May 4, 2010 Comments Off
YouTube is a revolutionary form of media that has served as an easy to use distribution platform for anyone with the sufficient means to participate. YouTube’s slogan “Broadcast Yourself” is exactly what millions of people worldwide have done to an impressing extent in only the five years since it began. The prominent reason YouTube has become so popular is that is holds great potential to widely distribute filmmakers’ work and to let their voices be heard by the public. Unfortunately, standing in the way of filmmakers achieving the full potential of YouTube are that the site has the ability decontextualize a video and that YouTube marginalizes videos that do not appeal to it’s distinct and homogeneous audience.
The ability for individuals to widely distribute their work and express their voice through YouTube may be suppressed because YouTube can place videos out of context, which can cause them to be misinterpreted. People whose videos are ambiguous and understood only when sufficient background information is provided are easily misinterpreted on YouTube. The fan music video by Kirk Spock faced this problem. Fan videos films “remix footage from cult television programs to popular music, creating a distinctive form of cultural commentary” (Jenkins 2009). When the Kirk Spock video of Star Trek scenes set to Nine Inch Nail’s song “Closer” was released on YouTube, it was misinterpreted by the public to be comedic when the maker’s intention was to be disturbing because of the “vivid depiction of sexual violence” (Jenkins 2009). In the context of other fan videos, this misinterpretation would not have occurred, but on YouTube it did. Fan video makers are trying to utilize YouTube to widely distribute their work and to share a message with the public. But when the public cannot fully understand the true intention of the video, then the maker’s voice will not be heard and the wide distribution will accomplish nothing.
A second barrier video makers have to overcome in order to take advantage of YouTube’s capabilities is that YouTube marginalizes videos that do not appeal to its main audience. YouTube has an audience that lacks diversity and because YouTube “pushes up content which receives support from other users” (Jenkins 2009), the top videos are homogeneous and representative of the majority audience. The nature of popular videos are comedic, “amateur movies showing poor fools” (Keen 2007) doing almost anything. Thus, for an individual or an organization to effectively distribute a video to be viewed by the maximum number of YouTube visitors, they must make a video that falls within the tastes and interests of the majority YouTube visitors. Otherwise, a video will not be broadly distributed for few “visitors to the site move beyond the most visible content” (Jenkins 2009).
Once the barriers of YouTube are overcome, a video has the potential to circulate and take off virally. One example of an organization that cleverly overcame the barriers of YouTube is an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance that teamed up with Wal-Mart Watch. The Harry Potter Alliance released “a series of campy, over-the-top videos” (Jenkins 2009) that criticized Wal-Mart’s employment practices. The videos directed attention to the Wal-Mart Watch official website where people could find more information about the organization’s cause. This use of YouTube creatively targeted YouTube’s audience and stated the organization’s message clearly so that there was no misinterpretation.
While YouTube is a public space that provides a forum for anyone to share videos easily and effectively with the public, it is not as democratizing as it appears. YouTube portrays the illusion that it includes all people of society because there is “an inexhaustible supply of user-generated content” (Jenkins 2009) on the site. With so much material, it seems as though YouTube is highly democratic for every section of society must be represented so some degree; but this is not the case. At the foundation of the problem is that “people have uneven access to the means of participation” (Jenkins 2009); many people worldwide cannot afford a computer, webcam, or a video camera, and thus, these people of low socioeconomic classes cannot express themselves via YouTube. As Bill Ivey said in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2006), he unequal access extends beyond financial reasons and into “education, skills, […] resources, and time” (Jenkins 2009). The people that lack these means are not represented on YouTube and thus, YouTube is not completely democratized.
The second reason YouTube is not democratic is that it has restrictions on what content can be shared in the videos and what can be said in the comments. YouTube restricts videos that have sexually explicit content, graphic violence, illicit behavior, or hate videos that target certain groups (Community Guidelines 2010). Because of YouTube’s restrictions, the complete diverse spectra of videos that exist in our society are not represented. YouTube offers great potential for the “haves” of society, individuals that have the means to participate, meet the guidelines for video content, can express their message in the context of YouTube, and appeal to the specific audience of YouTube. But for the “have-nots”, YouTube is of no use and they fall further behind and become culturally divided from the “haves”. Until YouTube is fully democratized, its users are too suffering from not being completely cultured. They fall into a trap believing their entire society is represented when the exact opposite is true. If this continues, the “haves” and “have-nots” of society will continue to distance themselves from one another and YouTube will be the source of the problem.
Burgess, J. and Green, J. 2009. YouTube : online video and participatory culture. Cambridge ; Malden, MA: Polity., pp. 109-125.
Keen, A. 2007. The cult of the amateur : how today’s internet is killing our culture, 1st ed. Doubleday/Currency, Ch. 1., pp. 1-9.
YouTube (2010). YouTube Community Guidelines. .