YouTube Textualities

“Everyday creativity is no longer either trivial or quaintly authentic, but instead occupies central stage in discussions of the media industries and their future in the context of digital culture…”

1. Kinetic Typography and Stop Motion:

Videos on YouTube constitute an emergence of visual ‘literature’ in that they reconstruct the way that individuals perceive literature, entirely redefining what it means to be “literary”. I would argue that kinetic typography is both the foundation and final product of what the literary realm of YouTube attempts to achieve. Foremost, this style of video provides the actual text of communication through literature in the visual form, engaging the reader on an entirely new level of the readerly understanding; within this style of communicating language, the reader is forced to slow down and read all of the semiotics surrounding what they see and hear, redirecting what they originally associated as a “definition” and emphasis of the word. The way in which the video artist chooses to emphasize particular aspects of the written word (though it may be solely for visual effect) breaks down the dialogue of the readerly and writerly experience, causing the reader, or viewer in this case, to engage in ways that they may never before have realized. In a conversation surrounding the creativity behind the medium of YouTube, one source states that “it illustrates the increasingly complex relations among producers and consumers in the creation of meaning, value, and agency…there is no doubt that it is a site of culture and economic disruption”, however, this “disruption” can be argued just as much in a positive light as it is in that of the negative (13). In the above video-poem, entitled “Minimalism” the words use the modernist concepts of irony, paradox, absurdity to shock the reader’s perception of what the words really mean. In writing the word “little” as LITTLE, taking up the entire screen, the reader is confronted with an oxymoronic definition of what the signified truly is. The video further challenges what we regard as “normal” poetics by using word placement that shatter the word’s structure and break it down to merely letters—the artist’s presentation of describing a painting made by a child is broken down into the image (right) of a convoluted “mess” of letters that don’t spell out the word “child” at first glance, but require the reader to construct language from the foundational alphabet provided. Through this, readers are required to engage in the reading and actively create written language as it is spoken. The visual medium of kinetic typography that presents the spoken and visual word, presenting unexpected organization of how we ordinarily perceive poetics, forces the reader to become more accepting of the poetic medium.

To further this point, kinetic typography breaks down what Academia strives for through print literacy, offering what some would call a “less professional” level of poetry but what I would call a redefinition of what is art, literature, and communication. Digital communication not only not allows for mass promotion in this way, but also publicizes writing on a broad landscape that is cheaper in press costs due to the essentially “free” Internet publication realm when accessible. Jean Burgess and Joshua Green discuss the concept of “print literacy” in the early twentieth century and industrial age as being of an enormous cost to properly educate universities and schools nationwide that was properly addressed in hopes for a well-educated democratic population. In today’s digital age, “usage across different demographics is patchy…the scaling up of digital literacy is left largely to entertainment providers seeking eyeballs for advertisers, and those who want consumers for their [market]” (129). Unfortunately, the cost of the digital space is monopolized by entertainment advertisers who can pay top dollar for less literary outlets that pollute the sites ranging in content from news to fashion; however, through appropriately aligning literary endeavors, perhaps digital communication can become more closely associated with literature and education and recreate a better appreciation of “ the word”.

The above video’s color scheme of black and white ties back to how we write in hard copy; turning in sheets of white paper with black ink has dated back to the early nineteenth century. Through the video medium, this poem parodies the scholarly notion of poetry requiring professionalism, in Times New Roman or Courier font, and places it on the digital landscape, stating that conventional form is essentially lost in the digital space, however our minds are somehow tethered to the traditional format of tactile submissions of “serious” writing. Though this poem isn’t necessarily considered “highbrow” we can assert that it challenges the stuffy regulations of Academia in what they would regard as a formidable contest.  The poem not only offers the traditional text and a depth of language but also incorporates new-age fonts in a redefinition of the previously concrete two-dimensional space through an appeal to all of the senses through movement of sound and images. Isn’t movement what poetry stands to promote—movement for progress and the future in a self-sustaining and immortalized way?

 Gary Hustwit’s film, Helvetica, is a film that breaks down the way in which we perceive advertising through typography; it discusses the way that we view culture through aesthetics and the way in which that then reflects upon periods and transition on the fine arts. We currently live in a world that is completely saturated with advertising– a world whose future may regard this as a norm, because capitalism demands that we engage in the consumerism of branding and the identification through logos and images. Can we argue that modernism and typography are sending “the word” into a more artistic realm that is robbing literature of the literary aspect? Speaking away from the visual representation of the conceptual helvetica font, is the literary word, literature itself, being “re-branded” and realigned with a culture of advertising? Are the semiotics of “the word” being translated into art and advertising? In the above trailer and below discussion of the relation of typography to the art world one can see the way in which information about aesthetics are being presented though the medium of discussion: the visual aesthetic of online video.

2. Poetry + Advertising = Digital Poetry in Another Form:

How do we read videos as representations of culture? As emerging culture, established culture, high culture, low culture?

Associating videos as cultural representations is a tough topic, for distinguishing “high culture” from “low culture” is something that I would argue is extremely subjective. In this day and age it appears that emerging culture is somewhat closely aligned with high culture, as trends are so oversaturated with the advent of mass-media marketing (thanks to the Internet) that anything new is grasped tightly and honorably cherished. Yet emerging trends come and go, once they become overly marketed they become considered just a trend and fall into the wide abyss of established culture that either survives or becomes forgotten. The appropriate branding that all advertisers strive to achieve is to create a brand, image, product, or concept that will be immortalized without being considered “generic”.

An extraordinary video that I’ve recently become obsessed with is the most recent Fage Greek Yogurt advertisement with Willem Dafoe reading Brian Tierney’s simple and plain poem…“Plain”.

The poem, textually, reads as follows:

Within his creative wordplay, Tierney creates a redefinition of how the word “plain” can be used, and applies it to marketing something that ordinarily is extremely generic. Plain yogurt, something that shouldn’t take on the negating quality that the word “plain” connotes, is a difficult product to market. In Fage’s reorientation of the word “plain”, applying it to a gorgeous white motif with splashes of color, the reader sees the word “plain” as something entirely new—something of a positive light that is visually breathtaking, audibly (with Dafoe’s voice) striking, and if visual marketing had a taste, it would be something of the sublime. The marketing team at Fage also resituates the way in which poetry can be read. No, the poem is not a sonnet, for there exists no rhyming couplet at the end; however, seeing that the entire poem rhymes (which may be a marketing ploy to reel in less literary folks by forcing a twelve-line rhyme scheme)  the traditional way in which we perceive poetry’s original form is resituated. We are forced to read the commercial, which offers visuals such a woman’s fierce lion’s mane that is brilliant in color due to accurate calcium consumption in yogurt, or succulent colors of acai and blueberry emerging out of a great abyss of “plain” dairy, in our most creative mindset, constructing the fragmented  poetry within the commercial in the same way that we construct Yeats’ sonnets. As in the “Minimalism” video, Tierney’s conceptual video redirects the meaning of ordinary words and in this case, creates a definition of “plain” regarding something that is unconventionally beautiful.

3. YouTube as an Open Forum for Self-Reflexivity and Canonization:

What are the effects of an open forum/open sharing?

On YouTube the producer and consumer is arguable interchangeable.  Everyone is in some way connected to YouTube, at the very least by using it as a research tool for their everyday lives. Many of these consumers don’t necessarily consider their involvement with the site as “consumption”; they instead view their involvement as passive browsing. The accessibility to YouTube as a research source provides first and second hand sources, allowing the reader to effectively  access videos, sounds, sights, and writing of say, Charles Bukowski. YouTube also allows for individuals browsing for a specific type of video, say for instance, the the YAK films street dancing that we viewed in class. Along the “Related Searches” bar of the site one can find many different videos that link to their  search that they may never have seen before. In these videos being linked to each other from proper #hashtags,  beginners can achieve great numbers of hits on their video in an act of publicity and proper self advertising. Open forums, though they do leave room for hackers to make their way in to a specific topic or demographic, are wonderful in that they allow for the user to be the consumer and the consumer to be the producer. The audience is allowed to be as active as he/she wants to be in engaging in comments or actually uploading videos of their own; “from an audience point of view, is it a platform that provides access to culture, or a platform that enables consumers to participate as producers” (14). YouTube changes the cultural canon in that it forces the cultural canon to further expand, past tactile forms of the fine arts, past the tangible, and into the intangible digital space. In doing this, it appears that YouTube brings about an awareness of self engagement through searching the medium by understanding the platform’s ability to inform users of similar interests.

In the above clip from the series South Park one can see the way in which pop culture and the digital platform of YouTube have united– twice. As we watch the  South Park video on YouTube, South Park parodies YouTube in their skit, bringing us back to analyze what we’re watching and how we’re receiving it.

In watching the above South Park skit and the below video for Apple’s “1984” commercial, I can’t help but wonder if these “digital” mediums are really canonizing and immortalizing global culture, or is it just a progression of time and technology towards the future? I’m sure that William Shakespeare had no fathomable notion that art during the 1910’s would turn into something as wild as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, or , even later, surpassing the Red Scares and ending up as Magritte’s “Great War” or today’s Banksy. The self-reflexivity of culture within each of the video clips are indeniably a new cultural awareness that the modernists in the 1930’s were striving to achieve through literature. Though I cannot stand South Park, the target market is extremely broad with millions of viewers with a wide range of humors that range from low-ball to highbrow. In their incorporation of popular culture into the video, the creators of South Park included YouTube knowing that it has become an imperative part to our daily lives. Their inclusion acknowledges it, but also pokes fun at the fact that users are using the medium of topic to find their show, a brilliant move on South Park’s part because they can present themselves in a light of “understanding their consumer”.

If we look at the interconnectivity of each of these videos we can see that YouTube stands as a platform for the exposure of innumerable topics. In focusing on solely one topic, say, art, we can attain hundreds of thousands of videos from Vermeer’s style to Alexander Wang’s fashions, to the architecture of  Le Corbusier’s. Honing in more specifically on art, such as that of the Nouveau, and even more specifically on fashion, we can land upon videos of The Met’s collections of Paul Poiret, Jeanne Marie Lanvin, and other more contemporary designers who are all working with theatrical production. YouTube not only stands as a search engine for mp4 files but is a means for viewers to attain information that they can’t do locally at the immediate time (such as tour the Eiffel Tower in Paris). Not only is YouTube a platform that is a symbol of the future of the way in which we share information but it is allowing for our generation as a whole, world wide, to share and educate ourselves and each other at a much more rapid pace than was available without YouTube. Yes, there are those viral videos of kittens or Justin Bieber out there, but in sharing a wide array of topics through video content, someone will always take something new

 away from watching just a 15 second clip, whether they realize it or not.

The book used in analysis is Jean Burgess & Joshua Green’s “Youtube” (seen right)


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