<videovortex> There's a great clip on YouTube - by Vera Tollmann

vera tollmann vera.tollmann at gmx.net
Thu Jan 3 13:09:38 CET 2008

There’s a great clip on YouTube
By Vera Tollmann
“Hello YouTube viewers“, an Amnesty International representative says
from behind a standard office desk in a video advert published on

The advert produced by the London based agency Saatchi and Saatchi
uses what could now be called typical amateur video rhetoric
techniques, along with other strategic mechanisms to position the clip
in mainstream search results.

The preview image is of a girl, tagged as “red…hot and sexy“. In the
middle of the video frame is an image of lipstick red lips, the
producers capitalising on the way YouTube generates its preview
images. Is this the way to make a video viral and visible online?

The artist Bernd Krauss, who until recently never worked with the
Internet, started producing one-minute video clips, turning everyday
situations into slightly absurd moments. In one of these clips, Krauss
takes on the style of random amateur videos. He also experiments with
the non-hierarchical structure of the online environment, for example
using the “Lost in Translation“ film title to gather more hits. Krauss
’s example shows that referring to titles and names from popular
culture promises success in terms of viewing numbers.

Does the lack of hierarchy and structure in the YouTube videotheque
necessarily have to lead to a compromise with mainstream taste? Do you
see yourself as director, comedian, guru or musician – the YouTube
promoted personnel? Why did this Google subsidiary decide to feature
DIY celebrities sounding like analogue media typologies? Is it because
they want YouTube to be qualified as entertainment, distraction and

Online video archives like YouTube are public machines administrating
the private, forgotten or speculative. Many users get confused by the
amount of videos and often only check out videos recommended in
offline media. Some use YouTube as a search engine for more or less
reliable information. The little context that uploaders usually share
with their viewers, leaves vagueness and insecurity about how to read
what we see.

How informative are the text descriptions? Do new contexts develop
instead? Communities and channels shape contexts in which they can
interact. Chain videos replying to an initial music video by famous
and unknown artists, for example do. What have people been doing for
20 years with camcorders? What have they been recording?

For example a legendary anti-interview with PiL (Public Image Ltd)
originally broadcasted in 1980. YouTube makes it possible to revive or
catch up on subculture 25 years in the making. However, do you receive
everyday media like TV and newspapers differently since watching
videos on YouTube?

You find videos that are proofs of public debates similar to the CIA
‘water boarding’ method of making patronising statements on TV shows.
In most cases there are different versions available of the same

A vast amount of clips produced by amateurs deal with sentimental
human conditions such as love, fear, schadenfreude (epicaricacy) and

This fall the “last lecture“ of scientist Randy Pausch on Google video
produced such an emotional wave that he got invited to reprise his
last public lecture on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This example shows how
people watch television, filter and make use of the media.

These video databases also generate a large output in fan culture. And
videos could be proof for the public that there is insufficient media
coverage. In this sense, online video can provide a participatory
immediate perspective on public image compared to traditional
broadcasting media.

Where did you end up the last time you browsed the database? What kind
of places did you end up in, US bedrooms?

It’s easy to tell the difference between a professional production and
an amateur recording. Nonetheless, amateurs use all kind of tricks to
hide their DIY status and the other way around. The fictitious blog of
lonelygirl15 was uncovered as the creation of New Zealand actress
Jessica Rose and some wannabe film directors.

Most online videos don’t touch politics but deal with make up,
romantic landscapes, performative tricks, and deadpan opinions.

What is pushed back by YouTube's philosophy about improving your
personality is the market competition ideology. Inside an integrated
online community the individuals don't compete in terms of owning
goods, instead they aim for planned usage to create their personality.
It is the same process in advertising it’s not aimed at direct
commercial interests but at establishing a theory of consumer habits,
a mandate for the global structure of society.

Video databases such as Google Video, MyVideo, Political Video,
Revver, MySpace and Metacafe to name a few, redefine our relationship
to the media reality. Of course the public image is limited, but less
limited than before. You have access to visual information recorded by
people from different places, remote and central, incidentally and on
purpose, and that adds new parts to the media puzzle we are working on
every day.

It is possible to download videos from YouTube, but what is obviously
missing is an archive function that allows users to also store the
comments, search terms and short descriptions of the video.

However, it seems too early to fully understand the meaning and
perception of online video databases and its definitely too early for
reactionary feuilleton verdicts on the dumbness and narcissism of the
available footage.

Platforms like YouTube are so far underestimated and under theorised.
In 1986 the sociologist David Morley published the empirical study
‘Family Television’, a research into the question of social uses of
television at a time when the video recorder as a new technology was
just entering the homes. Now online video databases and torrent
trackers are replacing the VHS video recorder and DVD player.

Actually it would be interesting to look at online video from a
cultural studies perspective, to analyse user habits, the meaning of
the most watched videos and channel culture. Morley's results could
function as a model for considerations on differences and similarities
between broadcast television and YouTube. It could help towards
formulating an outline of the social use of online video.

Looking at footage that shows old and new communication forms, to draw
on a search term, the revival of street theatre and rhetoric rituals
repeat existing formats within the constraints of digital media.

Take for example video chain letters, people responding to existing
videos adding the email signification, re: to the video title. YouTube
functions as a 24/7 stage.

Video websites also deliver interesting footage for the analysis of
our media culture, as simultaneous translation situations shows.
Usually the translator is expected not to appear as an individual and
is supposed to support the speaker in the background. What happens
when the agreed relationship is ignored? As happened to Roger Waters
with a consecutive interpreter during a press conference in South
America – no further context information is given.

In another clip we watch George W. Bush on stage with a doppelgänger
at the occasion of the White House Press conference dinner. The double
dubs the real Bush with a comedy subtext, suggesting patronising
thoughts, playing a game to win favour with the audience.

The effects of different speaker positions as a set up for a
television could be well observed in a dialogue between Naomi Klein
and Alan Greenspan – in the studio, on the telephone represented with
a picture and the role of the moderating host.

The sexist insistency of talk master David Letterman becomes very
explicit in a conversation with society girl Paris Hilton.

The president of the Columbia University when introducing his guest,
the Iranian president Ahmadinejad, acts out a significant example of a
host crossing the boundaries of his responsibility to open up a social

Image quality is the key, video database owners are very well aware of
this fact as it decides speculative aspects, an enchantment through
techniques that keeps the concurring companies busy.

As Baudrillard puts it with Heidegger, if the society moves to the
furthest point of technification, there is a secret again, the
technical can turn into magic and the users experience vertigo, a
certain state of dizziness they are familiar with from zapping TV.
Because you don't have a specific idea of what you are possibly
watching, you create the program yourself, whether the footage is
edited and the full version of something else. You could even watch
different versions, shorter and longer, with different framing and
editing of one situation.

If you enter UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Baghdad as search terms, you
will find clips of different length showing the reaction by Ban
Ki-moon to a blast during a live televised news conference in Baghdad.

Online video is an arena where contemporary social conflicts are acted
out, a constant one is the conflict around copyright. Videos you
viewed some weeks ago might have been taken offline in the meantime,
sometimes copyright might be the reason.

Imagine somebody downloading controversial video clips in time – there
might be an online or offline backup version occurring somewhere.
YouTube in a way has created a semi-legal space that hasn’t changed
much after it was bought by Google.

Broadcasting stations like BBC and Al Jazeera put programmes online.

There’s a great clip on YouTube by ‘Der Plan’ a friend told me today:
‘Software kann man nicht stehlen, Ideen sind frei. Copyright
Sklaverei.“ (One is not able to steal software, ideas are free.
Copyright slavery.)

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