Everything on YouTube is Video Art…Nah
September 10, 2009
Again, I am moved to respond to Virginia Heffernan’s intelligent analyses of YouTube. She made some provocative claims about YouTube and the Avant-Garde this weekend in the New York Times—“it’s a place for art”–“scooping” me in the process, at least in regards to the claim by which I am starting a paper about Video Art on YouTube (to be published in the scholarly anthology, Resolutions 3), currently in draft form. There I make the claim: “Let’s imagine that everything on YouTube is Video Art.”
In my paper, I decide that while all the people-made stuff (a sub-set distinguished from the corporate made product that dominates the site) COULD be considered art in the sense that it has been carefully crafted and then consciously distributed with the intention of the public communication of self expression, I don’t want to consider the clearly unconsidered work on YouTube to be “Art.” In its self-aware isolation (I made this in my room, or my backyard with my wrestling buddies), it doesn’t consciously connect to other bodies or theories of video, or to other artists; it doesn’t show enough care. I suppose there could be a “scene” of butt-catchers, as Heffernan suggests, but towards what project, with what beliefs? You need a shared vocabulary, agenda, history, and set of goals to make an “art scene.”
Of course, as I often suggest, art video can be found on YouTube (like every other marginal form or desire) sitting precariously on the edge of NicheTube, and I believe that Heffernan is right to characterize Manhattan Bridge Piers in this way. However, I remain unconvinced (even as I’d like to dream) that this presents the possibilities of a vernacular: most of what people are making can not be so easily traced back to the aesthetic or poetic preoccupations of art or alternative culture, in fact, quite the opposite.
Heffernan begins with the beginning and suggests that the first YouTube video, Me at the Zoo sets a “standard” for YouTube: “visually surprising, narratively opaque, forthrightly poetic.” However, I find that most of the videos on YouTube are neither surprising nor poetic, falling as they so easily do into the quickly consolidating vernaculars of either “good” corporate production or “bad” people-made videos (a case I made earlier in regard to her euphoric read of Susan Boyle). While DIY video may provide us with the lovely surprises she goes on to convincingly detail in what she introduces as the haul-fail genres (linked, I think, to what my students and I have called flow videos), these are all, generically, quite similar spectacles of the outrageous talent and behaviors of regular people to be mocked, adored or both. Of course, dominant television is already dominated by reality media that mocks and “rewards” the “talent” and aspirations of regular people. I’d suggest that pro media looks more and more like the (worst) of people made media (the subject of my last post).