Man on the Streets

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Posted December 6, 2007 in Man on the Streets

“Click it! Click it!” 

The battle over “hits” was fierce as students were looking for an edge, anything that could give them a leg up on their competition. All notion of friendly support had been flagged as inappropriate. All that mattered now was metatags and subscribers, the stuff of life when you are endeavoring to achieve the exalted “Most Viewed” cyber-pinnacle.

It was business as usual for MS 135, better known as the “YouTube” class at Pitzer College in Claremont. Subject to intense media rubbernecking, the class taught by Prof. Alex Juhasz has settled into a less scrutinized routine which, since the latest class assignment was to explore what makes videos popular, meant that the student-produced videos of drunken co-eds, Soulja Boy mash-ups, bearded Britney impersonators, and fake video game coming attractions, have been largely ignored by culture seekers.

“You’re not giving the Starcraft 2 enough credit . . . for screwing with their fans!” said one student, miffed at criticism of his product.

Though the first class of its kind in higher education, the structure of the YouTube class is simple. While classes meet twice a week in a classroom, all assigned work is conducted through the web site, and homework as well as midterms and finals are all video postings.  The class sessions themselves are posted, and the public can view the work at www.youtube.com/mediapraxisme. 

Professor Juhasz has admitted that she is “hugely underwhelmed” with YouTube, and she aspired to learn a few things in exploring whether YouTube “is a successful model for democratic media” with her students. And with a little digging, some eye-opening reports have been uploaded.

One student group explored the presence of black images on YouTube and found the results “repulsive.” They coupled “black” with key tag words such as “babymomma,” “homeboy” and “fight” and found no limit of videos depicting ignorance (the infamous Bubb Rubb whistle tip news report), debauchery (booty-shaking competitions) and violence (a video of an enraged man smashing a car with the occupants still in it). These videos all are wildly popular.

Coupling “black” with positive tag words like “greatness,” “wonderful” and “joyful” they found very few videos at all, and almost no popular ones outside of Tay Zonday’s, “Chocolate Rain.” And all of the videos—positive or negative—generated large amounts of racist commentary.

Meanwhile, for a brief period, the class Popularity Contest looked to be a runaway. A bootleg version of an Alicia Keys video, as a result of being found on page one of an artist search, had amassed close to a million hits before Thanksgiving. However, it was unceremoniously yanked—presumably over copyright infringement—making the contest wide open again. But Juhasz had some bad news for the students hoping to duplicate the feat and produce the next “Boom Goes the Dynamite”:

“None of you will get subscribers.” 


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