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WRITING UPDATE: YBC: YouTube Broadcasting Channel July 29, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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I just wrote a piece on the changing nature of YouTube for a new site, Splice Today. I’ve posted it below.

http://www.splicetoday.com/digital/beyond-youtub

Beyond YouTube

Now that YouTube is essentially another massive corporate conglomerate, it’s time to start looking elsewhere for truly grassroots, creative alternate media.

Youtube_large

NBC. CNN. TBS. And now YBC—the YouTube Broadcasting Channel—the latest form of corporate entertainment brought to you by shareholders of Google Inc. Ever since Google acquired YouTube for more than $1 billion in 2006, everyone knew YouTube would grow from a scrappy website for spoof videos and noisy vloggers to an ever-expanding and increasingly marketable distribution machine.

I’m not judging. I have no problem with selling out and mass production. I’m a graduate student; someone should be making money. Sure, YouTube isn’t making MySpace money yet (with annual revenue quickly approaching $1 billion), but it’s not doing badly. YouTube should earn about $200 million in 2008 and some analysts project it’ll nearly double that next year. YouTube now has the revenue of a small TV network.

Who cares, right? Websites make money now. They have to. A website without a profit is so very 1990s; those are the days of yesteryear. Tuck them away with memories of a solid economy and solvent national government. Let’s be honest: ever since Netscape the web has been fertile soil for corporate development. Remember the dot-com boom? Web 1.0? The leftovers are still with us today: Amazon, eBay. The strongest survived, bloomed and made a ton of cash. But some people still care about the old YouTube, and worry about its shift to the YBC. Take Daniel Gardner, a YouTuber known for creating wacky characters and a very timely Britney Spears spoof during the “old” days.

“I don’t know how long you’ve been part of YouTube…but there used to be a time, during the ‘golden age’…” said Gardner, who at 20 sounded a bit like a old man recalling his youth, “where the community was on fire…and users knew each other by name and shared feelings and opinions. It was great!” That was two years ago, right around the time of Google’s acquisition. Zipster, another famous YouTuber who started vlogging around the same time echoed his sentiments. YouTube was a “community,” he said, where people knew and supported each other. And, most importantly, could find each other.

“There was just a core group of people who were doing vlogs,” Zipster told me. “It was easy to get attention.” YouTube’s small size allowed him and others like Renetto, Nalts, and LisaNova to foster a group of followers who are still loyal to his channel. Zipster has met fans—essentially strangers—all over the United States and in Europe. They have housed him, kept him company and supported him. When his father passed away, he received gifts, cold cuts and flowers, from subscribers whom he’d never met.

Those days are probably gone. With about one billion video views per day and growing, YouTube is mass-distribution machine, milking money from the efforts of thousands of fame-thirsty entertainers. Still, the heart of YouTube remains its user-generated content, and, in my opinion, its personal video blogs. Despite the grumblings about copyright violation from the old, old, old media, YouTube makes its mark on remixes, spoofs, rants and webisodes—creativity, originality. YBC knows this. Last year, the site launched an initiative to share revenue with its most popular and productive performers. By that time, the “community” was already fading away. YBC handpicked those users who deserved money—many of whom those who had benefited from the small community of its past: LisaNova, Renetto, etc.

Today those YouTube users who want cash have to reach a certain threshold of fame, become a partner, and apply to get in. The program has doled out over $1 million; it’s not nearly enough for any of the partners to live on, compelling many of them to create their own websites—much in the way Lonelygirl15 did—to claim their own ad revenue. But the program is a great deal for YouTube: the partners bring the viewers. Many of them have the viewership to rival an unsuccessful cable TV show.

This is TV 2.0, the same corporate, old media model jazzed up for the web: pay up for the stars and make money from cheap talent. NBC paid millions per episode for the six Friends but only a handful of its employees made that kind of cheddar. YouTube seems unlikely to stop here. Already the site has embedded advertisements in popular videos, and this month it hinted it may add “pre-roll” advertisements: short ad videos that play before a YouTube clip, much like the ones on NBC.com, NYTimes.com and other sites.

I’m not the wimpy academic whining for the loss of a community. “Corporate” is not a dirty word for me. Like I said, money is fine. People need to make it. I simply think we should recognize what we now have and honor what we once did. Understanding that YouTube is now YBC will also allow us to identify its foils and support them if they need help: Vimeo, for instance, and the live broadcasting websites blogTV, Justin.tv and uStream.tv. YBC remains a revolutionary outlet for creative expression and an appropriate alternative to mainstream television—think of all the pirated content still on its server. But don’t expect the revolution to change too much. Google’s shareholders will see to that. Invest now or forever hold your peace.

MEDIA UPDATE: Watching July 28, 2008

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Once (2006; dir. John Carney): Magic.

MEDIA UPDATE: Watching: The Wire July 24, 2008

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The Wire – Wow. W-o-w. Wow. Just finished watching the entire series in about two weeks — maybe a week and a half, I don’t remember. It must be that there’s never been a show about a city as well done as The Wire, and I’m not sure any network will ever have the courage to do it again. In five seasons, The Wire tackled Baltimore’s police department, executive branch, judicial branch, attorney’s office, school system, media, drug trade, ports and I’m certain I’m missing a few.

(While I’m not personally familiar with all the institutions they covered, I am familiar with the newspaper newsroom. And their newsroom is the most believable I’ve seen on TV, which gives me some confidence that the rest is reliable too. Although, I kind of wish they didn’t go all Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair — a typical, sexed up and overly hyped narrative — but the message was good, so I’ll give them a pass).

I can’t say everything. You just have to watch it. But if I took anything away from the show, it’s this: “the game will always be the game” — at least until everyone decides not to play. It was an oft-invoked praise among the drug dealers throughout the show, especially after somebody got shot. But it applies to every institution. If The Wire had one stroke of genius, it was showing how hubris, ambition, cowardess, small-mindedness and politics are at the core of the school system, police department, media, and, yes, even drug operations. People try to cover-their-asses, get ahead, etc. Personalities matter, but, in the end, short-term, narrow-minded politics wins, and politics, The Wire seems to say, is what’s killing everyone except for the few that make it to the top. And even then, sometimes they “get got.” It’s all a game.

Not that the show is all realism and pessimism. Yes, in the final shots of the show, everything is more or less the same. But a drug addict gets clean and wins back the trust of his family. The son of high-end drug player who was set for death or jail goes back to school and becomes a star debater. Two detectives find peace and solve career cases, even if they burn themselves doing it. And a police commissioner finally does what’s right. So there are small glimmers of hope, though dwarfed by the persistence of crap.

The Wire created — and killed — a host of rich, textured characters, from mayors to street level thugs. I’d like to pay my respects.

FAVORITES (because I need to find a way to say goodbye):

Omar Little: Omar. Omar. Omar. Vigilante Robin Hood with a code, and gay to boot. What a great character; his courtroom scene was magic.

Michael Lee: Sucked into dealing to support his family, he never seemed right for it. But he kept his brother well and even managed to remix the American family by asking his (straight) male friend to basically play housewife.

Rhonda Pearlman: Everyone knowsI love a powerful, well-dressed redhead.

Bubbles/Kima: Andre Royo deserves an Emmy for his Bubbles, and Kima’s love for him made me smile each time I saw it.

Bunny Colvin: Hamsterdam!

Bodie Broadus: For most of the show, he was merely a solid presence who seemed likable, but not too likable. But, in the end, the way he went down was pure poetry and gave him the status of martyr.

The Sobotkas: The white people had some privilege, but really, in the end, what made them different from the blacks?

Wallace: This was when I knew the show was not playing. I almost cried for this one.

Stringer Bell: Like so many in the city (media, police), he tried to clean up the game and get ahead at the same time. But if you play in dirt, you’re going to get dirty, no matter how noble your intentions.

Mayor Carcetti: How amazing it was to see him turn from idealist to realist and eat all the shit he could to get to the top.

I’m missing some, so watch the show and see what you’re missing. It’s worth every penny.

Oh, and before I forget, what a damn damn shame it’s been robbed again at the Emmy’s. Screw you, Hollywood, and your short attention span! And kudos HBO for making for your otherwise crap programming by keeping it on for five seasons.

MEDIA UPDATE: Watching July 9, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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UPDATE: For my take on the new Fame (2009), please see this post: FILM: Fame (1980), Fame (2009), and Fame!

I’ve been devouring movies lately, at home and in the theater, so I haven’t been posting much — I’m too overwhelmed. I’m going to give quick reviews of all that I’ve seen, old and new.

PlayTimeTati

Play Time (1967; Dir. Jacques Tati) – This is a classic, so I won’t summarize too much. Needless to say, that, of all the movies I’ve ever seen — that would be a lot — this has been arguably the most innovative and well done. That’s not an obvious statement coming from me: my current film fetish is mumblecore (God save the label) which is the exact opposite of Playtime: intimate, emotional and rarely site-specific, with exceptions. But Playtime is pure innovation: not a close-up in the whole movie — okay, maybe one — relentless attention to detail in its direction, an almost sci-fi-esque commitment to set and costume (all gray and glass, save the end), and set action more engrossing than an action. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

To get a feel for it, here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGv3FrXIToI

I’d only wish I’d seen it on the big screen, to get the full effect.

I can’t get into all the reasons I loved it — the gags, the inventive use of glass or lack thereof, the sets, the use of character — but I will say this: I love directors who take a single, ridiculous idea and carry it obsessively to its conclusion. It’s why I like Hitchcock (Rope) and Kafka (the Trial, the Metamorphosis). Tati is no different. That he went bankrupt filming this, what would become a flop, is all the more telling. Tati’s indictment of the modernism and modernity and their disdain for history, of sleek 60s yuppiedom, of Americans, is so all-encompassing and yet casual it’s pure genius. Simply watch it for yourself: and pay attention when you do!

Fame

Fame (1980, dir. Alan Parker) – I know I’m the last gay in the country to see this, but I just wanted to say I loved it. I loved seeing 70s/80s New York, I love that this was a time in film history when movies about young people were serious and political (Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the other prominent example). I was saddened by the fate of the actual actors — none of them became famous! The cute redhead (McCrane) still has a career, though, but has no hair :(. The black dancer (Ray), has died of a stroke (complications with HIV?). The rest are nowhere to be found. I suppose it’s in keeping with the film.

wanted_angelina

Night Watch

Wanted (2008) and Night Watch (2004) both dir. Timur Bekmambetov – I actually enjoyed Wanted, even though I mostly hate movies that are too bloody — it’s fun, blah blah, you read the reviews. So I rented Night Watch on iTunes to see if Bekmambetov could get me again. He didn’t. Night Watch I found a little too self-serious and gruesome, as opposed to Wanted, which is gruesome and fun. Maybe because he had a bigger budget with Wanted, Bekmambetov could have more fun. I don’t know. All I know is the kind of Russian, amoral, bloody-sucking action in Night Watch made me role my eyes and start playing a game of Snood.

My Winnipeg

My Winnipeg (2007, dir. Guy Maddin) — I really liked this one. It’s quick, it’s obviously inventive, surrealistic, realistic, and an innovative mish-mash of film styles. Maddin employs his signature, black-and-white fuzzy silent film-style, but incorporates some contemporary documentary footage and editing. The film has verve. But either I’m getting very slowly tired of Maddin or I just liked Brand Upon the Brain! more. Brand! is trippier, and, let’s face it, I saw it live: the music was better, the sound effects sharper, and the narrator more engaging (Isabella Rosselini). Maddin is decent as a narrator in Winnipeg, and I understand that his narration is deliberately forced and affected. But as much as he made me laugh, he also made me roll my eyes a few times, including during what I found to be an insufferable section on a hockey stadium. Last criticism: at times, in his effort to inject Winnipeg with magic and folklore, a task at which he’s largely successful, his fantasy becomes too overloaded, a bore in itself (born in a stadium? horses frozen in a lake?). This is the core problem with most magical realism: only so many things can be magical before the magic falls away.

Still, I’m being nit-picky. Maddin’s brilliant, and My Winnipeg, by any objective standard, is a small triumph.