Television and film have, for most of their history, been a one-way medium. The screen would tell the stories, we would watch and either trust the director/producer/writer/actor’s vision or not care enough to worry about it. This historically laissez-faire attitude towards TV and film watching might have been the result of the many logistical challenges a fan who cared too much would have faced 10 years ago. Until recently, audiences wishing to participate had basically one option: sending a fan letter to PO boxes at public relations offices somewhere in Burbank, CA. These letters often resulted in the receipt of a poster and a feeling of joy at getting something free in the mail. There was no internet, however, no Twitter, no easy way to organize a massive letter-writing campaign or peanut delivery. You either were a person with a compliment/hateful sentiment so potent it had to be addressed, or you were not involved.
A lot has changed since then, specifically since the introduction of YouTube in 2006. Recently I was trying to catch an episode of television I had missed by watching it piece by piece on YouTube (which I was successfully able to do – considering the dearth of lawsuits involving copyright infringement on the web, it’s surprising that you can still do this).
If you go on youtube.com this moment, you will invariably be faced with the usual choice on the home page: you’ll either click on a link to watch animals do cute things or a link that features people doing dumb things. If, however, you are on a mission, say to catch the gist of an episode of television you missed, you’ll find a treasure trove of other content; hundreds of pages of videos that use television and film footage to either summarize or rework entire storylines and plot points.
The rate of content creation must far outpace the capabilities of most production studio law offices looking to sue for copyright infringement because there are thousands of billions of zillions of these “fanvids” (that’s the extent of my knowledge of YouTube lingo, my friends). Sometimes they are just favorite clips of long-gone shows. Sometimes these videos are created as an expression of solidarity with certain characters or even a subculture (videos featuring gay characters or even characters that audiences think might be gay, for example, are really popular and endlessly linked through the power of the YouTube suggestion box). Most have surprising number of views – generally numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
Essentially, YouTube has enabled television and film to become a two-way medium in which fans take produced footage and use it to tell the story they want to see. YouTube is sort of an shadow entertainment network. It has the most sought after clips of every television show on the planet, all easily searchable and right alongside some of the least sought after music video compilations in history.
“Jumanji – Jonathan Hyde” – This video, somewhat inexplicably, features the band Everclear’s song “Romeo,” (made famous by the soundtrack of 1996 teen flick “Romeo and Juliet” staring Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of his heartthrob reign) and is simply a collection of clips of Jonathan Hyde from Jumanji. No explanation is provided for its presence on the interwebs,and I doubt a sufficient one exists.
“Saved by the Bell: Brokeback Style” – No commentary needed. I mean, really???
“Law and Order SVU: Benson and Stabler Right Here With You” – Fans trying to read romance into what is clearly not a romantic relationship is the crux of, I’d guess, about 50% of these “fanvids.”
“If Arizona Died” – MORBID. This video reworks an entire storyline using older clips of Callie crying and doing a weird blown out filter thing on Arizona to make her look like an apparition. Why there would be an audience for a video showing the fictional death of a well-liked character is anybody’s guess.
It seems that YouTube has, somewhat unintentionally, opened up the world’s most extensive television and film fan forum. Whether fans are doing their subjects justice by making cheesy music videos using stolen footage is an open question at this point, but at least they have an outlet. And most importantly, we’ve answered the age-old question: internet fame is more rewarding than getting a free poster in the mail.
I leave you with this image: