The Revolution Will Not Be YouTubed.
For the National Post's Cultural Lessons series -- a look at what we learned from pop culture in 2006 -- I wrote about the latest in a long line of world-changing Internet phenomena: YouTube. Thought I'd post it up here in the blogosphere where it will be more likely to be disagreed with...
Remember that Bruce Springsteen song 57 Channels (And Nothing On)? How quaint. I don't imagine he pulls that one out at concerts anymore.
Not that I have any business talking back to the Boss, but may I suggest a tweaking of the lyrics to reflect the brave new couch potato reality of 2006? How about: Sixty-Five Thousand New Video Uploads Daily To You Tube (And They're All Reruns).
Yes, the world-shattering Internet phenomenon of 2006 was surely You Tube, that online repository of videos of pandas sneezing, experiments documenting the effect of Mentos on Diet Coca-Cola and clips from last night's episode of the Late Late Show with that Scottish Guy. Forget Wikipedia, My Space or that dude who slowly but surely bartered his way from a paperclip to a house; this year You Tube really cornered the market on unnecessary media coverage of online ephemera.
How often did Canadian journos write about You Tube this year? Well, in the first three months of the year, the video-sharing site was mentioned in a mere 21 articles in the CanWest chain of newspapers. In the following three months, 55 articles from the same set of papers name-checked You Tube. From August to the end of October, that number quintupled to 287. And in the last three months, there have been 500 mentions and counting! [UPDATE: Final count, including this article, for the last three months of 2006 was 625.]
Is You Tube really worth all that spilt ink? Google did buy the site for US$1.65-billion worth of stock in November, a flashback to the heady days of Bubble 1.0. But what about the rest of You News?
You Tube, you may remember, first appeared on media radar screens when the Saturday Night Live sketch "Lazy Sunday" was posted and viewed more than five million times. This seems more a sad reflection on the state of SNL than evidence of You Tube's newsworthiness. ("This Just In: SNL Actually Makes A Funny Joke!") As for the drama that ensued when NBC asked for the clip to be taken down, it was just one more chapter in the mind-numbing, never-ending war against online copyright violators.
Another "big" You Tube story this year was the revelation that the video diaries of one Lonelygirl15 were fake. But that was already clear to everyone but the poor souls who forward spam convinced Bill Gates will personally buy them a pony for each person cc-ed. And it was hard to get worked up about another Internet hoax after more than a decade of them. Likewise, the news that Hollywood agents were scouting You Tube for fresh talent just seemed like a remake of the stories about bloggers getting book deals.
Even the You Tube jokes seem stale: A popular video about male restroom etiquette simply recycled an old gag that has been passed around by e-mail since the days when it was unironically called the Information Superhighway.
Plus ca change, plus it's the same meme.
You Tube's effect on politics also illustrated the diminishing returns of new Internet phenomena. Circulation of John Kerry's badly phrased joke about Bush -- the one that made it seem as if he believed the U.S. Army were comprised of "special" forces -- was going to be You Tube's Rathergate. But, in the end, it paled in comparison to the Swift Boating bloggers gave Kerry a couple of years before, and the Democrats actually won for once.
Back in the day, bloggers took down Senator Trent Lott for wistfully remembering the days of segregation. So far, You Tube's only fallen racist has been Michael Richards, an already washed-up television comic.
It used to be that each new Internet trend came with a utopian dream attached. Blogs will topple the corporate media oligarchies! Wikipedia will make all the knowledge of the world accessible to everyone! With Lavalife, surely even I can get a date!
But while You Tube may be a great archive of dotsam and netsam, that it has brought the power of broadcasting to middle-class teens who enjoy lip-synching to Jessica Simpson is not something I can get worked up about. It's given me a few laughs at white dudes rapping, sure, but I can't help feeling that there's still nothing on, Brucey, my boy.