Salsa Scoop> The Theory of the YouTube Class: ObamaGirl and the Web2.0 Aesthetic

The Theory of the YouTube Class: ObamaGirl and the Web2.0 Aesthetic

Someone could have dined well on my dime by wagering me on the proposition that this now-renowned "ObamaGirl" video would be -- well -- renowned. I guess I'm a fogey. When I saw this thing Thursday morning it registered a big "meh." Three days later, the needle hasn't budged. Actually, the citizen media that caught my eye that day came via the UK-based nfp2.0 blog -- a spot of guerrilla marketing. [I know you want the SILF t-shirt] This charismatic piece hit me as an interesting juxtaposition to last summer's viral-marketing Hindenberg, the Subway pitch which went viral for its cover-your-eyes awfulness. (All the original's video links seem to be pulled, but the below is the piece plus smartass subtitling.) Despite my mixed reactions, and despite the contrasting purposes at play, there's a kinship between the first two of these videos that's wanting in the third. What is this quicksilver "genuineness" that decodes a piece's meaning and foretells its prospects as citizen media? Discourses of authenticity have an intellectual pedigree far too extensive to survey here, so allow at the outset that what we're dealing with here is merely one face of one small aspect of a much more pervasive challenge to our way of being human. (Authenticity-blogging leads quick-march to meta-blogging: confess as well that the medium of conversation, the blog, is itself a locus for an aspired-after but debatable "authenticity" of voice whose forms and rules are themselves under constant reconstruction.) But a couple of observations specific to the cases at hand:
  • The authentic voice can be heavily scripted. It's obvious watching either that considerable work has gone into both ObamaGirl and Connected Ventures: ObamaGirl to cut a traditional music video (complete with calculated website cross-promotion); C.V. to orchestrate the office for a dynamic performance in a Russian Ark-style single, continuous take. Lest this seem too forehead-smackingly plain -- of course music videos have to be orchestrated! -- consider a case like lonelygirl15, whose ambiguous authenticity was its own marketing angle ... or even more parochially, the way Facebook's opening to parents and professionals is reshaping the 'performative' significance of accounts and friend-to-friend comments among the college students whose adoption of the closed platform Facebook's billions.
  • There's a trend towards revealing elements of the creative process in the final product. It's not universal -- the last Obama YouTube swoon, "Vote Different" doesn't do it, for example -- but the deliberate inclusion of an outtake, a "flawed" element, or a slip of the mask between the screen character and the real-life actor is becoming an almost cliched way to create simpatico between publisher and consumer, pull the observer into the art (or the marketing). The beginning, sometimes, and the end, often, are where we see them, as a bridge between the reality of the work you're avoiding messing around on YouTube and the constructed space of video media, or a nod to the viewer's own critique of artificiality. Both our "good" videos do that noticeably. doesn't at all. And that level of ironic detachment has a way of neutering hostility. Even if Connected Ventures' bit had stunk, it would never be called, like's, "self-important". One could trace this sort of thing well back into "old media" -- the fractured charm of a Saturday Night Live where both the actors and their characters play winkingly to the crowd and can shift identities for a laugh, or the use of blooper outtakes in movie credits. The trend is reminiscent of the movement in architecture a century-plus past away from scaffolding the new skyscrapers made possible with steel in ornamental facades rooted in the very structures the new techniques were replacing, but to incorporate girders and similar modern elements into the building's outward aesthetic.
But while one hand pushes forward, the other pulls back, and in all this transparency lies the potential for deceit. Micah Sifry reflected on the point -- we suspect ObamaGirl is up to more than what she cops to here. Is it a video resume? Is it something with a commercial upshot? Is it a plant by the campaign? Heck ... I'm still tempted to read it as satire of candidate or supporters playing on the not altogether helpful meme of Obama as a rock star and a policy lightweight. No matter the novel difficulties in characterizing new forms of content, I daresay that in that portion of them that is not strictly cynical, there's a very old creative muse herself feeling the effects of democratization as she drives these attractive twenty-somethings frolicking and video-splicing their way over the ineffable topography of hipness.
As seen from the economic point of view, leisure, considered as an employment, is closely allied in kind with the life of exploit; and the achievements which characterise a life of leisure, and which remain as its decorous criteria, have much in common with the trophies of exploit. But leisure in the narrower sense, as distinct from exploit and from any ostensibly productive employment of effort on objects which are of no intrinsic use, does not commonly leave a material product. The criteria of a past performance of leisure therefore commonly take the form of "immaterial" goods. Such immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. So, for instance, in our time there is the knowledge of the dead languages and the occult sciences; of correct spelling; of syntax and prosody; of the various forms of domestic music and other household art; of the latest properties of dress, furniture, and equipage; of games, sports, and fancy-bred animals, such as dogs and race-horses. In all these branches of knowledge the initial motive from which their acquisition proceeded at the outset, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one's time had not been spent in industrial employment; but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class. -Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
But what do I know? I'm a cynic. And I didn't think ObamaGirl would blow up.



Here's some thoughts on the matter: I knew ObamaGirl would blow up. Sex and politics and a multiracial cast of characters? Of course, it would have much more cross-market appeal. Vimeo clip? Great concept, no cross-market legs compared to ObamaGirl. That's got to be the least diverse office environment I've ever seen -- gave me the chills to even THINK about working there. The last clip -- didn't even bother to finish viewing after I started seeing subtitles and the word "insight" misspelled. By quoting that Veblen piece in response, aren't you more or less evincing a preference of engineering or value-production over cultural production? Isn't the Vimeo piece a more subtle rendition the tension between the two? In other words, aren't some of those people engineers too? Those folks in that Vimeo piece reminded me of an old Internet consultancy I used to work at...

Evincing a preference

Thanks for stopping by, Allan. There's always a danger posting when one should be sleeping. By quoting that Veblen piece in response, aren't you more or less evincing a preference of engineering or value-production over cultural production? I wouldn't put it that way. It's merely an observation of the underlying unity between the multiple and ambiguous purposes at play (art for art's sake? self-promotion? propaganda?) and its continuity with other forms of cultural production.

referencing YouTube is not for serious people.

it always amazes me how surprised people get when youtube censors (or 'removes') things. why the surprise? how about use P2P, and have you OWN copy to watch, regardless of censorship. and guess what else you can do also? SHARE, regardless of censorship. so why would you write a whole article about something which says its source vids are not available? why arent you giving a BitTorrent link, for instance?

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