We’ve all heard it. We’ve all groaned at it. And yet, we’ve all embraced it as a hallmark of pop culture. That’s right, it’s “Friday.”
“Friday” is pretty much indisputably just nonsense. The quality of the music, lyrics, cinematography, and “talent” is so low you almost think it’s a parody. And yet, at the time of Kevin Allocca’s TED talk “Why videos go viral,” in November of 2011, it had 200 million views. As YouTube’s Trend Manager, Kevin analyzes what drives the popularization of videos. He boils it down to three key factors: tastemakers, participation, and unexpectedness. The Unexpectedness factor is a distinguishing one in the vast world of YouTube videos because only those that are truly unique and unexpected can stand out. This one’s pretty straight-forward: if the video didn’t have anything interesting or different about it, it would just never get on anyone’s radar. Tastemakers has to do with someone well-known getting the video on the population’s radar through social media or some sort of broadcast, and he cites Jimmy Kimmel and Tosh.0 as examples. The masses perceive these people as icons of pop culture and humor, and thus are likely to trust their “plug.” Participation involves the idea that people find something relatable, adaptable, or creatively inspirational about the video, to the point where they attempt to recreate, build upon, or parody it. For example, parody songs for the remaining days of the week were created with seven days of “Friday”‘s release. Viral videos encourage the masses to take the video and make it their own. Even if those adaptations are stupid, that creative process engages the viewers and embeds the video even deeper into pop culture. Below are some of these adaptations.
This participative aspect was most interesting to me. I think so much of mass consumption these days is so mindless, so the idea of a video going viral because it resonates with and engages consumers, even in a silly way, is pretty valuable in my opinion. It gives us a much more active role in shaping pop culture and encourages creativity. On the other hand, from the examples presented in the TED talk at least, it seems like the videos we choose to respond to are often pretty stupid. “Friday” is an obvious example, but there’s also a man named “Yosemitebear” freaking out about a double rainbow for 3 and a half minutes, and Nyan cat on loops of various (and obscene) amounts of time. (Side note: I would definitely recommend giving this video a watch, it’s not that long and it’s really entertaining.) Is it actually beneficial that we’re engaging with these videos, which are so lacking in substance but that, for whatever reason, spark viewer interest and creativity? And if the products of that creativity are also idiotic and trivial, was it even worth it? What are your thoughts?
Finally, there were several elements of Kevin’s presentation that I think made it really effective. His use of humor and multimedia, although probably a natural style to employ given that the topic was YouTube videos, really made the talk engaging and entertaining to the audience. I would love to incorporate these into more of my presentations.