FINALLY, a use for YouTube.
A friend recently sent me a link to www.cheatneutral.com, a witty video about a couple of young English wags who decided to offer “offsets” to adulterers.
You know what offsets are — they’re those nebulous things invented by advocates for carbon emissions sinners, whereby big polluters don’t have to reduce their emissions. Instead, they just pay somebody else in some other country to do something positive for the environment, like planting trees. This scheme can’t help but smell like sulphurous hot air, no matter where you happen to be standing.
The video’s young British stars posit that the same deal should be offered to cheaters at romance. Every time such “players” shtup somebody other than their live-in love, they should be able to pay a shyer individual to remain celibate. Way to advance the common good!
The common good is, of course, what YouTube is about. YouTube, for those who are computer unfriendly, is a website where anybody — and sometimes, it seems, everybody — can post their homemade videos. Its slogan is “Broadcast yourself.” Some of its offerings merely broadcast accidental slapstick (“Hey! There’s somebody’s mother carrying a festive cake to a party and toppling over with it into a ditch!”). Some feature personal milestones, such as weddings, that are boring to strangers. And others, like the tongue-in-cheek video about cheatneutral.com, verge on masterful.
YouTube is also a site where people place their bids for personal fame, often masquerading as something they’re not, such as a struggling singer or a hysterical Bridezilla. In addition, YouTube features all kinds of polished offerings, like animated shorts by the Vancouver Film School and old comedy routines by deceased performers. Practically anything goes.
As a matter of fact, you could while away the rest of your life watching YouTube. Links to its postings zip between bored office workers around the world all workday long. Between viewings, you can publicly record your comments about each post and even get into vicious, petty feuds with strangers over them. Yay, free speech.
The site has the democratic quality of not being curated — except, I assume, in terms of obscenity or other factors that the western world deems unacceptable. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, however, last month ordered Internet providers to block YouTube due to “blasphemous” content that it considered offensive to Islam; in January, a Turkish court also ordered YouTube blocked because some video clips allegedly insulted the country’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is illegal there. All such blockings do for many fans, if they notice them at all, is heighten the impression that YouTube is “the voice of the people,” whoever and wherever they happen to be.
As a result, YouTube fans tend to take its more modest offerings at face value, as largely genuine, homemade examples of how ingenious and amusing many of us can be if only we’re given the chance. The astonishing proliferation of blogs (online journals) tells the same story. Naturally, people whose daily work consists of trying to be ingenious or amusing don’t particularly like either forum.
As one movie critic, Julie Crawford, suggested in her review of Be Kind Rewind last week, this “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show” attitude is becoming pervasive. Be Kind Rewind is about how a handful of people with a modicum of skill and reasonably good intentions can do an okay job of something and make it a success. It’s meta, really — the filmmakers behind Be Kind are not unlike the characters in their movie.
Those characters are a couple of goofballs (Mos Def and Jack Black) who discover that for some ridiculous reason, all the films in the $1 video rental store where Mos Def works have been erased while his boss (Danny Glover) is away. The two men decide to make their own versions of the movies customers are requesting, and wind up re-shooting everything from Ghostbusters to Driving Miss Daisy.
It’s a great concept — I’d been looking forward to seeing it ever since I heard about it, months ago. But Be Kind Rewind forsakes the crucial rule of comedy — be funny — for an earnest message about hanging in, being supportive, and celebrating grassroots triumphs.
Nothing wrong with that theme, I suppose, if the movie managed to suspend your disbelief. But when a group of young Passaic, N.J. thugs in the film sit down to an amateurish reproduction of Ghostbusters and are more than satisfied with it, I started to squirm incredulously.
In reality, the personal videos that make the most headway on YouTube are those depicting somebody who has done something everybody laughs at (not with), like the poor Star Wars nerd who was humiliated when his “moves” were caught and broadcast across the planet. Often, YouTube is a place we visit when we want to shake our heads at others’ foibles, rather than marvel at their talent. This human desire for schadenfreude is something Be Kind Rewind deliberately and conveniently ignores.
The movie does offer a small, brilliant segment at the end, when a large group gets in on making an old-fashioned, black-and-white biography of Fats Waller that is truly inventive. More of that and less of the unfocused, slapdash endeavors and apparently free-form dialogue that plagued the beginning of the film would have been welcome.
As a nitpicking sort of person who criticizes things for a living, I’m not a fan of the amateurish or the poorly edited, e.g., most blogs, and movies like Be Kind. It’s the professional stuff I enjoy most — deft writing by people who can both spell and form cogent ideas, and video skits by such experienced artists as the English female comedians Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. The French & Saunders Teenager Clips on Youtube, in which a longsuffering mother (redundant) attempts to converse with her hostile, text-messaging teenaged daughter (also redundant), are must-sees for every parent.
The difference between amateurs and professionals, on YouTube and elsewhere, is that professionals are trying to build reputations in their particular fields. They have standards, responsibilities and codes they attempt to honour. Amateurs, on the other hand, are dabblers — whether their efforts sink or swim, it hardly matters. They have no idea of the rules, but their lack of sophistication is seen as charming.
Nobody encourages a dilettante to build a bridge or medicate a desperately ill patient. But when it comes to the arts and the media, everybody feels they’re up to the task. Funny, that.