. And sure, we need to think about how context and community can compliment the best work on YouTube. But as I long as I make these efforts alone, they will stay as limited as those I critique. However, since YouTube need not hold great art, but rather, new forms of communication; and since slogans work through their elegant if invisible but persuasive beauty, perhaps I’m not as far from the zone as I might worry…More soon.


10 Responses to “I Proclaim the stuff of YouTube to be Leprous”

  1. anaj Says:

    Hi Alex, I only discovered the Youtube project a bit more than a week ago (on Feb 23, precisely http://anaj.wordpress.com/2008/02/23/experiment-a-class-about-youtube-on-youtube/ ), so forgive me for not having followed it throughout. I am from Vienna, Austria, and hardly watch TV anymore – maybe Austrian TV channels reported about your class as well.

    I am dealing with similar issues at the moment. I have just returned to being a PhD student, after having taught ESL for three years to Austrian students of media design – which was a good opportunity really to improve my didactic skills, and it also allowed me to developed a content-based ESL curriculum for media designers.

    My students automatically turned to Youtube (before I had even considered it as a didactic tool), in particular in a course on popular culture, where they used it as a repository and archive for historic TV material. Similar to your experience, however, I was often surprised how difficult it was for many of them to take the next step and critically reflect on what they had found on youtube – most of the time they ‘regressed’ into the position of a passive/passified viewer, seeing at best the anecdotal or humorous value in what they were presenting/watching.

    I am , however, not sure whether this something typical of Youtube or probably just a reiteration of the position they would have taken up had they watched the footage on TV (e.g. in one of those nostalgia TV shows where there play retro material; I suppose you have these as well in the US). I guess it just takes a while until one is able to apply a critical reading, in particular when students are only on their first or second year of study.

    But let me finally get to the point and talk about one peculiar aspect (that I am also trying to explore in my thesis) which I have the feeling would have been beneficial to your Youtube project:

    Youtube videos can be consumed on youtube, yet a large amount of their distribution is done via blogs:iI.e. people include the youtube video in their blog post, thus present it in a different environment and add their own layer of comment/critique – I would actually like to think off this constellation as one that is similar to a ‘private cinema’ or ‘private ongoing film festival’ in which the blogger defines his or her (daily, weekly) program him or herself. This thought came first to my mind when I watched a brief video of a traffic intersection in Hanoi – but offered as an example of swarm intelligence, which added a new layer of comment that wasn’t itself in the film.

    Thus: Contextualization can change the meaning of the video in question profoundly (even if probably most of the time it doesn’t)… this is not a complete thought that I am presenting here, I’d mainly like to point out a perspective on Youtube that keeps in mind it’s surrounding ecosystem, which includes blogs of all sorts, from ‘regular’ bloggers but also from advanced digital natives such as Miranda (the student in your course) or the people at Rocketboom (although that’s an entirely different story in itself:-)

    I’ll continue to follow your blog – if only Youtube weren’t so time consuming;-)

  2. MP:me Says:

    Anaj: Thanks for your comments and for looking so carefully at the class (did you try a TOUR, that’s how I’m trying to help people make some sense of the vast amount of material we made over the semester). You are dead on about the severe limitations of thinking about YouTube in isolation. Much of what I claim it needs (in particular context, but in some senses, also community) are available, as you rightly suggest, on blogs with this important caveat (which responds to your idea about the private cinema): the production and reception practices of YouTube are structured around the reifying the isolated, solo, satiated viewer, so happy in her private cinema, who constructs a media landscape “to the tune of her own desires” (that’s Mulvey, although she had “male desire.”) If, and I do say if, one’s desires are political, then one has to account for communal needs, communal experiences, for movements. What do you think?


  3. anaj Says:

    Hi Alex, I will look into the tours – I finally found them after having spent three hours on youtube and vixy.net (which I use for archiving) and needed to get away from the screen. I will respond in a lengthier fashion a little later this week, just wanted to send you this link which is well, yet another example of the reduction of reflection to a few algorithms – they class is called ‘Internet Famous’ and the students who have managed to achieve the highest rank on the net get the best mark (the pretext of the course is to develop a formula for internet fame – which they can probably sell to facebook of get venture capital with):
    I came across this later today and thought it was the perfect (evil;-) antipode of your class – also they’re all getting As (afraid of distinction).

  4. anaj Says:

    Regarding this aspect:
    >the production and reception practices of YouTube are
    >structured around the reifying the isolated, solo,
    >satiated viewer, so happy in her private cinema, who
    >constructs a media landscape “to the tune of her own
    >desires” (that’s Mulvey, although she had “male
    >desire.”) If, and I do say if, one’s desires are
    >political, then one has to account for communal needs,
    >communal experiences, for movements. What do you think?

    I think that what is required here is something like a personal ethic – the writing I have in mind here is Günther Anders’ philosophy in which he described (in 1953) the detachment that is characteristic of our relation to technology: We may use it, but the effects have become unfathomable to us (the A-Bomb was his main point of reference) – he thinks that it’s the moral dimension in particular that eludes us, as says the we need something like a moral retreat (‘Exerzitien’) to rekindle our sense of morals.

    This may seem a little far fetched, but I also think that we are not quite able to deal with the technology we have created (which is Anders’ favourite topic in his two volumes ‘the antiquity of mankind’). To give you an example: My partner and I are both rather internet savvy, and spend a lot of time on the computer – and eventually found rather irritatingly often in a situation where we would spend hours and hours sitting next to each other, but each of us engulfed in our own private worlds on the computer: I think there is something like a too strong intensity in the human/computer relationship, and I think that it takes some self-discipline in our dealings with computers. We are now deliberately taking breaks, or taking (half) days off the computer, making sure that we are using the computer in a way that is beneficial to us and our relationship.

    Similarly, one needs (I think) to develop a policy for using all those web 2.0 instruments, including Youtube, and to do so one would first have to develop an overall awareness for its potential, but even more so for its consumerist trajectories.

    This is nothing new: I think that all mass media are best used/consumed if one develops a particular ‘diet plan’ for dealing with them and using with them.

    What it all comes down is the question of the vision of mankind and the world that we have – and, as you are putting it, one’s desires are political, then one is naturallly obliged to create a framework for an ‘against the grain’ usage of, for instance, Youtube.

    Coming back to the cinema example – the good thing about the blogosphere is that people who share similar interest will eventually stop by in your own private cinema – if your desires are simply to become internet-famous you will attract quite a different crowed then you will when your desires are political.

  5. MP:me Says:


    This is interesting to me, primarily because I’ve done a lot of my academic work on “media ethics,” but in relation to documentary, and how one uses the power of the camera in relation to others. It seems you are referring more to an ethics of use, a personal policy on the role of media in one’s own life; but wouldn’t this also, in the end, be about the standards of one’s mediated relations with other people?

  6. anaj Says:

    It certainly would also be about the standards of one’s mediated relations, I am sorry if I made it sound as though it didn’t.

    Speaking of ‘one’s mediated relations’ – these do articulate themselves quite differently online, and we yet have to learn to come grips with these. I don’t it’ll do to simply speak of mediated (as opposed to: ‘unmediated’ direct?) relations.

  7. anaj Says:

    Just wanted to share this with you as well: I found a little bit about Anders in English translation – he was also one of the founding parents of the anti-nuclear power movement (he died at 92). The piece I found is also rabout the ‘prometheic shame’, i.e. a feeling f embarassment and humiliation he thinks he feel toward the apparatuses and technology we have created. I don’t think he is translated into English – I think both Adorno (in his critique of TV) and Baudrillard (in theory of simulations) borrowed from him without ever acknowledging it: “In the 50s Günther Anders could still draw together his observations in regards of the relation between humans and machines in the term ‘prometheische Scham’ (Prometheic shame). With this he named the shame that the human being feels because of his ‘fehlerhaften Kreatürlichkeit’ (being a creature with flaws) in the face the perfection of machines. A problem that Apollon doesn’t have anyways on his carriage. Also charioteer fantasies have no problem with creaturalness, it would be worth a study how sturdy the field of words is of a once established commonplace. Günther Anders however with his thoughts has no chances against power fantasies run wild.”


  8. Sarah Says:


    There is no such thing as “talent.” Talent is a patriarchal and elitist concept, equating money (equipment, technology) or intellectual knowledge (paid education, etc.) to the production of an aesthetically pleasing or powerful image (both entirely subjective). The only real value is that you mean what you are doing (sincerity)- this is the only hope for honest communication between yourself and others.

    I think you need more self-confidence, and to stop insulting yourself and your work. It is detracting from the importance of the work and your artistic agenda, which is what you should be blogging about as well as your reflection and how you are and are not like Vertov.

  9. john shaver Says:

    great site,also look at my site

  10. […] Alexandra Juhasz blog posts and video book:“I Proclaim the Stuff on YouTube to be Leprous,” Media Praxis (February 29, 2008), https://aljean.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/i-proclaim-the-stuff-of- […]

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