Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media”
Discuss this argument giving an example of a YouTube video.
Rebecca Black’s Friday music video has recently overtaken Justin Bieber’s Baby as the most disliked video on YouTube. At first glance, this turn of events seems trivial, another viral video, another meme, along the endless production of trending Internet goods that become quickly forgotten. Yet Rebecca Black’s shot to stardom – for all the wrong reasons – has reached a popularity that no other viral video has done so for a long time, and this may warrant closer scrutiny. Burgess and Green argue in the above quote that creative efforts of ordinary people are still trapped within the system of celebrity controlled by the mass media, and with Rebecca Black’s case it seems that it may prove to be a perfect example.
There is no doubt that the music video was created in some sense to showcase Rebecca Black and to attract attention. The video was not filmed as an amateur production, there is clear adherence to conventions of the music video. The song was well recorded and obviously modeled on the structures of current, mainstream popular songs. Even so, the video was made to attract attention as a showcase of talent, but instead became a sitting duck for insults and criticisms, arguing that the ridiculous lyrics and auto-tuned melody had set a new low for pop music. It seems important to note this distinction, in that the video itself was created initially within the parameters of commercial media and its supposed standards (whether it achieved those standards is another thing). Even to begin with, Black’s Friday is already playing within the rigid framework of mass media.
The resultant outcome of her ill-fated Internet notoriety is still to be seen. The Internet backlash was harsh, but its explosive popularity gave it cultural capital. Other forms of mainstream media were quick to capitalize on Black’s popularity, with the song appearing in an episode of Glee and Black starring in Katy Perry’s latest Last Friday Night music video. Black may have gone further than most celebrity YouTubers and made it into mainstream media, yet it was done so under the influence and conditions of already successful artists. It is still to be seen whether her Internet fame becomes something forgotten, like most of the other viral videos and YouTube celebrities who have also fallen under the system of mass media.
However, it can be seen that there are success stories, and Black’s ability to bounce back from the negative comments and star in mainstream productions is already a sign of things to come, perhaps. Justin Bieber and The Lonely Island are perfect examples of ordinary people who have come into the mainstream media and became successful without falling under the limitations of short lived attention that media systems seem to give Internet stars.
(word count: 459)
Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media,” in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, pp.15-37.
While discussing YouTube, Jose van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favorites. How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?
YouTube, like many sites that feature archivable web content, operates under an interface that ranks videos according to popularity. Jose van Dijck (2009: 41-58) argues that sites that are primarily based on user generated content, like YouTube, give the false impression of being user controlled whilst being subject to influences such as the ranking system. For van Dijck, the notion of an online ‘community’ relies less on the parallels of participation and citizenship that occur in real life – instead, these communities are formed under common interest groups (2009: 45). Jeremiah Owyang further defines online communities as “a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools”. Given that these communities are formed under the idea that the generation of content and resulting social interaction is user controlled, the notion of a ranking system may seem to upset this democratic ideal.
Yet, upon closer inspection, it seems that van Dijck ignores the fact that the initial popularity of a video still requires a starting investment from users to bump it into prominence. The popularity of a video is rated by the number of views it gets, and the more popular your video is, the likelier it will be seen. Without a ranking system that features videos that have gained the approval from peers, YouTube would be an endless swamp of unfiltered clips, making it hard for a newcomer to locate where to even begin. By promoting certain clips to be seen more regularly, this allows YouTubers and viewers to have similar experiences and thus have more to share and discuss.
However, this simple formula can be easily sidestepped and maneuvered with cunning tactics to promote views. For instance, this recently trending video called Cereal Killer features links to two alternate endings at the end of the clip. For a user that wants to find out what other ending was, they would have to return to the original video. In reality, both endings are more or less the same, but by adding this bonus it fools more users to view the video twice. This would seemingly promote its number of views.
Perhaps a clearer example of a YouTube ‘community’ within the wider YouTube network is the notion of YouTube celebrities. These users of YouTube become popular by regularly posting vlogs or similar web content. Once they become well known on YouTube, they will often collaborate in videos, or create response videos that feature each others work. This community of YouTube celebrities would not be possible if YouTube did not feature a ranking system to categorize the website.
For a newcomer, the sheer volume of videos on YouTube can become daunting. For users who want to get involved in the YouTube community, viewing videos that are popular and well received – therefore highly ranked, can be an easy way of figuring out what YouTube is about.
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Van Dijck, Jose. “Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content””, Media, Culture and Society 31. 2009: pp. 41-58.