Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


May 09

Friday (after-) Noon Videos – Week of May 8

Posted: under Online Video, Video, Viral Fame, visual storytelling.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m feeling a little New Media biz overstimulated, a result of spending the weekend at BarCampLA, and then segueing directly into the Digital Hollywood conference.  Apparently, you can get too much of a good thing … if by “Good Thing” you also include in that little Venn Diagram:

  • Marketing directors who name-check “Minority Report” more than once per panel session when asked to ruminate on “Whither Advertising?”
  • VCs desperate to invest in anything with the word “mobile” in it (hey – my cat is mobile when she prowls the yard, hunting crickets, with a strong social aspect as she tries to catch the sparrows that twitter at her – the line forms to the right for those ready to dump $3M in Tier One Angel Funding on us)
  • Angry movie/TV producers, eking out a living from creative projects 15 years out of date, desperately searching for someone to write them a check to produce the script that every agency in town has rolled their eyes at
  • DRM technology salesmen who “guarantee” that their solution will prevent the video industry from following the music industry down the toilet (but who go silent when asked what major releases, specifically, can you not find on Pirate Bay?)
  • having to park in the “overflow” lot at the Santa Monica Civic Center, thus making we walk past the Rand Corp. headquarters repeatedly, thus probably landing me on a list of those to be rounded up & waterboarded by Information Retrieval Services and Michael Palin, sometime in the near future

So the weekly round-up of the best/funniest viral videos on the web is little delayed this week.

First, one that was sent to me because it stars a distant relative – Don LaFontaine aka “The Voice” aka “That Guy in the Movie Trailers Who Always Says ‘In A World…’ ”

The Five Biggest Voices in Hollywood – All in a Limo

This is a few years old, but I’m posting it because it’s funny, it gathers together the best voices in Hollywood with a pretty decent storyline, and because Don was The Man.  I can kinda do an imitation of his voice, and I have done so for many of my indie-film friends who want a sarcastic Don LaFontaine-esque big scary voice to underline the over-the-top aspect of their parodies.

Best lines: Don: “Nick Tate …”

Nick: “…a voice sixty-five million years in the making.”

Don: “Ominous.”

John Leader: “Mysterious.”

Nick [line delivered with a smirk as the camera does a close-up]: “Hung like a horse.”

OnionTV: Trekkies Revolt Because New Movie Isn’t Cheesy

This is worth watching if for no other reason that it reminds you how transparently awful 60s-era sci-fi was.  A while back, I watched the DVDs of the original series on a friends gigantor home theater, and was shocked to see how bad the makeup was, how the alien-world backdrops were clearly visible painted walls, and how everyone was sweating under the hot lights, even the Red Shirts (probably because they’d had a couple of stiff drinks over lunch to make them properly enthusiastic as they yelled “AAAgggh!” while off-camera prop artists chucked rubbery tentacles at them.

Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat

OK, this is one of those strange web videos that goes viral every once in a while for reasons that passeth all understanding.  I’ve been seeing it crop up on all the video-sharing sites, and blogs are starting to embed it on their pages.  Including this one.

I’m guessing that the dingbats over on 4Chan are somehow behind this one, and that there is some strange cosmic significance to the cat doing the Paul Schaeffer schtick, but I don’t really have time to delve deep down into it.  Or it’s just random & st00pid, and the point is that there is no real point, and we should all go back to reading our Sartre.

Enjoy.  Or endure. Whichever.

Lord of the Rings Look & Feel on a $5,000 Budget

This is impressive.

I can’t embed this here, so click on the link above, or go the the page “The Hunt for Gollum” to check this out.

The sidebar on Daily Motion claims that this film was made for less than $5,000, and the end credits make it clear that nobody was paid to appear in this film, nor is anyone making any money out of it. This is pure fanfic – and a strikingly good example of that.  The costumes and the travel budget to the various woods & gardens that they used for sets in this film alone would add up to far more than $5K.

Somebody loved this movie.

I hope that Peter Jackson, New Line’s assignors & HarperCollins just let this one be. If they’re smart, they will.  This film is not a copyright infringement.  Well, it kinda is … but what it is really, is a brilliant piece of marketing for all the fans of the LOTR trilogy, to keep them engaged with Tolkien’s world.  And yeah, the acting is a little stiff at points, and the pointy ears on the elf-chick are not good, but for all that, this is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

At some point, we’re going to figure out that the copyright laws actually are more of a hindrance to the creators of intellectual property like this, than they are of a help.  It took George Lucas a couple of decades to learn that the best way to communicate with his fan base was not via “cease and desist” letters, but through actually talking with some of the amateur fimmakers who felt so touched by his art that they wanted to make their own art so they could keep playing in his wonderful sandbox.

Just as newspapers are having to learn that they don’t own the news anymore – as if they ever really did – so too are TV and filmmakers going to have to learn in the years ahead that they don’t really “own” content that connects with, and inspires the audience in the way that the LOTR franchise so obviously connected with, and inspired these filmmakers. Check out this article for more on the prosumer impresarios.

Kudos, guys.  (And howinhell did you get all those people in the end credits to sign up to slave away for you for no $$ whatsoever?)

This is a huge hit over on DailyMotion, and some real effort went into making this.  I think that some of the early shots are "machinimation" from the various LOTR videogames.

This is a huge hit over on DailyMotion, and some real effort went into making this. I think that some of the early shots are "machinimation" from the various LOTR videogames.

Dirty Sexy Money

And last in the lineup is the NSFW entry, which shows what our money gets up to in its spare time.

This is apparently an ad for banks in Germany, and it shows the US Dollar getting busy with the Pound (that hussy!) who is apparently quite the little tramp…

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May 06

Wm. Marc Salisbury: The Annie Liebowitz of LA’s Digerati

Posted: under Viral Fame, Webconomics.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Everywhere I go that’s fun, interesting & tech-oriented, I run into Wm. Marc Salisbury, toting his Canon DSLRs and an enthusiastic grin.  He’s assigned himself the task of covering all the meetups of the smarty-pants computer geek/film nerd/tortured writer clique(s).  He was at the BarCampLA7 over the weekend, and yesterday I ran into him at Digital Hollywood, where we traded snarky quips in the back of the room about the panel basically “reading from the brochure.” After all the sessions Mark has had to endure of us dot-com types explaining our Plans For World Domination, I figure some company somewhere should snarf him up and install him as CEO, since he probably knows more about what’s going on in the digital universe than pretty much anyone else I can think of.

Now that rock stars are no longer rock stars, CEOs are pretty much headed for either an extended relaxation stay at Danbury Federal Penitentiary, or stuffing sacks of cash into their LearJets on their way to an extradition-free country … I guess us former propellorheads can start to take our rightful places as idols to be given the Annie Liebowitz/Rolling Stone treament. Only maybe without quite so much Vaseline on the lens.

I took this picture later in the day (well, actually at about 8 p.m.) after the final session, where Battlestar Galactica director Mike Rymer (pix and quotes from that session to be posted in a bit) held forth on his experiences trying to invent a coherent cosmology for the Cylon race, pretty much yanking details out of the cast & crew’s collective fundaments.

Anyway, here’s the shot of Mark, now complete with his very own virtual Play and Fast-Forward buttons.

If we hit the Rewind button, will he go all Benjamin Button on us? (click for larger size)

If we hit the Rewind button, will he go all Benjamin Button on us? (click for larger size)

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May 01

The Cure to Swine Flu Hysteria: Laughter

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Friday Noon Videos, Online Video, Video, Viral Fame.
Tags:

The swine flu pandemic – er, ahem H1N1 virus (now the officially gov’t sanctioned name for the Aporkalypse) – has generated hysteria in the news that rivals the Deadly Y2K Bug That Was Gonna Kill Us All (if you don’t remember – a sample headline from Wired at the time was “Head for the Hills!”).

So I’ve kinda amended the “Friday Noon Videos” format a bit to include some of the best snark available on the web, in the hopes on contributing to a general relaxation from the End of Days-level media converage this illness has been getting.

So first, this LOLCat-esque picture is making the rounds:

Next has to be the parody of Twitter’s “Failwhale,” which is a pretty decent homage to the way that the “pandemic” has been dominating online conversations this past week:

…and now for the videos.

First, got this gem from Gentleman Jim Breiner, who particularly liked the way it mimics the breathless reportage of some TV commentators.  I particularly like the set for this “underground newscast” — it looks like someplace that only a member of the “Trailer Park Boys” would find appropriate for a TV studio.

Next, I gotta go with this bit from an “Actual victim” of the swine flu, revealing how it was that the virus made the porcine-to-human jump (hint: he was a little drunk at the time, she was dressed provocatively, hormones were running high).

Last, I’d love to show off this series of unintentionally funny 1975 ad for swine flu shots.  Pay attention to the cheesy 70s synth score in the background. Whoever that composer was, he obviously moonlighted on porno movies up in Northridge.  Straight outta Boogie Nights.  I think some of the moustaches on these guys could thatch the roofs of an entire Amazon jungle village.  

Oh, and here’s an obligatory serious link to commentary on where newspapers and indeed, the entire publishing industry, is headed — and why.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

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Apr 24

Friday Noon Videos – Best of the Web Week of April 24, 2009

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Art, journalism, Multimedia, Online Video, Uncategorized, Video, Viral Fame, visual storytelling, Webconomics.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Last week at the International Symposium of Online Journalists in Austin, I presented a series of viral videos to make the point that the national discourse is no longer “owned” by what we think of as professional media.  It may seem like a trivial point, when compared to the other nuclear meltdown-level emergencies of declining advertising, lack of a sustainable business model for the future, declining audience share, sky-high debt loads, etc. – but I believe that adapting ourselves to this new environment is the first step towards resolving these other problems.

I asked the audience how many of them "got" the central image here, and could put it into its viral meme context.

I asked the audience how many of them "got" the central image here, and could put it into its viral meme context.

Over at the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles makes a compelling and far more comprehensive argument about why the whole concept of ownership of the news & the national conversation has been toxic to the mainstream media’s efforts at retaining its audience share.

Another point that I tried to make was that it is OK to use humor in your reportage, now and again. The relentless barrage of bad news these days is making us all a little crazy (see this excellent Newsweek article on this topic).  There’s a reason that John Stewart & Stephen Colbert are so popular – they report on the news, they give it the kind of context that is so often missing on these stories, and they do it in a way that makes us crack a smile.  It’s the voice that I remember from my early b.s. sessions at seedy bars with grizzled news veterans.  It’s a human voice. The voice that says, “Well, y’know, I hadda write the story about [local businessman X] getting the Nice Guy award for the paper. But the funny thing is that everyone knows that he’s a screaming tyrant whose wife tried to run away…”

It’s the kind of voice that can re-establish the trust that our audience has lost in us.  The one that doesn’t feel the need to kneel and genuflect at the altar of he-said she-said “objectivity.” The one that can make us feel informed, energized, and in control a bit – because things that we can laugh at are no longer quite so scary.

[And yeah, I know, my much-promised blog post about the effects of fear in the media on all of us is still in the works. Forgive me.]

So for all of you trapped in office cubicles, or just in need of a bit of diversion at the end of the week, here are the top viral videos:

Read More

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Jan 28

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington Attacked & Spat On; Online Troll Behavior Crossing Over Into Real World

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Community, new media, Online Video, Viral Fame.

I can’t decide if this is one of those “sign of the deteriorating times” type stories, wherein I get to pontificate about how the free-for-all, no insult too depraved, “culture” of the internet has led to yet another sad incident …

…or if it’s a function of the pressures being put on start-ups by the generally shitty global economy, which is starting to incite people into truly depraved acts of violence

But either way, it was shocking & sad to read that TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington announced today that he has been the victim of death threats, and now this:

Yesterday as I was leaving the DLD Conference in Munich, Germany someone walked up to me and quite deliberately spat in my face. Before I even understood what was happening, he veered off into the crowd, just another dark head in a dark suit. People around me stared, then looked away and continued their conversation.

(snip)

Something very few people know: last year over the summer an off balance individual threatened to kill me and my family … Seeing my parents fear for their lives and not understand how or why their son was in this position changed me, made me a much less forgiving person in general.

Around the blogosphere, this has shocked and appalled other bloggers, some of whom might now (justifiably) wonder if a post of theirs might inspire some violent borderline personality into staking out their house.

It starts small. Small, but nasty, nonetheless.

It starts small. Small, but nasty, nonetheless.

Meanwhile, in today’s LA Times, this article about the prevalence of what has come to be known as “snark” in online culture, in a review of a book by the same name by New Yorker film critic David Denby. His take on why this mode of communication (otherwise known as GD&R – for “Grin, Duck and Run”) has become so prevalent:

The Internet is the greatest revolution in democratic practice since popular suffrage. Everyone knows that, and I am just as dependent onthe Internet as anyone else. In the wake of a democratic revolution like that, there’s both an enormous explosion of information and expression, much of it useful or fun, and also an explosion of pent-up rage, social anguish, resentment, bilious, other-annihilating nastiness, prejudice and all the rest of the dark side. If that stuff is destroying conversation threads, screwing up people’s…

…reputations, spreading around unchecked rumor or just snark, it’s worth pointing to it and saying, “Stop lousing up my revolution.” The point of the book is to protect the best kind of humor by criticizing the worst.

…of course, the Times itself has been guilty of – well, shall we say – vivid off-the-cuff commentary itself.

Still, the larger point here is one that is important.  In all my stops as a New Media consultant in the last few years, the one issue that animates the local reporters/editors the most is the attacks on them by anonymous internet trolls.

Arrington says that:

On any given day, when I care to look, dozens of highly negative comments are made about me, TechCrunch or one of our employees in our
comments, on Twitter, or on blogs or other sites. Some of these are appropriately critical comments on things we can be doing better. But
the majority of comments are among the more horrible things I can imagine a human being say.

Actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by an obsessed fan who tracked her down, showed up at her doorstep, and shot her in the heart.

Actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by an obsessed fan who tracked her down, showed up at her doorstep, and shot her in the heart.

Even a cursory search confirms that Arrington takes his shots. This is the Dark Side of internet fame.  You can see it in the message boards, in the comments section on any YouTube video that reaches a certain level of popularity.

Back in 1989, one of the very first celebrity stories I had to cover in Los Angeles, remains one of the saddest & most disturbing stories.  The murder of Rebecca Shaeffer, a lovely young actress by obsessed stalker Robert Bardo. I can see some clear parallels between that case, and the way that online attacks are escalating into offline violence.

This was a murder that really changed things in Los Angeles; the DMV rules were changed so that you could no longer get someone’s address by merely doing a search on DMV records to get the address off their driver’s license. And the Threat Assessment Department of the LAPD was formed, at least in part, in response to this murder.

One of the things that I learned from covering that case (other than that it sucks to be a reporter tasked to go to a funeral and try to get quotes from sobbing family members), is that wackos and obsessed fans follow an escalating behavior pattern.  They start making threats, at first rather timidly.  As the response to their threats fails to completely shut them down or punish them enough, they then begin to escalate their attack patterns.

The next stage – the one that Arrington is at, I fear – is what the LAPD shrinks called, “the humiliating encounter.” Basically, the stalker has an encounter with the person they are harassing that results in humiliation – either for the victim (they spit on their face) or the stalker (the studio security guards grab him, handcuff him, and frogmarch him off the lot).

In any case, this encounter then becomes the focus of whirling obsession for the next interval.  The stalker sits and broods, going over the encounter in his head, over and over again, fantasizing about what he would have done differently, inventing a whole new encounter … only this next one will be far darker, far more violent.

There is going to have to be a fundamental shift in the way conversations are conducted on the internet.  If a tech blogger – not someone in the political sphere, where the contentious nature is well-known – has to take a month off & flee to a beach to be able to deal, then clearly, the writing is on the wall.

This paragraph is probably going to become much more important in the years to come:

In California, under the stalking laws passed after this attach, a stalker is defined as “someone who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another victim and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place the victim or victim’s immediate family in fear of their safety.” There must be at least two incidents to constitute the crime and show a “continuity of purpose” or credible threat.

UPDATE:

Paul Boutin, over at The Industry Standard, says that the hating has been growing for quite a while:

The most common accusation was that TechCrunch sold endorsements of startups, either in exchange for advertising buys on the site, or for outright cash payments.

This is important: None of these claims ever checked out. Sources would claim to know someone who knew something, but these mystery witnesses never showed up to tell their stories to a reporter. Arrington’s success, both as a blog-era publisher/writer and a startup businessman, inflames less successful entrepreneurs and journalists with off-the-scale envy. How does he do that?

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Jan 23

Friday Night Videos: Take A Break

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, new media, Viral Fame, visual storytelling.
Tags:

As part of my ongoing experiment in coming up with a coherent content strategy, I offer up a week’s worth of fun and/or interesting videos that I’ve come across.

It’s been a real rollercoaster of a week:

  1. Started out with the fear that Bush would figure out some last, triumphal way of screwing up on his last day in office
  2. Felt pride, relief, hope and a growing sense of “what the hell just happened to us all?” during the Inauguration
  3. Felt sick in the aftermath as it turned out the economic meltdown wasn’t going to give us a break, no matter what
  4. Even sicker when Xeni Jardin championed a documentary about how the U.S. tortured innocent people through depraved intermediaries

Anyway. Here’s a couple of things to lighten things up -

OK, this is childish, and an advertisement to boot, but the only other thing I saw like this was Jim Carrey’s dancing eyebrows in “Me, Myself & Irene”:

This gem from the Vancouver Film School that shows off 1) the 3D animation-fu of the creator, and 2) a deep-seated psychological fear of uncontrolled facial hair



Next, this is a movie trailer for a film being distributed by Ted Perkins, a friend of mine. It’s not a chucklefest, but the photography is beautiful, and I gotta give Ted a shout-out:


RED RIVER TRAILER for BERLIN from Ted Perkins on Vimeo.

This is kind of a rip-off of the famous scene from “Fisher King,” but I love it anyway.  The thing to pay attention to is how many people are using their cellphone cams to take pix or video of the flashmob.  In the future, we’re all going to be self-contained news gatherers – in much the way that Twitter has turned us all into terse Telegram-style news alert generators, the coming 4G phones will make us all part of a constant info-web.

Next, this somewhat creepy talking baby shows us all the outtakes from the Super Bowl adstravaganzas that we AREN’T going to see this year … and more in future blog posts about the coming ad meltdown that is coming into focus…

aaaand finally, the winner of the week, with almost 700,000 views since Tuesday:

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Nov 19

Desperate Obama-Haters Give Money to Nigerian Scam

Posted: under Blogging, Community, Digital Migration, new media, Politics & New Media, Viral Fame.

Nobody directly involved will admit it, but this is looking more and more like one of the more nasty, yet brilliant, scams of the last couple years.  It may have been pulled off by the legendary Nigerian internet scammers, but it’s beginning to look like it may have been the work of a vast leftwing conspiracy with a twisted sense of humor.

It gets complicated, as these things often do, but the core appears to be:

1. A WordPress website claiming to be the creation of the African Press International, and NGO somehow associated with the Rainbow Foundation – OK, already I know this is a lot to process – claimed that they had a tape of Michelle Obama admitting that Barack Obama was not an U.S. citizen, and thus not eligible to be president.

2. Nobody seemed to notice that the API’s headquarters are in Norway.

3. In the weeks leading up to the election, as John McCain’s campaign was trailing smoke and in a steep vertical dive (to use an Air Force-appropriate metaphor), a ragtag bunch of deranged Obama-haters his desperate supporters seized on this story as a last-minute chance to save the U.S. from an Obama presidency, which they had come to believe would be some horrible combination of Stalinist Russia, the Taliban and a San Francisco gay bathhouse, circa 1978.

4. The overheated right-wing blog echo chamber started to scream and yell about the tapes, hoping to spark an uproar.

5. The API started getting erratic in its pronouncements about the tapes, on the one hand demanding money, on the other alleging mysterious dark conspiracies that were preventing the release of the tapes, conspiracies involving shadowy pro-Obama forces.

5. Still believing that these tapes existed, the right-wing blogs started collecting money from their readers to buy the tapes.

From the Ace of Spades website:

$20,000 $25,000 Reward for Obama/Ayers/Dohrn/Khalidi Tape

Dirty Harry suggests a benefactor can offer $100,000.

Well, I don’t know if one will step forward. I can guarantee, though,
that if the goods are delivered the blogosphere can contribute $20,000.
In a matter of hours.

Maybe more. More would depend on the tape.

This offer includes
is particularly directed towards Los Angeles Times employees. Maybe
ones that just got fired. Or will get fired in the next couple of weeks.

Guaranteed.

Anonymous.

That’s how we roll.

Pretty pathetic that we have to try to bribe “newsmen” to release newsworthy tapes.

If your conscience is troubled, They should have released it anyway.

6. The scam mutated into an allegation that the LA Times had some kind of tape that would once and for all, destroy the Obama campaign, but that it was withholding the tape because of the aforementioned vast left-wing conspiracy to hand the country over to Obama.

7. The bidding for the tape reached $150,000. In a move sure to be familiar to anyone who has studied the history of “The Spanish Prisoner,” the price for releasing the tape suddenly escalated to $2 million.

8. At this point, you’d think that the people who initially believed in the existence of this tape would start smelling a rat You’d be wrong. A blogger named “Mountain Sage” started cataloging all the inconsistencies of this story, and if you’re really interested in all the ins & outs of this, please go there.

9. I’ll save you a whole bunch of mental consternation & possible suicidal impulses stemming from despair over the human condition, and cut to what I hope is the end of this story: the WordPress blog has been taken down, and the right-wing blogosphere has moved on (mostly) to its next alleged revelations of Obama conspiracies that will exterminate all mankind.

If your head is still spinning a little bit from all this, take a minute and look at some LOLcats or something.

Now then. How is all this relevant to the usual subject around here – New Media, newspapers, journalism? Well, as we debate migrating from the traditional media to a future where all our information comes at us over the Great Big Internet Pipe, I think it’s instructive to recognize that offloading some of the news-gathering & editing duties to the audience (i.e. crowdsourcing, Citizen Journalism, etc.), is not a process entirely free of risk.

Stories like this one were once confined to the utter fringes of our national conversation. Back when I first started working for newspapers, I learned that at least once a week, we’d get a long, somewhat smelly, letter from the local lunatic, ranting & raving about Zionist Occupation Government (“ZOG”) reading his mind with CIA laser beams.  The single-spaced typewritten screeds were usually augmented by scrawling in red pen around the margins, in big circles.  I’ve since learned that writing in big spirals is one of the warning signs of paranoid-schizophrenia, and in this case, of a person who has stopped taking their meds and is hearing the voices & acting on their instructions.

Unfortunately, as we open up the doors of the media to a more collaborative conversation between reader & journalist, fanatical factions are more easily able to hijack the national discourse, and divert us over into areas that are meaningless, pointless and an utter waste of time.  Some would say that that has always been the case – that even in the traditional media’s heyday, we had stupid stories that for one reason or another, rose to the level where we were talking about them because everyone else was talking about them.

And yeah, I know that one of the benefits of the web is that the audience no longer just sits and passively accepts that the information being fed to them is true. That the Citizen Journalists are willing & able to step in to do research to expose fraudsters.  That has certainly been the case here.

But this scam was, well, childish and poorly organized.  A guy in Norway claiming to run an African news agency making wild claims? Already the red flags were waving.

However, if a much more well-funded and intelligent organization were to set out to concoct a Big Lie, and to use the low barriers to entry that the web offers to storylines, memes, etc., to deceive the public … how would we know?  And if this organization were smart enough, and good enough at using SEO and other tools to bury and discredit its critics and their objections, what then?

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Nov 02

Viral Video Hits: Campaign ’08 Edition

Posted: under Catching a Falling Knife, Multimedia, new media, Online Video, Politics & New Media, Tail Wags Dog, Viral Fame.
Tags:

Now that we’re finally approaching the end of a presidential campaign season that started way back in May 2007 … and as an aside, allow me to observe that it used to be that declaring for the presidency the December before the Iowa caucuses/New Hampshire primaries was early …

Let’s take a look back at one of the emerging forces that has come out of nowhere these last fours years to impact the way that politics is conducted: viral videos.

The first indication that this was going to have a transformative effect on the electoral process was back in ’06, when Virginia Senator George Allen’s “Macaca Moment” kneecapped the GOP’s best hope for hanging onto the White House. This was not the first YouTube video about politics, but it was the first really big one.  The scandal that erupted over this cost Allen his Senate seat, his shot at the White House, and was the signal that Virginia was now in play for the Democrats – one of the really big, under-reported shifts in electoral demographics of the last couple years.

Now they, you’ll notice that this video has only racked up 370,000 views or so. Good, but hardly awe-inspiring … not even in the category of kittens dancing around on piano keys. 

So how is it that these videos have such an effect?  Well, the mainstream media is still, for now at least, the ones setting the parameters and nature of the conversation.  But the process by which the MSM frames the national discussion has undergone a sea change. And part of it is the GOP’s fault.

It started with Drudge and the Monica Lewinsky scandal (although many are finally acknowledging that the “Drudge Effect” is losing steam), continued on with the Swift Boat veterans, and this year, finds its truest expression in the vids of Fey-as-Palin.

See, reporters and editors are pretty much web addicts.  We poke around on the internet all day long, trying to figure out what the Vox Populi is saying, so we can latch onto it and churn out a “trend” story.  And then go drink.

Viral videos that make us laugh, make us stop, make us click to get the link and then e-mail it to our friends & colleagues … those get the “trend” prize, whether they are or not at the time.  And, of course, once a critical mass of journalists bestows the “this is a growing trend” status on a meme (Soccer Mom, NASCAR Dad, Security Mom, Joe the Plumber, etc.), then said meme is going to get a serious working-over by the material-starved talking heads on the cable news programs. 

We are moving closer and closer to a merging of the “underground” flow of significant memes and information on the internet, and what the MSM reports and pays attention to.  This gallery of viral hits will take you through the history of the Presidential Campaign ’08, in a way that will have you remembering the conversations we were having only a few months ago, and how those memes have morphed into the Accepted Collective Wisdom.

Mission accomplished. Time for cocktails.

1. Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video

It started with this, back when the Iowa caucuses came back, and people started actually buying into the idea that maybe … maybe … there’s something to this guy Obama.  Maybe we don’t have to pin our hopes on Hilary and another depressing go-round with Bill Clinton in the White House with a lot of free time on his hands.  This has gotten 11 million views since it was put up, features will.i.am and hella good editing & soundtrack.

2. Dear Mr. Obama.

A hit for the McCain campaign, this Iraq war vet holds forth on his belief that the war was not a mistake. This has been made into a commercial for the Republican Majority Campaign PAC.

3. I’ve got a crush on Obama.

This one got more than 10 million views – which proves that hot chicks in tight clothing are certainly a spur to the success of a video.  Lately, Amber Lee Ettinger has diversified and put on the Palin glasses & hair bun, and there are now more than 30 “Obama Girl” videos.

4. JibJab’s “It’s time for some campaignin’ ”

This one came along in mid-July, when we were starting to get really serious about this, and provided a nice preview of the emerging themes of the campaign.  This wasn’t as big a hit as the videos back in 2004, when the images of Kerry sailing up the Mekong and Bush screwing up everything he touched really hit a nerve.   This one does deliever, however, with Obama riding a rainbow unicorn.  And seeing Hilary clonk Bill with a frying pan never gets old.

5. McCain’s YouTube problem just became a nightmare

This one has gotten upwards of 8 million hits, and is from provocateur Robert Greenwald and bravenewfilms (full disclosure: years ago, I worked on a project that was destined for Greenwald’s production company, until it got tied up in a very messy legal quagmire).  This video, part of a “The Real McCain” effort to define the candidate, set a lot of the foundations for the stories that we’ve been seeing reported in the last couple of months. Another very telling point: it’s garnered upwards of 66,000 comments – a pretty good yardstick for something that “engages” the audience.  

6. Obama, Paris Hilton & Britney Spears – the “Rock Star” Ad

This is another video that got more than 2 million view, and made a huge splash at the time.  To many people, this marked the spot where the McCain campaign went off the rails … where it started to become less about what McCain was going to do, and more about going negative and trying to smear Obama, using whatever means necessary.  Of course, this then led to one of the funniest responses of the campaign season …

7. Paris Hilton accepts McCain’s endorsement

“I’ll see you at the debates, bitches,” is one of the best one-liners of the campaign season.  I blogged about this before, so go there for a fuller reaction to her actually rather insightful energy policy.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

8 . Crazy Hilary Supporter Goes Off

Remember back when the PUMAs were allegedly going to tear the Democratic Party apart? When this giant seething mass of resentful, fanatic feminist Hilary supporters were going to desert and vote for McCain because they were so pissed off about the treatment Hilary got in the primaries?  This woman made her way into the media spotlight for a while.  And then it turned out that she didn’t really represent any kind of significant voice in American politics.  She was just old, ornery and slightly nuts.  Kinda like McCain, some to think of it…

9. RNC Convention Protests

This footage of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman being carted away made a lot of news at the time, as did the tear gas and other protests going on outside the convention hall.  This was all quickly overshadowed by the next player to emerge on the national stage…

10. Is McCain Palin’s Bitch?

This one has gotten more than 2 million view, yet it hasn’t made it as big as some of the other viral hits.  I just love it because they managed to find an actor who actually kinda looks like McCain.  And it starts with the faux-Palin firing an AK-47. And ends with the line “Who wants to go polar bear huntin’?”

11.  Couric-Palin interview – “I can see Russia from my window”

This has passed into the category of epochal political history.  The moment that Palin said something so galactically stupid that people around the world stopped in their tracks to ask, “She said WHAT? What the hell was THAT?”  Of course, that then opened the door to….

12. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

This got more than 7 million views.  And has spawned a whole cottage industry.  I’m sure you have seen all of these.  And if you haven’t in a while, go and check them out. They could populate an entire list by themselves… 

13. Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep”

This is not as genius as Tina Fey’s work above, but it’s still damn good, and more than that, has apparently inspired a whole bunch of young East Coast jews to bug their grandparents in Florida to vote Obama.  We’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday to see how well that worked out, but in the meantime, the description of Obama’s barbecue skills is worth a peep.


14. Obama – McCain Dance-Off

If we are not to settle big issues through single combat, then the dance-off would seem to some observers (OK, me) to be an equally thrilling and relevant process.  And it may reveal more about character and poise than those damn canned statements they just recite in front of the cameras in lieu of actually answering the questions asked by the moderators.

Final winners will be unveiled tomorrow.

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May 27

Where’s the Sneezing Baby Panda?

Posted: under Community, Multimedia, Online Video, Viral Fame.

Weezr’s Pork and Beans video turns the whole “viral fame” process on its head, taking in the personalities made famous in the last year or so by YouTube, and biting off their fame. It’s funny, self-referential and the tune burns (Full disclosure: I used to have “Hashpipe” as a ringtone on my old Sanyo. I like their riffs. Sue me.)

I’m not sure if this represents the final nail in the “Everyone famous for 15 minutes” meme, since time is no longer a delimiter for fame. 15 million pageviews? 15,000 friend requests on MySpace? How do we now categorize and describe inconsequential, perhaps accidental, fame?

On an artistic front, I really dig the throughline of Weezr’s stuff – they started out with the “Buddy Holly” video, biting off “Happy Days,” using the set & beloved character – and now they’re using anti-nostalgia, i.e. the ultimate in ephemeral phenomena, as visuals for their music. Oh yeah – and they’ve got a dedicated channel on YouTube now. Look for remixes and parodies of this springing up in the next week or so. Update: Oh God, they’ve started already.

Wired has a good take on this, including this quote:

“It was mayhem making the video,” Weezer guiartist Brian Bell explained. “We were performing with all these amazing YouTube celebrites, and I felt like I had walked into my own computer.”

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