I could write an explanation about why the explosion of Internet videos are the single most important cultural development of the last decade. But that would be an essay in itself. Perhaps another day. In the meantime, I think it would be much more demonstrative to talk about the videos themselves and why they will be worth remembering. So here are a number of youtube videos that could be destined for ‘classic’ status:
Star Wars Kid: I have no idea whether this video is humiliating or empowering. It is nothing more or less than a fat kid letting his imagination overtake with no regard for who might be watching. But this video is, I believe, as close to an epitome of everything we’ve come to realize about the Internet as exists. Private moments no one should see made public in a manner for maximum humiliation, and we absolutely love it. Apparently, it was never meant to be made public. Then public it very much was made, and has been seen by a whole billion of us. The poor kid, whose name is Ghyslain Raza from Quebec Falls, fell into a crippling depression. He eventually rebounded and is now a law school graduate, but the result is still a Rorschach Test for your view of humanity. It’s a person made vulnerable in a way he never expected. It’s either hilarious, humiliating, perhaps even ennobling, or perhaps all at once.
Dramatic Gopher: Dramatic music, frightened gopher, fast-motion zoom. Perfection in 7 seconds.
The Evolution of Dance: It’s just one guy mediocrely dancing in a bad quality video. This guy calls himself an ‘inspirational comedian’....as comedy, he’s not funny at all. As dancing, it kinda sucks. As a living reminder of history, it’s truly incredible. It’s virtually every dance-move that comprises our era in six minutes, every one of which can cause us all to remember key moments in our lives - moments we can recount to our children, and moments that historians can access in a single video. There would be little point to it if it were a high-quality video. It’s just one guy who can bring summon more memories in six minutes than we thought we were capable of having.
Fail Blog Videos: I have a particular love of this site. The idea is simple: people fail at 90% of the things they try (ex. the fact that I couldn’t find a verifiable statistic on the amount of times people fail). We can all say that we have gotten over our fear of failure. But anyone who says that clearly hasn’t failed enough. The reason we all fear failure is because failure is really, really funny to other people. There is no humor without it being at the expense of someone or something. Failure is funny, has always been funny, and will never stop being funny.
Charlie The Unicorn: I hated this shaggy unicorn video for years. My friends loved it. Finally, Der Schreiber made a point I can’t refute. This has the one of the most perfect endings of any short ever made. The entire time, Charlie realizes that he is being duped into something, but he could never expect what would happen. The conclusion ties the whole video together and makes the entire painful slog of a journey worth the eventual destination....
Don Hertzfeldt Cartoons: We might think of the 00’s as the Age of Pixar. But the best current animation is the really, really bad ones. We’re living in a golden age of badly drawn misanthropy. Beginning with The Simpsons, we’ve seen a steady stream of badly drawn TV cartoons - each successive addition drawn still worse, and holds a still lower opinion of humanity. The ‘nadir’ of this trend was Don Hertzfeldt, cartoons so dark and so badly drawn that they could only find homes in obscure film festivals and the internet. Hertzfeldt is another one that took me a couple tries. Ten years ago, I walked out of this cartoon - an example of tasteless humor at its dumbest. Yet like every Hertzfeldt cartoon, it gets funnier every time it’s watched. Eventually, you just can’t help it.
Bad Day: Technically it's from 1997. But this is the first Internet video I remember becoming a meme, and it’s impossible to forget how hilarious I found this when I was 18. The one ingredient for memedom is here in abundance, somebody acting out on an impulse we’ve all had. Unfortunately, it turned out to be staged. But that does not change the weird feeling of liberation we had to see some anonymous guy in a moment none of us would want anyone to see.
Don’t Tase Me Bro: Andrew Meyer has not been forthcoming as to whether the scene he made was meant to be taken seriously, I can think of a couple good reasons he should keep it that way. At first it looks as though it’s entirely unserious, which is often how insane behavior appears to rational people. But by the end, the video certainly feels serious, as though UFlorida security were brutalizing a student for the crime of his pathology. However small the scale, not even from Iran or Egypt have we seen footage so raw and public of police brutality.
Neda (I'm not linking): The closest we come to that on a larger scale is Neda. We don’t see the Basij (the elite Iranian paramilitary unit) shooting Neda Agha-Soltan, but on youtube we watched her bleed to death in the street. Her friend wails, as do a dozen other people around her. A doctor attempts to revive her. But the finality of death stares at us with with all its stark terror. This video exposed brutality so rawly that it became the desperately needed rallying cry for the Iranian revolution, and a blow against the brutality of authoritarian regimes everywhere. It is called ‘the most witnessed death in human history.’ Not since Rwanda had the world wrestled as one with an image so graphic.
Miss Teen South Carolina: It’s every person’s nightmare - to be caught by the whole world being an idiot. No doubt, the pressure of beauty pageants is terrible, and contrary to belief, no idiot could excel at it. So in its way, it’s a particularly cruel video: the only reason to watch it is schadenfreude. But let’s face it, we humans are scum, men and women alike root for those who rise high to fall. To see a beautiful girl embarrass herself for the sake of an ego-driven title is funny, and whether or not she deserves her comeuppance, our innate reflexes tell us she does.
Michael Richards’ Racist Breakdown: Celebrity achieved a whole new level of undesirability in this video. Before it, we often heard about pampered, insecure stars who lose it at the slightest provocation, but we’d never seen a star melt down in so unguarded a way. It could have been any number of stars yelling similar epithets (and has been since), but after this, we had better evidence of just how Hollywood can warp its stars. Perhaps Michael Richards is in reality a good man who went crazy under the pressure of doing standup, or perhaps he’d have been a bigoted even if he hadn’t become a huge (albeit faltering) TV star. But what mattered was what we saw, and what we saw was disgusting. After that meltdown, the final barrier between the image onscreen and the real person dematerialized. Who’d have expected Kramer to be racist?....on that note....
One Night in Paris (I'm not linking): I’ll plead the fifth as to whether I’ve watched it...but this video was the mirror image of the Michael Richards clip. If Michael Richards demonstrated more definitively that celebrities are not the same as the image they project, it then follows that anyone can become famous. What has Paris Hilton done to justify her fame? She’s an heiress who hangs out with other famous people. In the words of the now cliche term, she’s ‘famous for being famous.’ There were other examples of that in the past, the Gabor sisters being one that comes to mind. But no one has ever gotten that famous for something so....crude? All a person needs for fame is something to get the wider world’s attention. And since acting involves delayed gratification....
One Man Band - You Rock My World: There are all sorts of virtuoso one man band videos, so picking the best is an impossible task. But none which I’ve seen demonstrate the sheer barrage of musical, mixing and editing talent this one must require. Is it more impressive than the original?
Two Girls 1 Cup (Hell no, I’m not linking to the actual thing..): The human brain is one screwed up organ. It reacts to watching the death of Neda with a mixture of sanctimonious horror and morbid curiosity, yet it reacts to sight of people eating feces and vomiting them out with unmitigated revulsion. There is a part of all of us that is curious about watching death, yet for 99.9999% of us, there is absolutely no biological reason to watch excrement. Murder or poo, which should we find more horrifying? Regardless of the answer, 2 Girls, 1 Cup became the ultimate Internet endurance test - such a notoriously horrifying meme that a separate meme sprang up around it of people filming their own reactions (the funniest, albeit one of the cruelest, is embedded above). In the Internet Age, there is no limit to the depraved perversions one can satisfy. The term for this is ‘Rule 34,’ if you can think of it, it exists on the Internet. Whether or not this is a step forward for humanity, it forces us to have fewer illusions about the nature of humans. After all, as Kundera once put it “Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit.”
David after Dentist: A parent who films his child while high on Novocaine. Is that harmless fun, or will it lead the kid to being scarred for life? Over 100 million people watched this video online, and that doesn’t even count the people who saw it on television. It’s probable that everyone David will ever meet will have seen this video. The father claimed that he forgot to take the private setting, but whether that’s true is of little consequence. His son will now go through life as ‘the stoned kid,’ with all the benefits and drawbacks such a title affords him.
Fat Kid on Rollercoaster: The ultimate mercilessness of the Internet is on display. A kid in pain, who perhaps justifiably fears for his life. Yet we all (at best) have to suppress the urge to laugh. Why? Because the kid is obese. The woman next to him is laughing the entire time. Is she laughing from pleasure at the ride or is she laughing at the kid? None of us can get through this video without having to suppress a chuckle, but we should all hate ourselves a little more after watching it.
The Landlord: It was only a matter of time before celebrities began to find ways to capitalize on the video explosion. It’s probable that the first to really understand it was Will Ferrell. The whole point of what makes the Internet effective is that it gives platforms to those who would otherwise never have it. Will Ferrell doesn’t need the Internet to get famous, but his two-year-old daughter probably would. So he films her in a skit using foul language, and a sensation is born that Will Ferrell could never have achieved alone.
Thriller in Prison: Is this cruel and unusual punishment? Is it somehow affirmative? This is the textbook definition of how the Internet can give a voice to people who otherwise would not have it.
Elf Yourself Flash Mob: It’s tough to pick a single flash mob video. But somehow, the sight of 150 elves running into Union Square cannot be beaten. The flash mob could only happen at a time when coordination and communication is so easy that hundreds of people can communicate with each other moment to moment. It can take on any form, including some quite threatening ones. But this video, perhaps better than any other I’ve watched, shows what can be done with enough coordination.