Web Videos of 2006


In some ways the Long Tail era should be inimical to the creation of these year-end lists. One great thing about video on the web is that there is so much of it and that it is so various. But YouTube and other sites for viewing online video are not only an essential component of the new niche culture of sundry oddity; they are also engaging a common culture, a water-cooler culture. The significance of many of the videos below hinges on their wide dissemination. The whole idea of viral video, which I hope people will stop talking about soon, is that a wide audience is tantalizingly within reach given a winning combination of talent, zeitgeist, and good luck.

Like all such compilations, this one is cut to the measure of my idiosyncratic tastes. I don't claim that this is the best or top ten videos, just ten I think are worth recording as remarkable in some way. Most of all, I think they will be worth remembering in the future. Some have been seen by millions, others by only thousands. They are given here in no particular order.

"Let's give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." American politics might not have been truly transformed by Sen. George Allen's strange speech addressed directly to the videographer he insultingly dubbed Macaca. But many people's perception of the effect of technology on politics was shaped by this seminal moment in the YouTubification of American campaigning. And a Senate seat was lost in part because of the ease and accessibility of viewing video on the internet.

Lonleygirl15 was the first web-based serial narrative to gain wide attention and even acclaim. Some called it a new art form. If nothing else, it demonstrated the ease with which amateurs might be able to mount impressive narrative constructions and gain wide distribution for them on very limited means. Also, before the big reveal, it was a both a great story and a great metastory.

The Show With Ze Frank is a one-man production that airs five days a week. Frank not only conceives and performs his topical show, a sort of short and cheap version of Stewart/Colbert, but also shoots and edits it and writes and records original music. A show conceived as "a conversation between the host and the viewers of the program," it has inspired a rabidly loyal following of "Sports Racers," who supply Frank with intro videos and material to discuss, and occasionally script a segment or episode using a wiki. Of all the artists, amateurs, and eager kids producing content for the internet, Frank is indisputably the brightest, cleverest, and most consistently amusing. Is there anything on the internet better than The Show With Ze Frank?

Male Restroom Etiquette is a parody of an educational film of the 1950s or 1960s, with the requisite stentorian voice-over and preposterous slippery-slope reasoning. This is also an example of one of the most compelling forms of fan folk culture, the video-game-based homebrew animation called machinima. This video was produced using captures from The Sims 2. Unlike many instances of machinima, this one was made to be accessible beyond the fan community, to bridge the videogame and machinima subcultures to the larger online video audience. It won the best writing award at this year's Mackies (the Oscars of the form).

It has been on the "air" for more than two years, but Rocketboom, the daily program seen by as many as 300,000 viewers (this is a matter of some controversy), continues to be the standard against which videoblogs are measured. Its first host, Amanda Congdon, departed in July after a dispute with her partner in creating the show, Andrew Baron. She was replaced by the very funny and talented Joanne Colan, formerly a VJ on MTV Europe, who has only improved what was already a formidable franchise. After the split, Congdon did her own thing, Amanda Across America, traveling the country with her camera and microphone to interview some of the bigger personalities in web culture (Craig Newmark, Jeff Jarvis) among others. After that she signed on with HBO and ABC to do her new-fashioned thing on that old-fashioned medium, television.

Galacticast is a sci-fi parody videoblog by Rudy Jahchan and Casey McKinnon, the Nichols and May of web geek-chic. Galacticast's production values, although still crude next to, say, Lord of the Rings, are a dozen notches above most of the amateur content online. Jahchan and McKinnon have a green screen and aren't afraid to overuse it, and McKinnon is especially adept in front of the camera. Galacticast has goofed on everything from Dr. Who to Superman II and although it helps to be as big a sci-fi fan as they are, their videos are worth watching just to see what industrious and talented media producers can do within DIY parameters. (Jahchan and McKinnon were recently profiled on ReelPop.)

Jonathan Coulton is a singer-songwriter who makes his songs available for anyone to use in making videos. Several of them have been set to slideshows of images from the photosharing site Flickr that are remixable under a Creative Commons license. The first of these, Flickr.mov, is about Flickr itself--about all of the things one can find among the millions of photos posted to its pages. Neither the song nor the images are really outstanding, but the combination of the music and photos is a fascinating collaboration among hundreds of strangers. Of all of these videos, this one seems most emblematic to me of the aesthetic potential of the grassroots culture promoted by web evangelists. (Also see the Coulton videos Over There and Ikea.)

USA Today has called OK Go's treadmill video, "Here it Goes Again," "the YouTube Age version of Michael Jackson's moonwalk." Like so many of the things that get linked like crazy on the web, "Here it Goes Again" depends for its impact on being utterly astonishing, something we have never seen before, and utterly authentic, something made without the gloss, polish, fakery, and spin of the typical mass media productions. Like instances of early cinema (from the medium's first decade), which scholars have described as appealing with an "aesthetic of astonishment,"[1] many of the best early internet videos are short, diverting, and incredible.

The Fucking Short Version of The Big Lebowski is a prime example of one essential genre of contemporary short-form videos, the parodic remix. This one takes what is perhaps the most beloved American film of the 1990s and removes from it everything that isn't "fuck." The delight in watching is that of getting the whole narrative (assuming you've seen the movie in the first place, but if you haven't, why would you watch the parody?) in the form of characters muttering, shouting, bleating, breathing fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. A more common subgenre of parodic remix in 2006 was the trailer-mashup, best exemplified by Brokeback to the Future, which gets all of its power from Gustavo Santoalalla's haunting Brokeback Mountain score. All of the Brokeback trailer parodies depend for their comic effect on perverting what was once the interpretive practice of an oppressed group, a queer reading, to turn it into something comfortingly mainstream.

YouTubers is a compilation video, set to melancholic music, of bits from dozens of confessional videoblogs posted to YouTube . So, so, so many young people turned on their camcorders in the past year to reach out to the strangers out there, to the YouTube community, and so many of them were rewarded with conversation and camaraderie. Their faces and voices, their emotions and experiences, are nowhere captured better than here.

Honorable mentions:
-Amateur by Lasse Gjertsen. A new kind of musical virtuoso, his instrument is video editing software.
-Zidane headbutts Matarazzi. Soccer even Americans can understand.

[1] Tom Gunning, "An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the [In]Credulous Spectator," in Viewing Positions, ed. Linda Williams (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1995), 114-133.

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