Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Somewhere, Teddy Adorno is rolling in his grave

It's finals week, and I'm at home staring my last paper in the face. I'm doing the standard procrastinating thing, going from website to website, from the important ones (e-mail, Facebook, NY Times) down to the less urgent (sports, Cracked.com, indecision2008.com) and finally, I run out of options and end up at YouTube, that great black hole of lost time. (Of course, right now I'm blogging. Wittgenstein is judging me from the cover of the Tractatus.) And what do I end up looking at? "My New Haircut." I've seen it before, a couple of months ago, and yeah, it's pretty funny. But it's had 12,697,355 views. Is it really that funny? What is it about this particular video that people connect with? How did it catch lightning in a bottle like it has? Maybe looking at some of the other popular videos on YouTube will provide some answers...
"My New Haircut" pales in popularity when compared to OK Go's treadmill music video, featured on some of those 'old' iPhone ads, which is now at over 30 million views. I like this video - it's slapsticky, catchy, indie. Appeals to my demographic as an accident prone emo-listener. But what are the most viewed videos on YouTube? OK Go's "Here It Goes Again" is at #23 on the all time list. #24? A video of Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat" dubbed over a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon. Now that's having your finger on the cultural Zeitgeist. The actual Soulja Boy video is at #17, with 34,250,644 views. This video is actually pretty impressive, if the topic of conversation is still "Zeitgeist." It shows a music executive stumbling upon this Soulja Boy phenomenon via the internet. At the start of the video, he's watching his two kids dancing and singing to Soulja Boy, and he asks them, "Who is Soulja Boy?" They then roll their eyes like we all do when are parents are being so old and clueless and not with the times, and ... cue "Crank Dat" and scenes of Soulja Boy and those black street-dancing gangs that remind me of "West Side Story."
Most of the Top 10 is taken up by R & B music videos. #12 is, for some reason, this horrendous Chinese music video of young man (Edison Chen) apparently confessing his undying love for some girl. Why does this video have 40,915,220 views? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is titled "xxx". And the description of the video? I quote: "xxx". Most of the comments are angry people wondering where all of the "cum shots" are, and spammers with links to websites like boobs.com. I heard the other day that over half of the websites on the 'Net were porn sites. I don't know if this is true, but you know what? I'd believe it.
As we proceed upwards, we cross music videos by Timbaland, Rihanna, My Chemical Romance, and Avril Lavigne. But then we have your oddball videos thrown in there: At #11, with 41,436,616 views? "Hahaha", a 1:40 video of a baby laughing. That's it - cameraman makes funny noise, baby laughs. For one minute, forty seconds. 41 million views. Although, I must admit, it did make me laugh. But that was only because I was imagining someone (someone judging me from the cover of his damn book) watching me waste one minute and forty seconds of my time watching a baby laugh itself almost to death.
But even this video looks brilliant compared to the #1 video on YouTube, with 78,934,401 views, "Evolution of Dance." This video is billed as "The funniest 6 minutes you will ever see!" I dunno... the laughing baby was pretty funny. But it goes on: "Remember how many of these you have done!" Maybe this is my problem; I just don't connect with the absolute hilarity that resides in watching a middle-aged man doing the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" dance that we all did together in middle school. But I don't remember that fondly. I remember being dumb, and wishing that it were over.
So what's the lesson? That if I want ten million people to see something that I've created, then my best bet is to dub "Crank Dat" over my favorite Nickelodeon or PBS cartoon? (There's also a "Dora the Explorer" and a "Barney" Soulja Boy video.) Or, if I have the money, write a pop-song, fill the video with half-naked, gyrating babes, and post it on YouTube as something like, "XXXBOOBScumhArDcOReLIVE!!!!" Man, that video would get, like, a zillion views. Talk about your Zeitgeist.

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