YouTube is one of the most interesting phenomena of the Web 2.0 era. In class, we began discussing some of the uses and misuses of YouTube. In my last blog post, I criticized the Wal-Mart video as being an example of the trite, offensive work that YouTube inevitably spawns. In this post however, I want to focus on some of the other possibilities of YouTube that have and are continuing to unfold.
The most important thing about YouTube is the “viral” factor. Anyone with a camera can create a video, upload it to YouTube and –if it is an interesting video and with some luck–have thousands of people view it in a few days or hours.
While we already know this about YouTube and may not find it especially remarkable, it is in fact worth a closer examination. When we hear of the latest video to get a million hits in three days, we tend to think of videos made to entertain; homemade music videos, videos of stunts or accidents surreally caught on tape; footage of incredible natural occurrences, etc. But there is another kind of YouTube video that has increasingly joined the ranks of the viral entertainment video. In contrast to the “Cat plays piano” videos that derive their popularity from their novelty, these videos are popular because of the message they are broadcasting.
In an article published today entitled “A Pulpit for the Masses,” http://www.npr.org/2012/02/07/146471341/wwjd-on-youtube-it-depends-who-you-ask?ft=1&f=2 WNYC reporter Barbra Handley reports on a video by a 22 yr old named Jefferson Bethke. The video received 2 million hits overnight, 4 million hits the next day, and at last count, over 18 million hits. By now you have probably already searched for and watched the video surely anticipating some incredible happening caught live on camera. Here is the thing, the video entitled “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” is entirely talking. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY. In an extended rhyme, Bethke argues that religion and belief in Jesus are fundamentally different, even opposed to one another. It is also a very professional piece of footage, the camera cutting artfully between different angles and varying color with black and white images.
Yet the important fact remains that this video is primarily an argument, not entertainment. The incredible popularity achieved by the video has important implications for our understanding of the role YouTube will increasingly play in our world. Namely, as the author of the WNYC article calls it, YouTube is a soapbox, one with incredibly more reach than the wooden kind.
One can use YouTube to make serious points, outline political positions, and as in this case, advocate for a new theology. And as this video demonstrates, people are interested in thinking about and discussing arguments that address their lives and beliefs. In addition to receiving millions of hits, “Why I Hate Religion” sparked over 200 response videos and thousands of comments. Thus YouTube can be said to be maturing from mere entertainment to an arena for public discourse on important issues.