Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wesley Willis's Revenge -or- Better Living Through Wraparound Headphones

As a job, I, like most people I know, sit in front of computer screen, and, in my free time, I, like most people I know, do a lot of sitting in front of a computer. You look at these two facts, and you say, hey, based on your habits and lifestyle and those of your peer group, you ought to watch and hear about a lot of YouTube videos. Not necessarily true. I imagine I am not alone in that I watch YouTube mainly because I don't have cable, and the internet is a good way of circumventing this supposed, and very real, problem.

I know. YouTube was created to house user created content. Ok, but, yeah, why would you watch that shit. That whole Lonely Girl thing seemed like a fucking soap opera of the worst sort, and obvious to boot, and besides that shit it seems like the people who have gotten famous from YouTube, and when I say "from YouTube" I mean "by posting a video they were involved in on some public website," were either a) physically freakish people such as that guy who jumps on things and does flips, or b) idiots who are basically being made fun of. I suppose I've seen some funny things that didn't necessarily fall into either one of these categories, but never, ever, did I watch these of my own volition.

Tonight I watched Tay Zonday's "Chocolate Rain." In the process I was made to feel, by the comments, by the abundance of spinoffs, by the sheer weight of the phenomena surrounding the video itself, that I had missed something. Which, you know, whatever, on most levels. You get in late on something, even something really good, and it doesn't really matter, unless you're the type to obsess about fashion and "being on top of it". But this was different from the usual lag I experience with music and film, largely because through multilayered 21st century oddness, "Chocolate Rain" happened so fast that even Wikipedia points out how quickly Tay Zonday went from YouTube to the actual national TV. Plus, it's one of the growing list of culturally ubiquitous things that's remarkable in that there's nothing at all remarkable about it: it isn't funny, actually, at all, in any way, except maybe on a very abstract level, it isn't sensationalistic (despite people obviously making fun of the dude, he's really not that weird, just a little out of touch), and absolutely nothing at all happens - Seinfeld would have been proud.

None of these things make it unique. Still, as much as everyone has come to realize that "the internet is fast", t in cases like "Chocolate Rain" where there's only a tiny kernel of something interesting going on with the original content, people seem to have gotten used to things building a little more slowly as the whole viral shit takes over. It takes at least a few weeks for a worthy spoof or reply to materialize for one of these things, and that's how they get their momentum, "Chocolate Rain" being no exception. The call and response on "Chocolate Rain", though, has gone to another level of speed and intensity, to an extent that totally obscures the fact that the original song and video totally cease to matter.

Generally what matters about cultural items like "Chocolate Rain" is that everyone knows them, understands them, and can build their own shit off of them. I mean the Tay even puts a fucking copyright warning at the beginning of the video - the guy knows that if he gets anything really valuable out of this it's gonna be because someone took his thing and ran with it and his job is just to reap the whirlwind. Somehow, people forgot that Tay Zonday wasn't important here, though. This creates a scene where the spoofs and the original material are important and present at the same time, which has never really been the case as far as I can tell.

Of course, if you want it to, the whole thing just goes to prove the old cliche about new media: fast, democratic and disposable.

This gives all those media studies professors out there a free lesson plan for next semester - congratulations! And that's probably what Tay Zonday and YouTube will be remembered as: a "Remember the Aughts" moment where the intellectuals on the panel can say, "don't forget how revolutionary this was at the time. This was back when record labels still existed and sixth graders weren't assigned a weekly video response projects for their English classes." Which is kind of sad, because, my conclusion about the whole thing, which should have been obvious from the start if you were paying attention, is that "Chocolate Rain" is actually pretty badass in its own right, as much as Dan Deacon, who Tay Zonday is now apparantly touring with, is badass, but that's a story for another time.

Anyone who writes a song that has no intro, no chorus, no verses, no outro, no dynamics, is not a dance song at all but would probably make people dance if they really wanted to, and seems to tap into a vein of American political ridiculousness that people seem to be into right now, can't help but have the new ecstasy kids in the palm of his hand. Even if I don't like it, and I'm still non committal on that, there's something that some people would call genuine appeal here, and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong. "Chocolate Rain", because it straddles the line between what someday will be called the old internet, made up of techies and college kids out looking for a cheap laugh, and the grown ups, who want a little more substance with their slumming is for once providing a situation where internet celebrity isn't spectacle, and while it still isn't substance, it's somehow getting coming closer and closer to being an actual, recognizable, mainstream cultural element.

Don't get me started on Rick Ankiel.

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