Or are they? If anything has evolved (or regressed) with our sense of humor, it’s the tolerance for online silliness.
Mischievous cats. Hillary Clinton. And…the Harlem Shake? That viral YouTube clip garnered more than a billion views and enticed thousands of spinoffs that included NBA teams, colleges, and even NASA.
What’s so appealing? A combo of amateurs, parodies, and laughter. That’s what Olga Goriunova discussed in her article, “New Media Idiocy.” Goriunova said that it’s the “homemade feel” that keeps a piece, or video, authentic, and that is captivating. Today’s digital culture encompasses many tools, academic theories, and business models, yet we shouldn’t overlook the power of the idiotic. Or the “sincerely comic,” according to Goriunova.
So how did YouTube convince people that it was acceptable (and possibly profitable) for parents to showcase their children biting one another? Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody boils it down to three factors: a promise, the tool, and a bargain.
YouTube promises uploaders that others will not only watch a video, they’ll react to it. Each reaction is positively correlated to the number of visible views. When the views increase, the video is then promoted exponentially across several platforms. Thus, YouTube the medium also serves as a tool that encourages and tracks engagement. Does this site deliver on its promise? I’d wager that by having more than one billion unique viewers each month, YouTube lives up to its bargain.
People are clearly satisfied with YouTube’s structure, and it continues to reign as the most-visited video-sharing site. (If people didn’t like it or liked it less than a competitor, they’d quit using it.)
As silly as it sounds to post personal stream-of-consciousness tirades, they too are YouTube-worthy because others can relate to the message. When I first watched Krissychula‘s profanity-laced rant about trying to survive the “91,000 damn degrees” of summer…I buckled over with laughter. Why? Because I was staying in a sweltering Harlem apartment during the Fourth of July with no air conditioning. My misery found solace in Krissy’s company.
And for Krissy’s bargain? Well, I can assume she’s being financially rewarded as her videos have garnered more than two million views, and she’s now hawking an app for users to download.
While it’s still hard to explain why silly stuff spreads so easily, I think a good place to start is with relatable emotion. (People are absurd!)
Texts from Hillary Tumblr
Goriunova, O. (2013). New media idiocy. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, (19)2, 223-235. Retrieved from http://con.sagepub.com/content/19/2/223
Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.