May 6, 2010 0
A New Generation of Stars
Technological breakthroughs in recent years have allowed for the individual to harness power of film that has traditionally been held by large conglomerated companies. A vast array of users can now film, edit, and publish their work with minimal required capital and virtually no experience. This technological availability coupled with an open-access, mass distribution platform like YouTube has redefined traditional notions of celebrity in film, especially the process leading up to stardom. In contrast with Andrew Keen notion of it as a collection of pathetic amateur film, YouTube actually is a democratizing force that affords massive opportunities to success in the media industry.
Becoming a film star in the traditional way generally entailed a longer process and career to reach the top. This process generally takes quite a bit of time and persistence. Once there, conventional methods of advertisement such as television, radio, newspaper, and billboards are needed to manufacture popularity. For this reason, large amounts of capital are generally needed to finance this path; suffice to say, the individual does typically not possess such capital. Celebrity here recognizes corporate marketability. This path is not always linear. There exist a number of counter examples such as the ‘nobody’ who gets a big shot and becomes famous instantly, or the underpublicized cult classic actor with a dedicated niche audience. These cases are important to highlight the complexity of the issue, something Keen shies from.
Cheaper access to use of video technology has caused an increase in the popularity of individuals buying and using video cameras. In the last decade or so, video cameras have decreased in price as well as become increasingly more powerful and more portable. Although camcorders have existed for some time, not until more recently have they become so widely used. Furthermore, additional video technology has become more popular such as web cameras, especially those built into computers, which can deliver high quality video, and video editing software. In Keen’s eyes, this would signify the arming of each monkey with a typewriter.
Also crucial to YouTube success is a general proliferation of Internet users. In the last two decades, the Internet has very rapidly expanded, thus creating a user a large user base. In the context of YouTube, they create the audience. Eager netizens spread their opinion about that entertainment, making them an ideal audience for amateur video production and consumption. Keen regards them as his species of “infinite monkeys” (Keen 2007). While the expanding number of Internet users may seem infinite, their diversity can no more be homogenized than can human interests or characteristics.
The final piece of the puzzle is the creation of YouTube, an open-access, easy to use, platform that allows the public to upload and view an uninterrupted stream of videos. Following the proliferation of video technology and Internet users, YouTube channels these forces to provide a new community of video producers and consumers. Within this new community emerges an entirely new type of star: the YouTube star. Here, certain videos receive more attention than others, and of those an even smaller portion receive enormous attention. However, a distinguishing factor of this ‘film star’ is the way in which he is discovered. For example a video might be viewed, enjoyed, and circulated via numerous online currents such as blogs and social networking sites. This free, more democratic, method of advertisement replaces traditional, cost intensive ones. Another factor is the possibility of anonymity. One need not divulge personal information to become a YouTube personality or celebrity. Arguably this could lead to misrepresentation and fraud. However, it may just as easily encourage users to be more honest or open. This elimination of barriers promotes a freer production of culturally relevant material, which is democratic in a sense.
Andrew Keen would have us believe that all YouTube users are mindless brutes that occasional produce a work of quality but only through sheer luck (Keen 2007). Numerous user archetypes serve as counters to this point of view. Talented individuals like musicians, artists, and comedians, recognize YouTube power to publicize and give free performances. Google has recently launched a successful campaign to establish a large classical music community on YouTube (Wakin 2008). How does this constitute cultural erosion? Keen could argue that the majority of the other videos are devoid of value. There certainly exist numerous YouTube videos that are of truly minimal quality, but it seems unfitting to categorize the YouTube population by the lowest common denominator.
Film technology has existed and been available to individuals in the past. However, certain barriers such as price and technological know-how have prevented widespread use. The proliferation of Internet users and the creation of YouTube have had the dual effect of opening up a new forum for both displaying videos and creating audience to watch them. While pessimists might key in on a specific user archetype to condemn the system as a whole, it is clear that YouTube fosters the production and circulation of myriad items of cultural value. While some may have more to contribute than others, the spirit of YouTube gives everyone a shot, a trait that is commendable on its own.
Wakin, D. J. (2008). Getting to Carnegie Via YouTube. New York Times. New York.
Keen, A. (2007). “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.” Doubleday/ Currency.