June 25, 2008

The Most Popular Video on the Internet--What's It Mean?

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This is kind of an action survey, for those who are likely to show up at this blog, generally folks with a pretty sharp critique of late capitalism, neo-liberal globalization and US culture. Or to put it another way: lefties, hard lefties and the handful who think the hard lefties are soft as baby poop.

This video has been up online for about five days now and quickly became the most watched video of the week in the US and probably globally. If you are young and spend much time on teh Intertubes, you may well be sick of it already. If you're over forty, you probably haven't seen it or even its predecessor videos, hits in their own time.

So do me a favor. For real. Watch this little video. Now. It's four and a half minutes long and, while I can't promise, I suspect you'll find it pretty likable. Then go "below the fold" (i.e. click where it says "Read more!" right below the video) where I pose a couple of thoughts/questions I've been chewing on. I hope you'll feel like weighing in--just click at the end of the post, where it says "comments" in blue and enter same. Even a couple of lines will be much appreciated.

Okay--thumbnail background: slacker Matt Harding (who evidently went to the same CT high school I did) is videoed by a friend doing an extremely dorky dance in Hanoi. A couple years later the snip becomes a spontaneous YouTube smash and some gum company bankrolls him to travel around the globe getting videoed, doing the dorky dance in diverse, colorful and remote locales. One is made (remade, actually) in 2005, one in 2006, and now this. His girlfriend, Melissa Nixon, is a partner in the project.

I found myself tripped up and unexpectedly moved when, after Iceland, it suddenly moves away from the relative solipsism of the earlier videos and of the first minute of this one, with Matt dancing by himself. As others participants rush to join him from all sides, it suddenly becomes an intercontinental celebration of dorky dancing. Did you find it had that effect on you? (I'd also be interested if it really startled other folks who had seen the earlier videos.)

It doesn't bother me that he got to do this because he got backed by some gum company, especially since their presence is not heavy-handed. You?

The message is heartwarming--the global commonality and interconnectedness of humanity--and it is rather obviously meant to be. Need we steel ourselves against this message as mush-minded liberalism? And if we don't, how can we integrate that sentiment into an internationalism that is deeper and more about solidarity than vibes?

More problematic for me is the question of advanced-country privilege, what my fellow FotM blogger Napolitana-Piemontese calls the "narcissism of empire." It is a bit creepy that Matt, good-hearted doofus though he seems, feels entitled to ramble around the world without having to make a living, doing his li'l shuffle wherever he feels like. On the other hand, he was evidently invited to most of these places by locals who know him through the Internet and he seems pretty welcome by almost everyone everywhere, well, except for the Korean border guard and that one wave. How does this strike you?

(If you go to his website, you'll find a video entitled "Where the Hell is Afunakwa?" that shows Matt's clear understanding that he does have dues to pay, and suggests some of the limits of that understanding, at least so far.)

You can throw male privilege in there, too. I can look at this, imagine myself in Matt's shoes and think, "Boy, that looks like fun. If I weren't so much worse a dancer than he is, I could do that!" I'm not so sure how easy that is for women to imagine. Anyone?

Finally, there's a lot here to think about in terms of the global reach and impact of the Internet. His video has had 2 and a half million hits in the last five days and that's only on YouTube! His early ones have inspired scores of others to do it themselves, some in pale imitation, but many more as witty or imaginative variations, including earlier explorations of collectivity than Matt's own. The blog at his site is full of comments; except for a couple irate Zionist cranks going on about "What West Bank? What East Jerusalem?" nearly all are enthusiastic.

I don't know where to start to think about what all of that means, and in many ways, it is really the important question, moreso than just trying to appreciate and understand and critique a single engaging cultural artifact.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Jimmie. I think you're over-analyzing.
My reaction to that video is "Huh? What the helliszat? And why did I waste 4 minutes of my life watching it."

not to memtion writing this comment.


Skwisgaar Skwigelf said...

I ended up being kind of moved by it as well, myself. The first half felt a little ho-hum, but then a sense of the enormity of humanity started building as it continued to play.

Keeping in mind all the contradictions that have been pointed out here, I still feel the more of this kind of thing, the better. Squishy liberal humanism is not fundamentally antagonistic to revolutionary internationalism. I feel it tends to lead people in that latter direction, or at least creates the possibility.

Teh interwebs is creating a possibility for grassroots internationalism the likes of which the world has never seen. The more people establish one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many connections with people in other parts of the world, the harder it will be for the imperialists to start wars, continue their pillaging unchallenged, and so on. We're only seeing the beginning right now. The cost of communication continues to decline along an inverse exponential curve.

Excessively sunny optimism? We'll see.

Jack Stephens said...

Yeah, I feel ya there. I like it, it's moving, it's nice, especially with the little kids having so much fun. But I also felt the same way you did on the whole imperialism and privilege thing. One of the first things to pop in my mind actually.