PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

'Watching YouTube' Is Terribly Highbrow For a Subject That Is the Very Antithesis of Highbrow

Readers interested in a scholarly review of the current moment may well enjoy the analysis. Those of us who value lively writing and the ability to render arcane concepts accessible will have to wait for another book.


Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People

Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Length: 265 pages
Author: Michael Strangelove
Price: $65.00
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2010-05
Amazon

YouTube is a cultural phenomenon, a fascinating repository of video art both professional and amateur. As such, its milieu deserves exploration and explication. Someday, someone will write a lively, engaging, thought-provoking book about all this. Unfortunately, Michael Strangelove wrote Watching YouTube, instead.

First off: this is an academic book, written by an academic, published by the University of Toronto and presumably meant to be read by other academics or students of cultural theory or media studies. It's not meant to be read by the average person curious about the YouTube phenomenon. The author presumes familiarity with a broad range of cultural theorists, some of whom he agrees with and some of whom he rebuts. It's all terribly highbrow, notwithstanding the fact that the subject is the very antithesis of highbrow. I am not the intended audience for this book, so keep that in mind.

YouTube is such a huge beast by now, with thousands of new videos uploaded every day, that any random sampling will include some head-shakers and eye-rollers. Strangelove's focus is anything but random, focusing as he does on a number of specific areas of interest to him: home life, video diaries, women, political debate and so on. It's no surprise that many of the videos he cites are indeed "extraordinary" for one reason or another.

One interesting discussion focuses on the various groups of women who have used YouTube as a platform to disseminate videos of identity and support. These include various ethnic groups, as well as subgroups such as "fat women", "thin women", and "Barbie girls". Disturbingly, YouTube is also used as a platform by anorexics, white supremacists, violent women and militants of all kinds. Given YouTube's admirable non-censorship policy, these negative videos remain online.

That supposed non-censorship policy is not without its skeptics. Porn has never been allowed onsite, and is removed whenever found. More controversially, movie studios and other intellectual property holders periodically sue YouTube over the illegal posting of copyrighted works—movie clips, TV episodes, and music videos. In response, the site sweeps such postings offline, although even these attempts are erratic and incomplete. MIT hosts a site, called YouTomb, which tracks the deleted videos and helps members to sue if they feel their rights of fair use have been breached.

Strangelove also touches on the phenomenon of members who upload videos with intentionally misleading titles in the hopes of attracting hits from viewers who might otherwise be uninterested. My favorite anecdote concerns a 46-second clip called "XXX Porn XXX", which has garnered over 111 million views. It's a rant about the need to abolish the United States Senate. (Go ahead, take a look. You know you want to.)

Unfortunately, despite the fascinating subject matter, the book is written in the deadly academic style mentioned above. "The aesthetics of the YouTube experience, the settings it uses, the styles it embodies, and the emotions it generates reflect the prevailing condition of late-modern capitalism as it slides slowly into the postmodern condition." Um, okay. Any reader wishing to know what the author means by "the postmodern condition" is out of luck. Presumably we’re supposed to know. Likewise, the assumption that capitalism is sliding into it—whatever it is—is taken as a given.

Another habit of academic writing is the constant reference to other sources. Obviously this is necessary to a degree, but at times Strangelove can't seem to write two sentences consecutively without citing some researcher or other. Is this poor writing? Probably not. Nor is it poor scholarship, but it certainly makes the book a slog to get through.

The exception to this tendency occurs when the author takes a paragraph to outline and analyze the action occurring in a video. Not coincidentally, these are the liveliest moments in the book. Then it's back to, "Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson speak of how women's unpolished and unprocessed home movies emit 'an aura of authenticity.' Yet many literary and film critics deny the authenticity of women's experiences and position them as imprisoned by the male gaze." Have fun with this, kids, I'm gonna go watch YouTube.

Better, then, to set the theorizing aside and concentrate on the facts. Strangelove isn't stingy with them: YouTube contains more than 150 million videos; as of 2008, Americans accounted for only 30 percent of viewers (down from 70 percent just two years ealier); YouTube is the behemoth of online video sites, commanding 40 percent of the audience; its closest competitor draws 3.1 percent. Only 14percent of the video content is produced professionally, and 49percent of it is created by women. A two-minute clip of a baby laughing, entitled "Hahaha", has been viewed over 100 million times. And on and on. An abundance of details and statistics is here, unearthed by Strangelove in his research.

What he doesn't unearth is an engaging writing style. He positions YouTube as a harbinger of changes within society, whether it's vis-à-vis our representations of ourselves (through video diaries) or our families (with teenagers posting embarrassing clips of parents and siblings). He also sees the site as a new forum for political and religious debate, name-calling, hate speech and unkindness of all types. Readers interested in a scholarly review of the current moment may well enjoy the analysis. Those of us who value lively writing and the ability to render arcane concepts accessible will have to wait for another book.

4

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

20 Songs from the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.