Last spring, I was completely obsessed with the Brokeback Mountain trailer remixes. I found them to be part parody and part distillation of commentary on the hero archetype. The remixes produced an emergent discourse, without the intention of the creators.
Virginia Kuhn posed a very interesting thought in her comment to the post:
I wonder however, if the aggregate discourse created will be able to shed reliance on archetypes that don’t seem entirely natural but more cultural in nature. In other words, I wonder if the hero can be submerged in favor of something else… It seems to me that would be quite radical.
A great place to mine for these new types of emergent discourse is ytmnd.com, where a incredibly rich discourse is going on purely through multimedia texts. As with most viral media, I was first shown the site a few years ago at work, in this case, by a former colleague Brian.
ytmnd.com refers to a website sampling Sean Connery’s line “You’re the man now, dog!” from the film “Finding Forester.” The site contained with a tiled of image of Mr. Connery, a bit of text, and a sound loop. What was intended on being a one-off post lead to the creation of an entire site devoted to similar sampled remixes inspired by the original, which anyone can upload. What a “post” is difficult to describe and is almost a genre to itself. However, there are common features, including animated gifs, tiled images in a webpage background, limited text, techno-pop samples, Nintendo imagery and science fiction references. The lack of text, micro-length, and heavy use of pop culture is a reflection upon the evolving norms of our cultural language in the digital networked society.
The low production values has interesting effects on the site. Because the barrier of entry is lowered, the speed of production allows for responding to events or other posts in real time. The vibrant spontaneous “conversation” is seen with the immediate reactions to the ejection of French soccer player, Zinedine Zidane, in the 2006 World Cup championship match for head-butting a player on the Italian national team. By the end of the next day a series of posts had been watched tens of thousands of times, with the most popular entry currently having over 200,000 views. People have posted various commentaries on the incident, with the more amusing ones having theories behind Zidane’s action, involving missiles and candy.
However, as with any open and accessible forum, much of the work can be juvenile, crude, not appropriate for work, and plainly offensive. Many posts are not safe for work. The number of page views a far from perfect, but not terrible filter for quality. A community has emerged around the site, as has a media ecology, where one example inspires the creation of others. Often a popular post, will initiate others to riff off the post and create responses. For instance, Picard Song was the first post to be uploaded to the ytmnd.com site after it went live. As of July 11,2006, a search for Picard reveals 1,261 entries. Including, YOU’RE THE CAPTAIN PICARD NOW! (made four days after Picard Song) and of course Picard and Zidane. Picard IS the Empire has cultural nods to Star Trek, Star Wars, Saturday Night Live’s Night at the Roxbury skit, and Herbie the Love Bug in the memorizing display of pop cultural referential weirdness.
The Brokeback Mountain trailer spoofs rely on the archetype of the hero, while playing off the implied homoeroticism of male bonding in film for a specific outcome. Here, the discourse is much more chaotic and disparate. As Kuhn predicted, the archetype has been submerged. Something else is in its place, but I am not sure what that is. Although we are not seeing in general deep critical analysis, the bird’s eye view does show a new form of language more akin to leet or perhaps, the inside joke among a group friends, but on a much wider scale due to its accessibility on the Internet. ytmnd.com is a prime example of cultural production built on existing culture that Larry Lessig discribes in Free Culture. Further, Henry Jinkens has discussed how we as a culture are constantly bombarded with media, advertising and branding. We should not be surprised then that ytmnd.com takes for the form that it does, using existing content almost certainly under copyright protection. It is worth noting that some posts push against this reliance on popular culture by using historic references. However, the series of medieval themed posts including this one is most funny and successful when understood within the larger going conversation of ytmnd.com.
When I go to ytmnd.com, I may not understand everything being said or find it amusing, however I inevitably feel like something new and important is happening. These short bursts of communication are extremely popular and are a unique form of composition that can carry on a conversation within its own form. Although it will not replace standard forms of digital or analogue writing, ytmnd.com is a model of how emergent discourse can form through an open network and accessible tools.
In 2004, as the Matrix Ping Pong video link bounced its way from inbox to inbox, people where amused by the re-creation of a ping pong match with Matrix style special effects, using people instead of computer technology. Viewers were amazed at the elaborate costumes, only to be topped by even more amazing choregraphy. Perspective changes and camera angles are reproduced. Influences of Matrix 360 camera spinning and earlier Cantonese martial arts films are pervasive. Part of its success was the evident work and planning that was required to design and execute the scene. The idea of simulating the simulated was both ingenious and topical. However media criticism aside, it’s just a pleasure to watch.
The clip comes from a popular Japanese television show Kasou Taishou, where contestants performs skits before a panel of judges. These skits often involve re-creating camera work and special effects of film. That same year, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the UK pop band Pet Shop Boys release the video for the song “Flamboyant.” In the video, a (stereo)typical Japanese corporate employee is seen struggling to design a skit for the show. Interspersed in the video are mock Japanese ads starring Tennant and Lowe. Two years later, they take the idea one step further recently their their new video, for “I’m with Stupid.” In it, Matt Lucas and David Walliamsthe stars of the British comic skit series “Little Britian” to replicate PBS videos “Go West” and “Can You Forgive Her.” The result is a bizarre re-intereption of the CGI intensive PBS videos.
When I first started on this post, I was going to try to say that these examples are a “reaction” to the increasing virtual parts of lives. However, my thinking has shifted towards this reading this phenomenon as the process of “reflection” that has a long traditional in cultural production. As our lives are becoming increasingly virtual, synthetic, and digital, our analogue lives reflect back the new digital nature of what we experience. Like a house of mirrors, people are reflecting back what they see. These mirrors, as found in the amusement parks, distort the original image, bending and stretching people’s reflection, but not beyond recognition. The participants on Kasou Taishou started copying the images from the Matrix, which itself is a reflection or new interpretation of the fight choreography of Cantonese martial arts films. Pet Shop Boys first merely replay their reflection (with splices of fake Japanese commerical staring themselves.) Things get much more interesting when Tennant and Lowe realize that the truly interesting part of the Flamboyant video was re-creating the digital with the analogue, while adding their own personal distortion through a distinctly British comedic lens.
Advances in telecommunication and media production technology have blown open the opportunity to create and share these types of cultural call and response we are witnessing. The history of parody is a prime example of this, a traditional cultural dialogue through media artifacts. I’m not all surprised, in this case, that Japan is playing a role here. In that, I have always been both fascinated and amazed by the observed way that Japanese culture seems to balance the respect of tradition with the advancement of modernity, especially with technology. Although, I realize that distance and language barriers may mask the tensions between these cultural forces. Part of the balance is achieved by taking the old and infusing it into the new rather than completely reject the old. Further, in the case of the real simulating the virtual, the diversity of modes of creation and distribution is extremely telling. Traditional roles are blurred. The one-to-many versus many-to-many broadcast models, East v. West cultural dominance, corporate v. independent media and pro/am production distinctions are being rendered meaningless. The end result is a far richer landscape of cultural production.