A Star is Blogged

Interesting Washington Post article on the rapid popularization of YouTube, which amazingly debuted only five months ago, even if it feels like it has been around much longer. The Post article places emphasis on the relationship between YouTube and celebrity, highlighting viral video hits such as David Lehre’s MySpace: The Movie and wanna-be net celebrities such as Terry Turner who produces weekly political video podcasts with the hopes of becoming the next Bill Maher (or at least the next Wonkette).

Both Lehre and Turner are explicit in viewing their work on YouTube in terms of celebrity, with Lehre describing the site as a “promotional vehicle” for the 50 other short videos he has made and discussing his negotiations with one of the major networks to work on a show on Fox. The desire associated with YouTube celebrity seems not unlike the desire for celebrity associated with “reality TV,” including shows such as American Idol, and while it seems to underscore a desire to be a producer of media rather than a mere consumer, I think that’s only a partial explanation for the appeal of posting these videos online.

At the same time, the article emphasizes the do-it-yorself aspects of the site, implied in YouTube’s marketing slogan, “Broadcast Yourself,” and to some extent, I think this is where the site’s politics become fairly interesting, even if it also limits how the technology is used. This slogan suggests that the videos are based in personal expression, that the videos are in some sense, drawing from one’s identity. Such a characterization might seem to situate YouTube as little more than a glorified version of America’s Funniest Home Videos minus Bob Saget’s snarky comments, but I think that these videocasts can be used to play with identity and performance in complicated ways (the example of the British collge student who pretended to be an emo kid from Ohio is one potential example). In addition, many of the more adept video makers demonstrate an acute awareness of the codes of films and other media, perhaps reinforcing Nick’s argument about “self-theorizing media.”

Still, by framing YouTube in terms of personal expression, I wonder whether the “broadcast yourself” slogan isn’t a constraint of sorts. In this sense, it’s worth thinking about the fact that YouTube is compelled to remove copyrighted content, such as the SNL “Lazy Sunday” sketch that appeared briefly on the site before being pulled (the first SNL skit I’ve seen in nearly a decade and possibly the last I’ll ever see). By positioning the content on YouTube as personal expression and by limiting the ability to show copyrighted images, does that make it more difficult to use YouTube for certain forms of political commentary, especially the media or political process commentary associated with series such as The Daily Show? Of course I’m assuming that people would want to use the medium in this way, which is a major assumption. But the Post’s article oes raise some interetsing questions about how YouTube will be and can be used.

By the way, you can see one of Terry Turner’s videocasts at the Washington Post website.

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