Learning from Fred
July 29, 2008
In my ongoing life as minor YouTube pundit, I’ve been asked to reflect on the phenomena that is Fred for Teacher’s College Record. Given that I had not seen the lad before the request, although I had skimmed Strangelove‘s post on the ADD of the matter, I’m using this entry to commence reflections towards the final piece. The final version is published at TCR.
As you can see Fred’s hyperdrive parodies the hyperactivity borne of a life within media (or so says LA Time’s Web Scout), one proscribed to children of this generation, one already younger than the much-touted “digital native,” who can not ever ever ever think or watch outside the logic of new media. “Cruikshank’s generation is the first one never to have known a world without the Internet. These kids speak the language of computers and technology as well as they speak English — if not better.”
Although the videos are almost unwatchable (for those of the calmer generations, we geriatrics still capable of sentences in real time…almost)—largely because, beyond their egregious squeak, the “humor” is so stunningly juvenile—I must suggest that their popularity among the under 15-set has to do, counter-intuitively, with their artful if banal sophistication (note oxymoronic structure ). I would begin to mark the nature of this timely form of media savvy within three more realms of opposition where I think Fred enacts the live tensions which are defining our media moment:
Boredom/distraction: Fred (like his teen-viewers) makes these trifles because he is stuck at home with nothing to do. He’s BORED. And yet, Fred (like his adoring fans) is jumping from YouTube to IM-ing to friend’s house, too distracted, speedy, and hyperactive to have time to get really bored (like we used to in the oh-so media-pure past of hay rides and beer bashes).
Real/Parody: FRED is watchable, and lovable, as is true for all vloggers, because he is visibly himself. A regular, rural kid from Nebraska in a tract-like house with carpet made apparent through a consumer camcorder. And yet, this likably real Fred is notably and obviously playing the character of Fred: a guy with a prostitute/alchoholic/absent/mannish mother and a jailed/murderer father. Fred artfully mixes several familiar media languages of the moment: skewing only slightly younger while amping the juvenile pre-occupations (poop, pee) of the much-loved man-boy genre (inventing the boy-boy version, I suppose); and mixing this with the mundane boring nature of the vlog. Now, I’ve written on the radical potential of the known parody in the fake documentary, and it seems that once its gotten to FRED and his banal, if savvy minions, the cutting depth of this style of critique must have worked thin. Although he reminds me eerily of Jonathan Caouette playing the black crack whore welfare Mom in his bedroom a generation earlier, Fred’s parody has been drained of what makes Caouette’s work HURT.
Isolation/Community: Of course, Fred is alone in Nebraska, which contributes to the boredom which drives him to the web, and there he meets endless, interchangable youth, also so driven to the internet, and there they parody him, in less-worthy homages, and so meet, sort of, still of course, stuck in their bedrooms, but endlessly reflecting each other’s loneliness and boredom, ever the state of youth, or ever more so the state of today’s digital youth who don’t ever go out to play, perhaps because they’ve been somehow convinced that this “community” of dopplegangers has a value, allowing them to make another video…
Now what this means for educators, people interested in media literacy, and youth media, is what I must get to next. But for now, I must get my daughter (and myself) of the net, and go to lunch.