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Summary:

The Atlantic Monthly recently asked the question “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I can’t answer that (I couldn’t finish reading the article), but I’d like to ask a parallel question: Is YouTube killing video originality? The promise of web video was that cheap cameras, easy editing […]

The Atlantic Monthly recently asked the question “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I can’t answer that (I couldn’t finish reading the article), but I’d like to ask a parallel question: Is YouTube killing video originality?

The promise of web video was that cheap cameras, easy editing software and free online distribution would open up new vistas of creativity. The Hollywood gatekeepers would be tossed out and the masses would finally get to express themselves.

So what happened? Because it seems like we’re just seeing the same things, over and over.

Gabe and Max’s Internet Thing is a fantastic spoof of cheesy infomercials. But it was followed by Master the Internet, which is not. Now we have Kanye West doing another version of a hammy infauxmercial for hawking vodka.

Noah takes a picture of himself everyday, so Olde English spoofed the idea with a guy taking a picture of himself every day as his life deteriorates. Matthew Harding dances around the world, and now there’s a video of a guy dancing around Los Angeles… as his life deteriorates.

The Shining becomes a comedy, Back to the Future becomes Brokeback to the Future, and Batman fights not only himself, but also Hellboy.

Dora the Explorer gets yelled at over the phone by Alec Baldwin; a fast-food worker gets hit on by Demetri.

Need I go on?

Some of these are parodies; some are just recycling the same ideas. Some are actually quite funny; others are just…bad.

So why drag YouTube into all this? Well, because of its size, mostly.

There have always been spoofs and “borrowing” from existing sources. That isn’t changing with the web, it’s just becoming faster and easier, which is spawning more of it.

Parodying or revisiting a popular gag works because the audience already has a certain level of familiarity with it. People have seen infomercials, they know Back to the Future, or they were forwarded the picture-a-day. It’s much easier to attract eyeballs when people recognize the source material. It’s a lot harder when they have to learn something new, and who has patience online?

To be fair, thanks to YouTube, more people are creating and watching video than ever before — and that’s good. The issue becomes when people start creating for the playcounts. What’s the fastest way to rack up a million plays on YouTube, land an agent and get on Oprah? It’s not by making something new.

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  1. David Rodriguez Wednesday, July 2, 2008

    I think this question of originality is valid across everything humans do. We see, we like, we copy. Painters have copied paintings. Musicians, music. etc.

    The people who are first and the originals may or may not succeed at what they do. Sometimes it is those that copy that become the famous ones.

  2. yeah, its like saying music remixing or mashing destroys musical creativity – i don’t buy it. Continuing the musical analogy, sure there was a lotta crap made in early era of sampling and digital playback, but look how its moved on and spawned an explosion of creativity and musical genres that are genuinely loved. The cream always rises

  3. I co-created a sketch comedy show, Good Commitment, that ran for a year and a half and produced about 50 sketches. The ones that stuck best were ones based around something familiar. Usually a spoof of something. It was satisfying to get some eyeballs and make people laugh spoofing the Westboro Baptist Phelps family but not quite as satisfying as it would have been for one of our original sketch ideas to take hold.

  4. Any time something gets opened up to the masses, there’s going to be vast amounts of derivative crap. It’s a fact of life. Look at public access TV.

  5. maybe public access in your neck of the woods, but where are you located. Somewhere that there are a lot of people that are trying to break into the industry, or is it a place that people are trying to inform their neighbors. Kind of general when PACT was the first to have UGC.

  6. Is YouTube Killing Video Originality? – GigaOM Thursday, July 3, 2008

    [...] Edit Staff, Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 12:57 AM PT Comments (0)  The promise of web video was that cheap cameras, easy editing software and free online distribution would open up new vistas of creativity. Instead we’re just seeing the same things, mostly parodies, over and over. Some are just recycling the same ideas. It’s just becoming faster and easier, which is spawning more of it, as people chase video views on YouTube. Continue Reading. [...]

  7. Tama Leaver dot Net » Blog Archive » Links for July 3rd 2008 Thursday, July 3, 2008

    [...] Is YouTube Killing Video Originality? [NewTeeVee] – “…more people are creating …video than ever before… The issue becomes when people start creating for the playcounts. What?s the fastest way to rack up a million plays on YouTube, land an agent and get on Oprah? It?s not by making something new!” [...]

  8. Sumant Srivathsan Thursday, July 3, 2008

    In a typical market, quality would be rewarded, while crap gets discarded. This means that regardless of the copycat stuff dominating the YouTube webspace, it’s quite natural for quality to come out on top. IMO, if people are going around and spending time watching these me-too hacks, then maybe that’s what they want. Or maybe there’s nothing else that’s good enough to watch (which is impossible to believe – that’s just a discovery issue).

  9. Howard Owens Thursday, July 3, 2008

    Creativity is hard.

  10. I think that’s the way humans learn, first we copy, then with a lot more work we can be creative. Video sharing is still too fresh for that, most users have no experience, but i believe it will come.

    I think Youtube is not killing video creativity anymore than the keyboard killed literacy or blogs killed news. There are lots of texts not worth reading out there… and that nobody reads, actually! We stick to the good stuff.

    So we can expect a kind of darwinism to take place, bad videos will be replaced by better, more creative ones, and so on…

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