The comments in the title say it all. I agree with AloBrineta. Well put for a 21-year old from Croatia not even speaking her first language!

I was introduced to thirteen-year old YouTube celebrity, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” by my thirteen-year old, and she agrees too. In particular, we are dumbfounded by the inanity of the days-of-the-week lesson, although we also can’t figure out how thirteen-year-old kids can drive to school and are not sure that middle schoolers really “‘party” unless, Simone’s eleven-year old brother Gabriel suggests, that is more centered on Wiis or video games or watching YouTube.

“Yesterday was Thursday. Today it is Friday. We we we so excited. Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards.”

Interestingly, Lada Gaga disagrees, tweeting recently that Rebecca Black is a “genius.” But Gaga, Gabe, Simone, me, we’re all participating in mocking this girl, like she has been all over the internet, which explains her fame (as well as the $2000 she paid to Ark Music Factory to make the still-growing hit) as it does that of so many other YouTube celebrities and I would like to look at this mockery, more so than to Black, who is not herself nearly interesting, talented, or smart enough to carry the weight of so much digital verbiage, including my own. Given that (minus Gaga) the rest of us are as equally talentless (at making pop videos) and ill-equipped to write lyrics as is Rebecca, how does the fact of YouTube (and its bottom-feeding viral starmakers) relate to an internet culture of insulting those not even worthy of or ready for abuse? Let’s look at the tawdry-mockery-YouTube-cycle:

  • YouTube moves the corporate-made concoctions of nearly talentless youth performers faster and further then had been true previously
  • YouTube allows fans to lip-synch, dance, and otherwise mimic, albeit with less talent, the work of their already rather talentless muses
  • affordable digital technology allows spurious starmakers to find these even less talented kids, and for 1/10,000 the corporate fee, do about the same thing
  • virally moving talentless, lyric-free images this time enjoyed not for the girl’s corporate-aided looks, the synthetic beat, or the skills or breasts of  background dancers but for
  • the paltry, laughable, truly talent-free skills of the self-same
  • who look like us, if we were doing this, but we’re not because instead
  • we’re laughing and cutting, the only real place of entry for everyday users responding to/mimicking a mainstream and user-generated culture that also turns against itself with cold mimicry as the pomo default to the
  • heartless, soulless, viral crap that fills our screens if not our dreams, always needing more and faster so, luckily
  • YouTube moves the corporate-made concoctions…

And the question is, what is the critic’s (and mother’s or teacher’s) role in this cycle? I’ve been writing recently about fan culture studies, and this field’s often insipid celebration of the things people and kids make (as often do, also, the critics themselves, participants in the fan cultures they celebrate). And while it is undeniably true that awesome, inspiring, creative, enabling work is made by everyday users and fans, it is equally true that fans make crap, and users make junk, and girls make stupid videos, and all this is particularly true if they have nothing better to look at, and no one better to teach them, and it all happens in a sea of mockery where it’s easier to ridicule or mimic than to try, and quicker to insult or undermine than to support, and so the answer is that critics (and teachers) of digital culture need to circulate examples of better models, like Transformative Work and Culture recently suggested to me in a comment from Melanie Kohnen who I met at my video-book showing at SCMS and who wrote on this blog in response to my negative evaluations of normative online spaces (like YouTube). And however was she to know that it is exactly there that I just submitted my critical reflections upon fan studies and fan-vids (by Fred’s fans)! A different sort of circle, I hope.

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My last post skirted the issue, saying I was “too busy” to perform my professorial labors properly: the hard work of “unpacking” lady Gaga. Ha. I’d actually taught the video to my under-grads, read and responded to helpful blogs by several of my favorite professorial types, and grilled my tween daughter about the prison scene (which looks a lot like her other Mom’s “illicit” HBO film, Stranger Inside, shot on the same location, which looks like the many women in prison exploitation flicks it campily quoted).

Virgina Heffernan’s recent post on the comeback of the music video finally helped me call this spade a spade. I didn’t “read” Gaga cause the work’s already been done: by bloggers, journalists, feminist pop-icons, and music video directors (“the density of its references implies that it contains secrets,” writes Heffernan). While there’s been a lot of tears spilled over the death of journalism, less has been spoken about the preempting of cultural studies/feminist/queer-of-color interpretation by the peeps, not to mention the corps. But it’s true! Some of America’s very top ambiguously-raced models make campy, gender-bending, self-referential, cinema historical homages with a pro-sex feminist flair.

There is something dead on about Heffernan’s assertion that, “they chose the right medium. Online video always seems as if it’s going behind the backs of managers and labels; the story of a video’s creation complements its scrappy aesthetic.” But I’d want to add something to her observation. I’ve written a great deal here about the rise of fake “bad” aesthetics (because of and on YouTube, as well as in indie cinema), and Beyonce’s tip of her hat to Bettie Page’s pulp porno style works in the same way. It’s not that its millions of viewers (like my erudite tween) believe the scrappy looking aesthetic is actually plucky, illicit, or back alley: they know it is faked, which makes it also expensive, legal, and mainstream. It’s also not secret (although it pretends to be), given that millions have seen it, and just as many have tweeted: “a trickle-up aesthetic,” according to Some Came Running.

Heffernan continues: “In short, they’re garish, clumsy, erratic, dirty and densely allusive; they seem to come from the margins, back alleys and black markets of commercial culture.” The feminist/queer-of-color media studies classroom (and its beloved indie films, radical documentaries and art videos) were once those black alleys. But YouTube and blogging and other forms of rapid relay outside and beside and beyond and referring to the Professors have moved (some of) our reads, and references, into the limelight.

Ka-Kinda Busy

May 25, 2010

Hello, hello baby. I’m kinda busy right now and don’t have the mental or maybe psychic energy to draw all the links between pop music, homo-erotic war-play, ritual violence, empire building, pleasure, and media history.

But maybe it’s all become too self evident, or the Lady Professors have said it all.

You probably watch it more than you did (15 mins/day according to LA Times.)

You notice there are more ads, both before videos, and scattered around the page (yet they still haven’t figured out how to really make a buck according to the NYT).

Your favorite video has a better chance of getting pulled due to copyright infringement (thank god for YouTomb!)

You find there is more professional and commercial content made just for YouTube.

You’ll notice there are more and more people made videos (24 hours a minute), although this fare (unlike commercial content) stays more or less static—highlighting the common ideas, talents, jokes, pranks, and foibles of regular people recorded directly and badly to consumer quality devices (i.e. cat videos)—but is just as hard to find them (again) as it’s always been (where’s that bloody archivist!)

You see that the nature of expertise loosens and consolidates. It’s still the Lady Professor who gets interviewed, but now that’s here and there. I speak, they record and air, my boyfriend rips, emails it to me, and I put it on YouTube:

Make sure to go to another YouTube expert’s take (Dr. Strangelove‘s) take on Five, with lots of facts, and YouTube’s anniversary video, too.