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).

Advertisements

I posted my second tour today, on entertainment on YouTube.

(note the goofy performance: trying to be lively…YouTube entertainment does rely on quality performance)

This was the first thing we learned in the class: while it wasn’t any good for education, YouTube is killer for entertainment, fun, wasting time. The nature of its successful entertainment is not much different from what audiences loved before it, in fact, a considerable amount of its video is made by media professionals, crossing platforms legally or through the work of a fan: TV shows, music videos, bands performing live, commercials. What differs most is platform and duration: YouTube as at-home or mobile, viewer-controlled delivery system of delectable media morsels.

I would suggest that YouTube entertainment relies upon, integrates and condenses three effective stylistics from previous media—humor, spectacle, and self-referentiality—to create a new kind of video organized by ease, plenitude, convenience, and speed (this does sound like a TV commercial, I know). The signature YouTube video is easy to get, in both senses of the word: simple to understand, an idea reduced to an icon or gag, while also being painless to get to. Both spectacle and self-referentiality are key to this staple ease: a visual or aural sensation (crash, breast, celebrity’s face, signature beat, extreme talent, pathos) often being the iconic center, or totality, of a video (spectacle), or an already recognizable bite of media holding the same function (self-referentiality): understandable in a heartbeat, knowable without thinking, this is media already encrusted with social meaning or feeling. YouTube videos are often about YouTube videos which are most often about popular culture. They steal, parody, mash, and re-work recognizable forms, thus maintaining standard styles and tastes. Thus, humor enters through parody, the play on an already recognizable form, or slap-stick, a category of spectacle. (Interestingly, spectacle and humor were definitive of early cinema, the devolping use of this new medium that also spoke across class and continent, in a simplistic visual lingua franca. However, typically, ironic self-referentiality is understood about an art-form in its later or last stages.)

The entertainment of YouTube creates a postmodern TV of distraction, where discrete bites of cinema controlled and seen by the discrete eye of one viewer are linked intuitively, randomly, or through systems of popularity, in an endless chain of immediate but forgettable gratification that can only be satisfied by another video. I imagine that this must inevitably lead to two unpleasant, if still entertaining, outcomes: distraction forecloses action, and surface fun precludes depth.

If YouTube videos (and I am reflecting primarily on the dominant or conventional uses of the medium), or the site itself, are to be used for anything other than blind and numbing entertainment (and certainly on niche-tube, this is happening with some [small] success: more on this forthcoming in later posts), it is critical that the language of YouTube develops to include context, history, theory, and community, and by this I mean both the architecture of the site and the form of the videos theselves. At the 24/7 A DYI Video Summit that I attended last week at USC, the media activists on my panel wanted to discuss just this (new) state of affairs. Certainly more people are making and viewing media, access to channels of production and distribution are rapidly growing to an almost incomprehensible scale. However, even the most moving of videos needs to be connected to something (other than another short video)–people, community, ideas, other videos to which it has a coherent link–if it is to create action over distraction, knowledge instead of free-floating-info-zaps.

You may be wondering what I make of the “entertainment” value of millions of unique regular people speaking about their lives, and to each other, in talking-head close-ups (the style I use). While in every way a statement against corporate media, I would suggest that humor (self-mocking, irony), spectacle (of authenticity, of pathos, of individuality), and self-referentiality (to the vernacular of YouTube) also combine to create the entertainment value of this staple form, these “bad” videos. But I’ll hold on this for later posts.