Sunday, May 27, 2007

Heffernan on YouTube

Today's New York Times has an article about YouTube (The Many Tribes of YouTube) (free registration required) by Virginia Heffernan. The focus of the article was around the YouTube function Video Response.

Really the only authentic response to a YouTube video is another YouTube video — the so-called “video response.”

YouTube appeared in February 2005, when it was modestly billed as a site on which people could swap personal videos. Since then, however, its video-response feature, which essentially allows users to converse through video, has managed to convene partisans of almost every field of human endeavor, creating video clusters that begin with an opening video, and snowball as fans and detractors are moved to respond with videos of their own. In answer to a lousy, stammering video, say, a real YouTuber doesn’t just comment, “You idiot — I could do that blindfolded!” He blindfolds himself, gets out his video-capable Canon PowerShot and uploads the results.

I think that is an accurate assessment of the YouTube culture. (DISCLOSURE: One of the main reasons that I've been neglecting this blog of late is that I've become hopelessly addicted to YouTube. You can find my channel here. It has become my atheist platform. I am considering starting a new channel where I talk about my favorite science related news headlines--much like my original intent when I started this blog.) The video response feature is at the heart of the growing YouTube community. It allows users to interact with each other in ways that were just not available two or three years ago. I've become a big fan of the feature and I try to take full advantage of it. There are some users who make almost exclusively video response videos. Many users rate the success of their particular videos based on how many video responses they get. And some videos specifically ask for video responses. My personal favorites are the Blasphemy Challenge (more on this one later) and the Ok Go dance contest (which didn't even get a metion in the Heffernan piece--I guess it doesn't help that the contest is long over).

In her article, Heffernan goes on to profile five different examples of popular video response "tribes." One of them is the blasphemy challenge. Once again, someone in the media gets it wrong and needs a good pwning. Let's look at what she wrote.

Individual religious testimony abounds on YouTube, as do sermons from miscellaneous (and sometimes extinct) religious institutions, but these are posted to fire up discussion, not to lay down any laws. Versions of the last sermon of the prophet Muhammad are posted — one runs “Star Wars”-style with the words receding into outer space — as are Christian sermons on sexual purity and Palestinian sermons that contain anti-Semitic slurs.

Viewers are urged to discuss them, and they do. Curiously, the religious group that makes the most imaginative and despotic use of YouTube are atheists.

I have a couple of problems with that last sentence.
  1. ATHEISTS AREN'T A RELIGIOUS GROUP!!! Atheism isn't a religion. An atheist is simply someone who doesn't believe in the existence of any gods. That's it!
  2. I'm completely baffled by her use of the word "despotic." Did she just throw it in there because it sound ominous? My dictionary defines "despotic" as of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a despot or despotism; autocratic; arbitrary; tyrannical. WTF? How does that word describe the YouTube atheists?

She goes on.

The Rational Response Squad, a furtive organization devoted to curing theism, has challenged YouTubers to post videos of themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit and thereby — in the group’s reading of Mark 3:29 — damn themselves for eternity.

More than 1,200 people have posted blasphemy videos as of this writing. In each one, a single person speaks the line, “I deny the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes he or she adds more: a name, a speech, a further denial of Easter Bunny-like entities.

That's about right. My only little complaint here is that she's implying that the RRS came up with that interpretation of Mark 3:29. I've talked about this before, so I will just mention that that particular reading of Mark (and Luke and Matthew who repeat it) is one of the most common interpretations being taught to children in churches and Xian schools accross the country in order to scare them into belief.

Some blasphemers are jaunty, some are insolent, some are scary, some are nervous. But all of them (young and old, mostly English-speakers, but with a range of accents and ethnicities) seem to believe they are making a statement of some gravitas — issuing a reproof to doctrine, possibly risking their salvation.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!! The YouTube blasphemers DON'T believe that there's ANY gravitas in their statement. Did she completely miss the point of listing the Easter bunny alongside of the holy spirit? (Yes, obviously) It's the believers who think that these statement carry some gravitas. The whole point is to throw it back in their faces by effectively saying "this is just a silly statement about a silly imaginary being from a silly religion." No one thinks that they're riking their salvation because there's no such thing as eternal salvation! If I were to make a video of myself walking under a ladder, it would be to show that there's nothing to be afraid of, NOT because I believed that there might be consequenses for that action. AAARRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!

Anyway, I might as well show how she finished the section on blasphemy.

On the face of each participant is both a wonderful purity of purpose — the mandate is so simple, the one-line script so unforgettable — and a clear vulnerability.

Will anyone regret taking the so-called Blasphemy Challenge? If so, can they retract their videos?

Assuming (and I'm not quite sure why I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt here) that that last sentence was made tongue-in-cheek, I don't have any complaints about that. In fact, I think it's a cute way to end the section.

1 comment:

heike6 said...

Nice article review. I agree that the use of the word "despotic" is strange, at the least. Oh, I agree with everything else, too!