MIT5: What gets shared on YouTube?

This panel was interesting in how roughly the same idea (online video sharing) was approached very differently by the three presenters, indicating to me how important various practices and sites are, and how very little we’ve come to terms with what’s going on (relatively speaking)

Robert Gehl gave the only paper that was explicitly about YouTube, using the metaphor of the archive to ponder how YT functions as such. Its curation is (with few exceptions) done by its users; i.e., they’re the ones who tag, vote, and otherwise categorize its entries, collectively building (say) its front page. Its display is quite different than a traditional archive, in that its contents can be posted virtually anywhere (with a handy drop-in link). This has demarcated its uses by bloggers (who further categorize its contents through their selection and description on their own sites) and traditional media (like al-Jazeera, the BBC, and CBS), who utilize the site and its abilities as paid promotional vehicles. Through all of this, the actual labor of the YT uploader and tagger is unpaid, of course. Indeed, given CBS CEO Les Moonves’ comments in this month’s Wired, this looks to be a big strategy for TPTB. That is, it’s promotion if they like it; it’s copyright violation if they don’t. Either way, they won’t pay for it, and are extracting (or punishing) your labor. Lots of this going on in our ever-evolving convergent media circus.

Next up, Jonathan Gray, in a preview (ha!) of his upcoming book, discussed movie trailers as key paratexts in the production of textual meaning (link to full paper (PDF)). Using the examples of two radically different trailers for the 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter (one for the Canadian market, the other for the US market), he analyzed how Canadians were presented with a more open-ended paratext than Americans, with different textual markers (for, among other things, filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s authorship). It’s amazing that trailers have scarcely been acknowledged in the many decades of Film Studies, but perhaps it took the blurring of text and promotion in the current era to prompt this analysis. Regardless, In A World of convergent media…I look forward to Jonathan’s book. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

The always-energetic Joshua Green completed the panel with the big question: is it still “TV” if it’s online? He admitted right off that he didn’t have an answer for that, and indeed that it was impossible to place all of the various online video practices in discrete categories. He identified some big meta-issues about what “television” means any more, and showed how CBS’ Innertube, the Democracy Player, and good ol’ BitTorrent trackers all “dis-embed” and “re-embed” TV content in different ways, but none of them is “television” as a cultural technology. Cracking stuff, with a bit of John Hartley and Raymond Williams about it. He chimed in with some great comments along those lines at the Lost panel on Sunday as well.
Next up in the MIT5 retrospective: Fans and Producers (whereupon I present, and moderate, and some stuff kind of hit the fan).


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