NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This article was first published on paper by Cinema Journal and then was redesigned for publication on the Internet by IJLM, in part, because Cinema Journal was not yet technically prepared to move online except in the most rudimentary ways (posting the article as a pdf). The writing was developed in 2008 as I attempted to pen concise, systematic lessons from the output and experiences of LFYT 2007.
According to On Postmodernism: "Television and movies represent the pinnacle of mass-produced American culture and exhibit many of the Postmodern motifs shared by other art forms" including "pastiche, spectacle, fakery and mystery." [cit] Pastiche and fakery are common forms of self-referentiality, where a piece of art refers to itself—its forms, ideas, histories, production, genre, and theories, i.e. This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself."[cit]

The academic study of popular culture ("contemporary culture as defined by the objects, images, artifacts, literature, music, and so on of 'ordinary' people"[cit]) and popular digital culture "asks how new technologies reflect the wider social world offline, how they create new 'wired' cultural interactions, and how those new interactions in turn reshape the real (non-virtual) world."[cit]

Dr Strangelove reports: "We're looking at how to push users into passive-consumption mode, a lean-back experience," Jamie Davidson [a YouTube product manager] says."[cit]

"The top YouTube earner of 2014 has mastered a niche that not only is outside the "traditionally" popular genres of videos (entertainment, music, parody, etc.), but relies on anonymity, capitalism, and a reliance on previously established brands thought to provide content that attracts 380 million views a month." [cit]

One of my ten founding terms for this project is process. How you make and receive media is as important as the object itself. Another founding term for this project is participant: What is the role and who gets to be a viewer, critic, or participant in media culture? Then, what is the role of their emotion and identification?
(This article was first published at IJLM and Cinema Journal.)

YouTube functions as a postmodern television set facilitating the isolated, aimless viewing practices of individuals while expertly delivering eyeballs to advertisers. YouTube's corporate ownership limits the form and content of its videos, further curtailing the democratic promises touted for Web 2.0. YouTube is an at-home or mobile viewer-controlled delivery system of delectable media morsels. And it's really good for wasting time.

On our private postmodern TV of distraction, discrete bites of cinema are controlled by the discrete eye of each viewer, linked intuitively or through systems of popularity into an endless chain of immediate but forgettable gratification that can only be satisfied by another video. The best YouTube entertainment integrates and condenses three methods developed in earlier media—humor, spectacle, and self-referentiality—to create a new video form organized by plenitude, convenience, and speed. (But maybe this isn't so new: TV ad, anyone?)

The quintessential 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 effortless to get to: one click! A visual or aural sensation (car crash, big booty, celebrity's maw, signature beat, extreme talent), or an already recognizable bite of media serve as the best videos' iconic center. Understandable in a heartbeat, knowable without thinking, this is media already encrusted with social meaning or feeling (leave Britney Spears alone!).

YouTube videos are often about other YouTube videos, which are most often about popular culture. They steal, parody, mash up, and rework recognizable forms, thereby maintaining standard styles and tastes and making nothing new at all. And so, humor enters through parody, the play on an already recognizable form, or else slapstick, a category of spectacle.

What then of the videos of real people speaking about their daily lives, and to each other, in talking head close-ups (the vlog)? While in every way a statement against corporate media, humor (self-mocking, ironic), spectacle (of authenticity, pathos, or individuality), and self-referentiality (to the vernacular of YouTube) still combine in this signature YouTube form to create their unique entertainment value.