- Learning the Five Lessons of YouTube:After Trying to Teach There, I Don't Believe the Hype
Author's note: The following article is best read online (http://www.cmstudies.org), where its many links, here represented in bold, efficiently illustrate my argument with telling videos found on—and frequently lost or taken off of—YouTube. The clumsiness of this typographic sign of what is missing, rather than the efficiency and richness of the live media link, points to another lesson in media education, scholarly publication, and academic writing raised primarily by the form, but not the content, of this offering. In the first two paragraphs, I gesture at what is lost without the links, but the ungainliness of this effort proves not worth the word count.
"DIY" is new media's latest buzz-word:1 "prosumers" mashing up the Simpsons, Jessica or Bart; YouTubers uploading streams of lonely video. Bollocks!2 Let us pay mind to the buzz-cocks. DIY3 is nothing new. While Web 2.0 may radically expand access and distribution of media to its erstwhile viewers, DIY was once punk (cut to "a peek into the lives of Islington Squatter punks of 1983, who sparechange and charge 2 quid a photograph!"),4 and it meant much more than friendly citizen-practitioner (we see the "do-it-yourself hovercraft" video of Miles Community College physics class).5 Wikipedia explains, "Common punk views include the DIY ethic, rejection of conformity, direct action for political change, and not selling out to mainstream interests for personal gain." Punk was Rotten and Vicious (if you were online, hello Johnny and Sid!). Sincere, or even Cynical, contributions to the corporate machine do not a DIY ethics make (the digital reader might choose to view the marketing campaigns for the contemporary artists Rohff, singing his song "Sincere," and Bill Maher, in "Be More Cynical Part 1," sponsored by Hostile Records, Capitol/EMI, and Comedy Central, respectively).
I am a professor of media studies whose work has focused upon the activist media of nonconformists. In the fall of 2007, I decided to look more closely at YouTube. The banal videos I regularly saw there did not align with the ethics [End Page 145] underpinning the revolutionary discourses I study, nor those heralding the new powers of online social networking. So, I taught a course, "Learning from YouTube," about and also on the site: all class sessions and course work were posted as videos or comments and were open to the public. One press release later, and we actually became the media relay we were attempting to understand. Immediately networked, to be largely mocked through the predictable anti-intellectual stance used at least annually to report on events like the meetings of the Modern Language Association (a scholarly paper on melancholy? and Keanu Reeves!), my students and I will have the last laugh. We learned a great deal about how this site limits the truly revolutionary potential of the technology. These are our five lessons of YouTube.6
Lesson #1. YouTube is not democratic. Its architecture supports the popular. Critical and original expression is easily lost to or censored by its busy users, who not only make YouTube's content, but sift and rate it, all the while generating its business.
The word "democratic" (free and equal participation), like "DIY," is often repeated in celebration of the new possibilities enabled by Web 2.0 technology. Certainly, more people than ever can get to and use tools that allow for the easy production, distribution, and networking of media. Cindy enjoys this new freedom. She shoots and uploads her daughter Sissy's trip to American Girl. However, once there, Sissy's poorly shot and unedited adventure in consumerism languishes unseen, except by Gramps and maybe a few hundred pals, never to equal the movement, attention, or possibilities afforded to the hottest ripped clips of American Idol. That which we already know and already like enjoys the special treatment offered to the "most viewed": videos that are easily found, and always visible, whether you search for them or not. Hey, the most viewed deserve such attention! These special videos, well, they look like television...