Archive for viral videos

Return of the Political Parodies

Now that the 2012 Presidential campaign has started in earnest (sort of), we are beginning to see the first shots fired, via the medium of web video. We can start by taking a look at the Obama campaign’s launch video, “It Begins With Us:”

The video, which deploys a documentary style, is notable for several aspects: first, Obama barely appears in the video itself. He is seen only from a distance while Obama supporters discuss the importance of the grassroots campaign, of getting involved in helping Obama get re-elected (as one supporter explains, Obama “has a job to do,” so he won’t have time to campaign, unlike most Republican candidates). We see shots of campaign volunteers going door-to-door, accumulating signatures on clipboards, and contributing to the cause. The suggestion is that it’s “our” campaign, that our contributions are essential to Obama’s (and the country’s success). Shots of the heartland–Ed (from North Carolina) on his front porch, Gladys from Nevada at her kitchen table–attempt to ground Obama as the candidate of everyday people.

By comparison, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a parody ad that mocks Obama’s campaign and seeks to parody the president’s (ostensibly self-proclaimed) reputation as a uniter:

As Nancy Scola at Tech President observes, the video is currently getting more play than the actual campaign announcement, and the NRSC is rewarding high-profile linkers on their website, inviting even more traffic to the video. It’s difficult to read the tea leaves when it comes to video views, especially given that parody videos often tend to attract more traffic than straight-forward, politically earnest videos, which indicates to me that Ben Smith of Politico is probably a little too hasty in his attempts to read into the distinctions between the two campaign cycles. I do think that the NRSC video works relatively well, especially for true believers, hammering him on the deficit and on his promises to create jobs (the concluding shot of Obama riding off on a unicorn while leaving a rainbow trail, in particular, mocks the Obama brand of utopianism). More powerfully, the video (however fairly) seems to imply that the political energy is now with the Tea Party, signified by marches and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Obama has united the country in anger about his policies, while millionaires and billionaires clink champagne glasses.

Finally, the video seems devoid of some of the worst excesses of Obama hatred. Unless I missed something, the ad avoids indulging the spurious attacks on Obama’s birth certificate, for example, which allows the ad to use the populism of the Tea Party without accepting all of its actual beliefs. Although it is primarily designed to reach conservatives, I think it may also have an eye on disaffected independent voters. More than anything, I think these videos point to the changing positions that the two parties now occupy. Obama, as an incumbent, may have a more challenging position rhetorically than the Republicans who can depict themselves as the insurgent party.


Angry Birds and Big Pigs

Tama Leaver alerted me to the fascinating viral video, Three Big Pigs, an Angry Birds/Disney mashup video that satirizes the political situation in the Middle East. The video was produced by Russian mashup satirist Egor Zhgun. Ethan Zuckerman offers one of the most thorough discussions of the video and Zhgun’s prior work, much of which satirizes Russian politics, and points out the video’s status as part of a globalized media culture: “There’s something very 2011 about a Russian video using a soundtrack from American cartoons and characters from a Finnish mobile phone game (based on an English fairytale) to satirize North African politics.”

I’ll admit that until I read Tama’s blog post, I knew very little about the Angry Birds game (which probably kills my current hipness quotient), but even with little background in the game, at least some of the humor translates, and as Zuckerman also notes, Angry Birds has become a part of the lexicon when it comes to political satire, as this video commenting on the Israel-Palestine negotiations suggests. Finally, Zuckerman raises some interesting questions about whether the video will be threatened with a takedown notice, given that it uses the soundtrack to an old Disney short. Videos like these make me want to revive my somewhat-dormant research on online political satire.

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“Arnold is Very Clever”

Now that former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is contemplating a return to acting, it only makes sense to highlight a video featuring one of the Governator’s biggest fans (goodness knows he doesn’t have very many in his adopted home state right now).  The video, which was recently highlighted on Boing Boing, features nine-year old Alex, a Tanzanian boy who recites, point-for-point, the plot of Arnie’s schlock classic, Commando. And although my scholarly inclinations make it difficult for me not to cringe at the entertainment economy that allows such a movie to become one of our most visible imports, it’s almost impossible not to smile when Alex cheerfully describes Arnie suiting up for battle in the fight to get his daughter back.

But even though the video offers all kinds of goofy fun, it also has a larger pedagogical purpose.  It was posted by the folks at Mama Hope, an organization devoted to breaking stereotypes about Africa (and its many millions of residents), with the hope of building more sustainable communities there.  As the video reminds us, Alex is healthy, he’s not a victim, he’s not a child soldier. He’s energetic, enthusiastic, bilingual (and well versed in Hollywood high-concept narrative style).  In fact, it’s Alex who initiates the discussion of Commando when he learns that the video makers are from California.  The video is a fascinating attempt to “re-humanize Africa,” to tell different stories about it, even ones that overlap with schlocky Hollywood movies.

Update: To see more videos that explain the goals of Mama Hope, check out their YouTube channel. I’m also told that Alex’s original narration of Commando ran for nearly fifteen minutes but was edited down, so if you’re looking for key plot points, he probably mentioned them.


Pawlenty of Courage

As long-time readers of this blog likely know, I’ve been fascinated by online political campaign ads for some time, especially those that mix popular culture and politics, such as Phil De Vellis’s “Vote Different.”  Although many of these ads are straightforward mashups, many others gradually began to use other forms of citation in order to comment on the campaign or the candidates.  Now, with the 2012 Presidential campaign (especially the Republican primary) kicking into gear, it will be interesting to see how these strategies evolve.  With that in mind, I have become fascinated by the Tim Pawlenty “Courage to Stand” ad that I’ve seen linked all over the left blogosphere.

Most liberal bloggers, including Digby and Josh Marshall have expressed bemusement at the video’s apparently clumsy or self-aggrandizing use of action film codes (the video plays like a slightly edgier version of Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day), a reaction that is tempting given that Pawlenty often comes across as blander than white bread. Digby, in particular, seems to imply that the ad is meant to correct against Pawlenty’s “wimpy” image, while Marshall assumes that the ad is indicative of an over-sized ego. Plus, the ad is kind of corny.

But, as a commenter at TPM points out, the ad avoids some of the worst excesses of Tea Party politics, as well as references to 9/11, and to “Second Amendment Remedies.” Yes, the ad seems to be promoting Pawlenty as ready to be a lead in a Michael Bay film, but I think the tone of the video is just irreverent enough that it might not be taking itself completely seriously. I was amused when Hillary Clinton compared herself to Tony Soprano,* so I don’t think that Pawlenty’s ad is necessarily as excessive as it seems. It is worth noting that the ad hasn’t exactly burned the internet on fire and that most of the people I’ve seen linking to it are liberal bloggers who are making fun of the ad (although that could be a symptom of what I’m reading). It’s also worth noting that the ad–like most movie trailers–is way too noisy, making it difficult to link the imagery implied in the ad with Pawlenty in any genuine way, especially given all of the historical precedents of American success that he cites (The 1980 US Olympic hockey team? Neil Armstrong walking on the moon?). For the most part, I found myself tracking action film cliches–helicopter shot of national monuments, check; shaky camera, check–rather than taking notice of any of the verbal claims about Pawlenty. So, in terms of any real attempt to brand him as a candidate, I’m not sure that the ad actually worked. It simply seemed like a lot of visual and verbal noise.

* And, yes, the fact that a Sopranos joke played a role in a prominent political campaign ad shows just how old this genre of campaign ads actually is.

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Santa Inception

Somebody gave that Christmas Coke commercial featuring Santa Claus playing with a snow globe an Inception re-edit. As Amanda Dobbins at The Vulture points out, this might explain how Santa is able to travel across the entire globe on Christmas Eve.  Pretty funny, although the shots of the snow globe make me think we need a Citizen Kane re-edit, too.

Hope everyone has a happy holiday.

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Saturday Links

I’m in the midst of two writing projects with relatively immediate deadlines, so I’ve been away from the blog for a few days.  Hoping that I’ll have a little more time to blog in the spring since I will only be teaching three classes (my smallest course load in something like five years).  Also hoping that I will see many of my readers at this year’s SCMS conference in New Orleans.  Here are the links:

  • Over at his CinemaTech blog, Scott Kirsner offers a nice overview of some of the key contributors to his recent Distribution U summit in New York.  Because I’ve been doing some research on fan adaptations recently, I was especially intrigued by the video presentation by Timo Vuorensola, maker of the Star Wreck series and the film, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning.  In the video, Vuorensola is discussing his new project, Iron Sky and his very cool “Wreck a Movie” platform.
  • Anne Thompson offers an initial report on Amazon’s plans to create what amounts to a crowdsourced movie studio.  Users can submit storyboards, scripts, and even completed projects to the site where they can solicit advice from others.  Amazon, however, retains exclusive rights to all projects submitted to the service.  The one enticement (beyond Amazon’s “first-look” deal with Warner) is that they will be awarding monthly and yearly prizes.  Liz Miller of NewTeeVee reacts and warns aspiring filmmakers to read those rights agreements carefully.  Scott Macauley is also skeptical and uses the Amazon announcement to raise some red flags about crowdsourcing in general.
  • I’ve really been enjoying the interview series on the state of political remix videos that Henry Jenkins has been posting over the last few days.  I wrote about political remix videos quite a bit during and after the 2008 election and may be returning to the topic for a conference paper (and maybe a journal article) this spring.  Here is part three of Henry’s series.
  • According to research cited by NewTeeVee, viewers may be watching online video on anywhere from five to ten screens per household, thanks to smart phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices.
  • On a semi-related note, Time Warner is now experimenting with a new, cheaper cable bundle that would cost only $40 a month but would cut out some basic cable staples such as ESPN.
  • Finally, one of the sections of the book that makes me cringe a little is my discussion of interactive movies, in part because I lost track of how digital video could be used to create interactive features.  With that in mind, I really liked the recent Choose Your Own Adventure-style “Night of the Living Dead,” which repurposes footage from the original Night of the Living Dead (currently in the public domain, apparently). For people familiar with the original film (or even the plot devices of zombie films in general), it will likely be easy to steer the lead characters to safety; although it might be equally fun to create a little mayhem.  You can always backtrack later.  On a related note, here is a discussion of an interactive cinema iPhone app.

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Wednesday Links

Recovering from a cold, but hoping to put together a more substantial discussion of my trip to Bogota soon:

  • Jeff Deutchman’s crowdsourced documentary, 11/04/08, which assembles footage of people’s reactions to the election of Barack Obama as President, had a simultaneous premiere in approximately 20 cities the other day. The film will soon be available from Amazon, YouTube, and other online retailers.  Matt Dentler and Christopher Campbell have the details.  I missed the premiere because of travel, but I have to wonder how the documentary looks nearly two years after Election Day through the political lens of ongoing political and economic uncertainty.  Hoping to watch it soon.
  • Barack Obama joins Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, addressing bullied and isolated gay teens with a message of comfort.
  • The LA Times has an interesting discussion of the reemergence of consumers choosing to rent rather than purchase movies on DVD (or in streaming formats).
  • David Poland cites the Kickstarter success story, Blue Like Jazz.  One of the commenters suggests that Jazz’s success may be tied to its appeal to Christian audiences.  No matter what, raising over $300,000 online for a movie is an impressive achievement.  Hoping to have more to say about this project soon.
  • Anthony Kaufman’s latest “Industry Beat” column discusses the ongoing indie crisis, with one indie producer, Michael London, suggesting that making independent “movies has become more a hobby than a livelihood.”
  • Fun video of the day: an indie director and Charlie Chaplin fan comes to the conclusion that he has spotted a time traveler on a cell phone at the premiere of one of Chaplin’s films.  Needless to say, commenters at Cinematical are skeptical.
  • Scary video of the day: Citizens Against Government Waste uses race-baiting fear tactics to persuade us that progressives are in the process of destroying the American economic empire.  The video plays like a cross between the Apple 1984 ad and the sequel to Red Dawn.
  • Netflix is investing bigtime in streaming content, with a tab that might exceed $2 billion (h/t Chris Becker).


The Speed of Information

It probably says so0mething about how quickly information travels (or at lest how busy I’ve been lately) that I learned about the Atomic Tom story while sitting in a conference room in Bogota on Saturday.  If you haven’t heard, the band Atomic Tom had their musical instruments stolen a few days ago.  In response, the band put together an improvised concert using music apps on their iPhones in the New York subway system.  The creative bit of street (or subway) theater was, quite naturally, filmed on an iPhone and posted it to YouTube where it immediately became an international sensation and garnered the band a whole new audience.  The audience reactions in the video are priceless:

More on my trip to Bogota later this week.


Mickey Mouse Reacts

Mickey Mouse tunes into Glenn Beck’s show to learn that someone has been remixing Disney cartoons to make a political point:

A pretty creative response to the totally awesome Donald Duck video from the other day.


Monday Links

What I’ve been watching, reading, and thinking about over the weekend:

  • Via Henry at Crooked Timber, Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck, a brilliant remix of dozens of Disney cartoons from the 1930s to the ’60s.  Let’s hope Disney’s lawyers respect this as an example of a transformative work, one that falls well within the boundaries of fair use.
  • Since I haven’t had time to see the real “Facebook movie,” I thought I’d revisit the YouTube Movie trailer parody instead.
  • Spotted via Christine Becker’s News for TV Majors, Eric Deggans reflects on whether satire TV (of the Stewart-Colbert variety) can fix what ails our political system.
  • Hunter Weeks of 10 MPH discusses what he’s learned about DIY movie distribution.
  • With the planned release of 3D versions of Star Wars and Titanic, the LA TImes asks if studios are going too far with the gimmick.  Hollywood might just kill my desire to go to movie theaters after all.
  • The makers of the ElfQuest graphic novel have gotten behind a fan-produced and crowdfunded 1-3 minute internet trailer based on the novel (the rights to a film is currently held by Warner).  Not only have they given the filmmakers their blessing, they are donating artwork and promising personal phone calls to anyone who donates at the VIP level.


Flow TV Book Has Arrived

Like Jonathan, I am very happy to have finally received my copy on Flow TV: Television in the Age of Media Convergence, edited by Michael Kackman, Marnie Binfield, Matthew Thomas Payne, Allison Perlman, and Bryan Sebok.  My contribution, “Representing the Presidency: Viral Videos, Intertextuality, and Political Participation,” attempted to make sense of the evolving strategies being used by political participants of all types to engage with the 2008 U.S. Presidential election through the production of videos that infused politics and popular culture, following up on a short essay I’d written on the ground-breaking “Vote Different” for Flow’s online journal and a co-written article with Rich Edwards that found its way into First Monday.

Although the book “took its sweet time” navigating the path to publication, as Jonathan puts it, the delay may have served me well in that it allowed my article to serve as a coda to some of the research I was doing at that time.  It also makes me want to revisit how the grounds have shifted when it comes to political video: what happens now that the Democrats are no longer the insurgent or oppositional party?  How have the Tea Partiers mobilized the powers of popular culture to support their opposition to the Obama administration?  I began to hint at some of those questions by looking at Mike Huckabee’s use of Chuck Norris to give muscle to his campaign, but there is much more work to be done.

The collection itself is a fantastic one, with essays very nicely juxtaposed to speak to questions about the implications of media convergence, and I’m pleased to be included in such good company, with essays by Jason Mittell, Derek Kompare, Heather Hendershot, John Corner, Hector Amaya, and many others.  I only wish I could have been at this year’s Flow Conference to toast the book’s launch with the writers and editors who helped put it together.


Wednesday Links

Here are some of the film and media stories that I’ve been following today:

  • Henry Jenkins posted the extended version of his op-ed, on “Avatar Activism” to his blog.  The original appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique.
  • Cinematical reports that the makers of Freakonomics have a one-day-only promotion that allows audiences to pay the price of their choice to see the film.  You can pay as little as one cent and as much as $100.  All you have to do is fill out a survey, “so economists can analyze data about what kind of person chooses what kind of cost for him or herself.”  This is the second major experiment with alternative forms of distribution for this film.  It’s already available on pay-per-view, several days before its theatrical premiere.
  • MediaShift has an interesting discussion of how filmmakers have used crowdfunding tool Kickstarter to help pay production costs.
  • Some fascinating discussion of the blurred lines between democracy and entertainment when Lady Gaga tweeted an appeal to her followers to contact their Senators to support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
  • And in what seems like a notable juxtaposition: Netflix announced it is now making its streaming video service available in Canada just as the Wall Street Journal was reporting that Blockbuster looks to be headed into bankruptcy.
  • Finally, Lawrence High School is back, following up their “Kids in America” lip dub video with a performance of “Colour My World.”  Once again, they’ve made an incredibly fun video that brightened my afternoon.


(False) Mourning

I’ve been intrigued by the discussion on Wonkette and in Kathleen Parker’s latest column about “Mourning,” a reworking of the classic 1984 Ronald Reagan ad, “Better, Prouder, Stronger,” a.k.a. “Morning in America,” this time suggesting that Obama has sent the country into a national state of mourning over high taxes, unemployment, deficits, and (implicitly, at least) health care.  At first, I mistook it for a straightforward mashup along the lines of “Vote Different,” but it’s actually just a masterful emulation of the original, twisting it to imply that Obama has, in the space of less than two years, destroyed the Reaganite main street utopia celebrated in the original ad.

Like “Vote Different,” I’m fascinated by the rhetoric of the advertisement and what it might suggest about web-based political advertising. Perhaps the most notable feature of the advertisement is its uncanny resemblance to the Reagan ad, playing off of nostalgia for Reagan and the older forms of televisual political advertising associated with the ad, and in this regard it’s hard to deny the ad’s cleverness, its ability to use intertextual appeals to evoke a specific experience of American identity and culture.  But I have to wonder what audiences will feel included in that appeal.  Although some younger viewers may know the Reagan ad from their political science or media studies courses, it’s likely to be only vaguely familiar to most younger viewers.

The advertisement seems to work relatively well as an attempt to define the current climate of economic frustration by suggesting that Obama has reversed Reagan’s efforts to reduce government.  Over a shot of the Capitol, the folksy (but mildly ominous) narrator remarks that “the government is taking over choices we once made,” before dissolving to a shot of a flag at half-mast and then a funeral, turning a significant symbol of national identity into a vague threat.  Unlike the thriving main streets of the Reagan ad, we see shuttered buildings that indicate that Obama’s policies have “failed.”

The ad’s racial rhetoric is also striking: Shots of unemployed workers, one of them Latino, seem to imply, in part, that immigration is a root cause of the country’s economic problems.  During a closing shot sequence depicting a white, male child waving a flag, the voice-over calls for a “smaller, more caring government, one that remembers us,” with the word “us” superimposed between the flag and the boy’s face, inviting me to ask who is excluded from the “us” in that particular image.

I’ve concentrated primarily on the advertisement’s visual rhetoric primarily because “Mourning,” like “Better, Stronger, Faster,” seems to be working primarily at the emotional level, engaging with (and seeking to shape) a national “mood.”  But it’s worth noting that the advertisement obscures the fact that the debt described in the ad is primarily the result of the Bush tax cuts and spending.  And the ad also implies that the government is also taking “choices” away from the people, when in fact, Republicans have worked against certain kinds of choices, including the “choice” to marry the person you love, regardless of gender.

It’s worth noting that the ad was made  not by an individual, but by an organization called “Citizens for the Republic,” an organization that should not be read as representing a grassroots insurgency against Obama.  In fact, as Kathleen Parker acknowledges the ad was produced by Fred Davis, who also made the Carly Fiorina “Demon Sheep” ad, but I think that as online political advertising continues to evolve, the boundaries between inside and outside are going to become increasingly permeable.  I’m not convinced that the ad will work for all audiences.  As Parker suggests, the advertisement works well to define (or at least reflect) some aspects of the employment crisis, but what seems most endangered in the ad actually seems to be a Reaganite vision of America.


Friday Links

Here’s a wide range of reading and viewing for your early weekend pleasure:

  • The first part of a series of videos on remix culture called, aptly enough, “Everything is a Remix.”  One of the strengths of the video is the argument that remix practices have a much longer history (note the persistent recycling of the bass line from Chic’s “Good Times”).  This video is really good on how we evaluate the quality of remixes, so this is certainly a project that is well worth following (update: via Film Doctor).
  • Given some of my interests, I’m bummed that I haven’t come across Aina Abiodun’s Film Futurist blog sooner, but her recent discussion of three new movies that negatively depict social networking and/or the internet is well worth a read.
  • The Vulture has an interview with Werner Herzog about his new 3-D documentary about cave paintings (which I can’t wait to see).  Keep reading for the section where he explains his distaste for Avatar, in part because he is “allergic against group sessions of yoga.”  Speaking of 3-D: here is a little more skepticism about the appeal of 3-D storytelling, with Jeffrey Katzenberg calling for more films that “look good” in 3-D, while a DirecTV casts 3-D TV as a “niche” product for the foreseeable future.
  • Matt Dentler links to and analyzes a recent study that observes (among other things) that 37% of Netflix subscribers aged 25 to 34 use Netflix’s streaming service as a substitute for pay cable.
  • Here is an interesting documentary short about the success of Threadless Tees, the online T-shirt company that sells uniquely designed shirts.  It’s pretty celebratory, but the exploration of design culture is worth watching.
  • Via News for TV Majors, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are organizing rallies in Washington, DC.  Stewart’s rally is a Rally to Restore Sanity, while Colbert’s planning a March to Keep Fear Alive.  James Poniewozik and CNN have all the details. It may jut be time for a “research trip” to our nation’s capital.
  • The LA Times also has a discussion of the promotional plans for Paranormal Activity 2.


Wednesday Links

Taking advantage of the brief break in the middle of my work week to bring you the latest links I’ve been reading and watching:

  • YouTube has made its gallery of videos for the crowdsourced documentary Life in a Day open to the public.  YouTubers contributed over 80,000 videos for consideration to be included in the final documentary.  NewTeeVee and Cinematical have all the details.
  • Scott McLemee writes about his decision to bite the bullet and buy an e-book reader.  I’m still resisting buying one, but I think that Scott usefully demonstrates how they might be useful under certain circumstances.
  • Johnathan Zittrain asks whether the “future of the internet” he predicted has come to fruition.  Some interesting thoughts on the state of the “generative internet” as it exists today.
  • Bob Stein has a discussion of James Bridle’s The Iraq War, a compilation of all of the edits to the Wikipedia article on the recent Iraq War.  As a historical document and an attempt to wrestle with how knowledge is constructed in the internet age, this seems like a fascinating project.  This echoes a project I’ve assigned for my first-year composition students several times that asks them to anaylze the changes made to a “controversial” Wikipedia article.  Interesting stuff.
  • Adam Jackson discusses the future of cloud storage for digital media and its implications for consumers, touching on the implications for corporate control over our data and concluding that we’re better off with physical copies (DVDs, etc).
  • On a related note, Mark Hayward discusses the implications of Google’s recent moves regarding net neutrality.
  • And, just for fun, Neo-Lebowski, where Morpheus introduces The Dude to the nature of reality.  Somewhere, I think film geekdom just exploded.