May 3, 2010 Comments Off
YouTube’s Cultural Implications
Since its birth on February 5, 2009, YouTube, a simple user generated site which allows users to post, watch and comment on videos, has become entrenched in today’s society and culture. YouTube hosts over one million views a day and in merely 60 days it releases more video content than all 3 major US networks have created in 60 years. (2010 Sundance 1). To date YouTube is the 3rd most popular site in American behind Yahoo and Google taking a huge part in the new structure of the Information Society. YouTube is the eyes and ears of our society and gives people all around the world voices and outlets that were never available otherwise. YouTube has a severe hold on the social norms of our time, but the real question rests on the normative value of the website. Like any new revolutionary addition to society, YouTube contains benefits but also hazards on modern day life. This paper aims to aims to explore the cultural implications YouTube has and the way it has shaped society at large.
At its core, YouTube is a highly democratic institution; it’s a truly public yet pervasive forum. By giving people the power to ‘broadcast themselves’ citizens gain control over the media instead of large broadcasting institutions and governments As Jenkins highlighted in his case study on YouTube, the site is only the representation of a broader societal switch to, ‘today’s participatory culture but it does not represent its origin point for any cultural practices people associate with it” (2009 Jenkins 110). The participatory culture began before the dawn of YouTube as citizens began to create their own the media of their own milieu because technology became more user-friendly and accessible. YouTube is revolutionary and democratic because it acts as a platform for all of various genres of amateur media to interact with each other and be heard.
This interaction and support has expedited the participatory culture because YouTube has popularized the sharing of videos by giving it a center and user friendly medium. The real beauty of YouTube rests in the people’s consumption and enthusiasm of the decentralized, user generated media. However by grouping together all of the different participatory niches, it has added new audiences to people’s personal media. Since the participatory culture no longer exists in same niches, many videos are stripped away from their original context and can be easily misinterpreted. For example a fan video put out by Nine Inch Nails listeners was leaked on to YouTube and their message was misinterpreted. The video was supposed to be a serious and distributing montage of sexual violence by Star Trek characters, mirroring the intense meaning of the song. Yet when it went on YouTube, the clip reached outside the Nine Inch Nail fandom to random people who saw the montage as comedic because it appeared to be portraying gay Star Trek love. Once the video went on YouTube it transcended beyond, “the interpretive context fandom provided” (2009 Jenkins 117), which for them made their art meaningless and degraded. Although YouTube allows citizens to post their own productions to the World Wide Web, sometimes there voice can be misinterpreted because of the lack of structure that YouTube provides. This ambiguity casts detrimental effects on civil society because people’s voices are not actually being heard in a legitimate way.
Keen in his anti-web 2.0 book, The Cult of the Amateur, bashes the rise of the participatory culture because it causes serious threats to the integrity of our society. He noticed that sites and institutions like YouTube are almost solely formed around people promoting themselves and showing mindless activities. As these programs become more entrenched in our society people stop using the power of the internet to seek out, “news, information, we use it to actually BE the news, the information, the culture” (2007 Keen 7). Keen sees this as dangerous because our focus has shifted away from the important world events such as elections and wars to trivial media and personal broadcasts. There are so many voices to be heard, so many truths and varying opinions that we are,” distorting, if not outrightly corrupting our national civic conversation” (2007 Keen 27). The popularity of YouTube videos has little to do with the actual content or legitimacy of the source, but primarily rests in the user’s skill of internet advertisement and broadcasting. The videos that make the “Most Popular” list do not reflect public opinion, instead they are mindless clips of humor and entertainment, clogging our public discourse with unproductive, yet bonding threads.
YouTube is a public space, where nearly all ideas can be broadcasted and shared with the world. However it is not a public sphere where productive consensuses have the ability to be formed. YouTube, in all its popularity has transformed popular media for the worst. In essence it has ruined the backdrop for civic discourse by directing people to an overload of personal opinion and broadcast. As a means of entertainment, YouTube allows people to control what they watch in the most direct way possible. Yet as a means of cultural productivity, YouTube is too highly user generated and does not allow voices to be heard properly and for important news to be discussed in a legitimate productive forum. Since there is no merit or aristocracy on YouTube, the site equates equal importance on personal and global events which decentralized and cripples our civic society.
“General YouTube Stats (Sundance 2010).” Pressatgoogle.com. Web. 04 May 2010. <http://sites.pressatgoogle.com/sundance2010/general-youtube-stats>.
Jenkins, Henry. “What Happened Before YouTube.” 2009. YouTube : Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity. 109-25. Print.
Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur. New York: DoubleDay, 2007. Print.