A few years back Apple made a clever commercial in which a young man recruited various music stars into his plan to copy tracks of music and produce his own remixed CD. In the digital era that commercial’s catch-phrase – Rip…Mix…Burn – has become a kind of manifesto for new ways of telling stories. The recipe: Duplicate some digital content you like (Rip); add your own content or other lifted content (Mix); and then copy your new creation to a DVD (Burn). Lots of kids are doing this these days. Cell-phone cameras, digital editing, broadband access to the Internet, and the rise of YouTube have turned story telling into a people’s art for many in the RMB Generation.
If you’ve read this blog at all, you know by now that Kaze and I are word men of the old school. We’ve read our Keats and Montaigne, our Jane Austen and Faulkner, our Trevanian and P.D. James. We’ve been to grad school and we worship in the temple of Literature. But we’ve also grown up with a passion for the movies, so we know well the pre-YouTube forms of visual story telling. From the word man’s perspective, maybe this RMB revolution is not so surprising. The story meme is one of the oldest and most powerful that the human brain has yet evolved.
Amidst this cacophony of voices on YouTube, here are a few stories worth noting:
Hitler’s reaction to the Balloon Boy hoax – A very funny clip produced by Three Sorry Boys. This is simply several minutes from the 2004 movie Downfall about the final days of Hitler with new subtitles inserted, the best of a long string of Hitler parodies on YouTube using this film. The humor rests on the wonderfully over-the-top performance of Bruno Ganz as Hitler ranting about his disillusion with the Balloon Boy. The magic of parody turns the grim Hitler story into something quite different, a classic of RMB humor. (Note: The Supreme Court has ruled parodies do not violate copyright law so I guess that’s how the Sorry Boys manage to lift three-plus minutes out of the movie without getting slapped with a Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown notice.)
“Craziest” – Liz Dubelman is pioneering a new form she calls “vidlit” – traditional story telling (author reads story aloud) illustrated with the kind of visuals common on YouTube. This mock-autobiographical tale lays out the narrator’s quest for the highest word score in Scrabble; it gets the top five-star rating from YouTube viewers. The piece reminds me of an illustrated children’s book more than anything else, and one’s response depends greatly on how heavily you are addicted to Scrabble. Liz D deserves a salute for imaginative creativity.
Tsering Choden’s video on democracy in Nepal – My favorite of the six regional winners in the worldwide Democracy Video Challenge. This is a contest in which you send in a video to fill in the blank in the phrase “Democracy is….” Choden’s entry, non-linear story telling in the music-video style popularized on MTV, beat out more than 900 other entries in the YouTube voting. I love the way beat music is used here to convey a sense of change within a country we in the West know little about. The two marvelous rappers create lyrics that top my very short list of hip-hop songs I like.
The American Film Institute’s third annual Digifest in Hollywood – This event is coming up November 4 and 5. It’s a showcase for new forms of story telling from AFI’s Content Lab. Cell-phone videos, environmental video contests, a new story telling app for iPhones, 3D animation, and something called “augmented reality” – it all sounds fascinating. Wish I were an A-list blogger so I could get perked to this event.
So there are some very interesting multi-media stories out there. Yet, as Gertrude Stein might put it, a good story is a good story is a good story. It’s still all about crafting a narrative that hooks the listener, viewer, or reader.
Cell-phone-shooting digital animators are really not so different from the cave-dwelling Neanderthal regaling his clan with the drama of the day’s hunt as everybody hangs out by the fire. “And then what happened?” pipes a kid at the edge of the circle. “Tell it again, uncle. What did you do when the mammoth charged?”