youtubing live – REALTIME
I’M IN THAT WEIRD PLACE ON YOUTUBE AGAIN. I’M LOOKING AT GRAINY FOOTAGE OF A CONCERT. THERE’S A MAN IN A RED CAPE AND VIOLINISTS IN WHAT LOOK LIKE HIJABS OR BLACK SACKS OVER THEIR HEADS. THE MAN OPENS HIS MOUTH AND SINGS IN AN UNEARTHLY FALSETTO, THE SOUND A MUSCLE-FREEZING LAMENT THAT COULD BELONG TO EITHER GENDER. WITH ONE ERRANT CLICK I GOT HERE.
YouTube is a platform where cats, screaming goats and Korean pop singers go viral, a fever that catches on and compels us to share chosen material. Often, qualities indefinable and undeserving elevate one video above the billions of others out there.
Ben Speth in his WeTubeLIVE celebrates the bizarre, the narcissistic and the occasionally talented, curating 100 live performances appropriated from YouTube. Each performer is presented in a carefully demarcated square—neat and contained with their personal effects and own sound system. The taped square works to create a barrier not unlike a computer screen; viewers walk amid performers without fear of interfering, happy to gaze and gawk as though invisible.
A girl in a green plushie outfit rolls around her square challenging, “Can you do this?” in a shrill voice while shoving her foot in her pocket. It’s an example of the truly inane attention seeking that could at any moment mushroom into a global cultural phenomenon. It seems a generation has grown up unfazed at self-promotion and self-exposition in the form of video blogs and status updates. The self is very much at the centre of all this—self-snapped photos are even called selfies.
In an online forum which appears apparently immune to government intercession and where anybody anywhere can upload a video, it is perhaps telling that videos with political intent don’t share the notoriety of the largely banal ones that capture our attention. Are there forces stymying revolutionary ideas from making it onto the recommended-for-you list or is it that we would rather watch freak shows? One video in recent memory showed young men in Palestine parody Gangnam Style while pointing a finger at the stark difference between glitzy Gangnam and the freshly bombed Gaza, complete with donkey transport and rubble. Similarly, I was heartened to see a disabled performer rocking out amongst the tiara-adorned beauty queens at WeTube. She was there; you just had to look for her.
Many of the WeTubeLIVE performances appear to have been selected for their expressions of personal freedom rather than their storytelling qualities. Hip hop dancers, a girl with her forehead covered in bindis, her square full of talismans, and a make up tutorial are just some of the visions you can tune in and out of. Choreographed moments, when all the performers are perfectly still and silent, intimate the possibility of united action, but it’s unrealised. There have been serious attempts to harness the viral power of YouTube for change, such as the infamous Kony 2012 campaign. Before that, people were buoyed and entertained by community-sprouting flash mobs (my favourite is the dancing inmates in CPDRC, a Philippines prison). Flash mobs were a fad and Kony dissolved with the creator’s public meltdown. The potential is there, we’re just not sure how to topple governments with it; there’s silence still.
What WeTubeLIVE director Ben Speth seems to suggest is that we are still amateurs, singing into hairbrushes, only now our mirrors are laptop cameras. We’re not wielding technology for anything more than instant gratification. The performers are all young, inevitably imbuing WeTube with some sense of hope. However, as I came to a train wreck of a singer, I thought WeTubeLIVE a harsh critique of each of us for choosing the things we watch.