YouTube Tour #4: Bad Video: From Meaning to Feeling (February 27, 2008)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2008 blog post is connected to my YouTour project where, after teaching the 2007 LFYT class, I attempted to create on YouTube a structure to think through, display, and organize the hundreds of student videos made for the course, which were (like other videos on YouTube) hard to systematize, see, or make sense of via our class page. I created tours around six themes: community/archive, owner/user, vernacular, popularity, entertainment, and education. As was true for the entire project, I was attempting to hack YouTube to force it to do the things I needed as an educator and scholar: organize, track, build, map, and otherwise make randomly displayed information more coherent.
Vernacular video, according to Tom Sherman, "will continue to be shorter and shorter," will use "canned music," "sampling," and "real-time, on-the-fly voiceovers." He concludes: "Crude is cool, as opposed to slick."[cit]

The consolidation of corporate ownership of the media, and its effects on democracy, are much discussed by academics, journalists and citizens.

Video has been used for video art since the medium's commercial availability began in the late 1960s: "The history of video itself is a long and ever-evolving tale, and with online media becoming dominant and new methods like walk-on-video being produced, it will no doubt continue to grow."[cit]

"What is documentary film? The subject of what constitutes a documentary has been debated ever since John Grierson labeled the non-fiction film Nanook of the North as a 'documentary' because it was an example of the 'creative treatment of actuality.' What is meant by 'creative' varies widely among filmmakers. Should documentary only display actual people and events, giving the straight story without the addition of drama, aesthetics, actors, etc.?" [cit]
In Tour #4, The Vernacular, Visual and the Vlog, I propose that there are two dominant forms of video on YouTube: the vblog, characterized by its poor quality and vox populi, and the corporate video, easily identifiable because it is all the vblog is not: high-quality production values used to speak to corporate culture.

My students add nuance to this list by suggesting that there are five forms—talking heads, spoofs, corporate videos, inside jokes, and appropriated—but I think theirs 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 steps). Bad video is typically unedited, word or spectacle reliant, and accrues value through the pathos, talent, or humor of the individual.

"Corporate" videos look good, like what we see on TV, because they are made by professionals, are stolen from or recut TV. They express ideas about the products of mainstream culture and do it in the music-driven, quickly-edited, glossy, slogan-like vernacular of music videos, commercials, and comics. Vblogs 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. YouTube is a radical development because 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 should we 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, performing its role as tv's marginal, if interdependent, 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 roles and interests are not of real merit.

A people's forum but not a revolution, YouTube manifests the deep hold of corporate culture on our psyches, reestablishing that we are most at home as consumers (even when we are producers).