This article examines verbal narrativizations of ecological disaster footage posted on YouTube. The video clip discussed presents few visible human actors, no clear cause and effect, and seemingly little closure. Yet thousands of uninvolved internet commenters from around the world are viscerally engaged in how to make sense of the scenes depicted. Their collective debates, agreements, and humorous or horrified comments frequently focus on constructing coherent narratives—narratives evolving online through "small spatial stories" (Turner 19) and "thought contagion" (Lynch ix). This article, aided both by recent work on collective online storytelling and by traditional structuralist models of narrative, examines how such narrativizations are negotiated online. In an age when news and other video footage is often accessed directly through platforms like YouTube and without traditional media contextualization or framing, viewers are often eager to share their narrativizations, building on each other's as they do so. The article examines how they do so, what larger cultural tropes they play on in doing so, and what may be at stake in the stories they construct, which often hinge on issues of ecology, politics, and race.


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pp. 215-235
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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