Computing Applications

Mimi Ito on Amateur Media: Incremental, Experimental

Michael Bernstein
MIT Ph.D. student Michael Bernstein

When late night comedy can’t retain an audience but a man lipsynching in his chair nets more than 700 million views, we know that something is up. What makes amateur media production tick, what makes it successful, and where is it going next? Anthropologist Mizuko (Mimi) Ito tackled these questions in the closing plenary at the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work.

Successful viral videos on sites like YouTube, Ito says, are amateurish in just the right ways. They are a moment of joy shared on the internet. They are slightly transgressive, putting an intimate, embarrassing or risky moment in public view. They reference established memes and genres, but add their own elements of uniqueness.

For example, take the A Day at the Office, a recent YouTube hit that features a quintet of officeworkers and their simultaneous webcam recordings of the Backstreet Boys’ "I Want it That Way". These everyday people build on the established tradition of lip-syncing — your first introduction to this genre was probably Numa Numa. The Back Dorm Boyz then built on Numa Numa and set up the Backstreet Boys as someone to imitate. These folks took it one step further with multiple synchronous recordings. This story epitomizes the process of experimental innovations on top of existing ideas or techniques.

Media production on the horizon is even more impressive, tying amateur sensibilities and crowd participation together with professional talent. SOUR’s Hibi no Neiro ("Tone of Everyday") video is a professionally-produced music video that compiles a group of enthusiastic internet denizens to produce stunning visuals. Likewise, the Mother of all Funk Chords remixes hordes of unrelated amateur YouTube video into a musical masterpiece. Some up-and-comers like Pomplamoose even reverse-engineer this phenomena into what they call a VideoSong.

Increment, innovate, experiment. Viva la amateur media culture.

Michael Bernstein is a PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. You should follow him on Twitter.

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