YouTube: Gutenberg or Graffiti? Both?

In his book The Blog Ahead, T. Scott Hall talks about the the Web as the greatest paradigm shift in communication since the Gutenberg printing press. Just as the printing press had a hand in democratizing information by putting it in the hands of more and more people as a printed medium, so the Web puts just about every kind of information in the world at your fingertips.

Not only is it easy to get to but also it is easy to create.

Bloggers are making and breaking news stories, reputations, political careers. The key to survival in the future will be a matter of accepting rather than fighting this paradigm shift. Microsoft and Chrysler are two examples of companies who have done this and turned online consumer unrest into a marketing tool via blogs.

Further, Google is the paragon of putting the Web in the public's hands and then selling any and everything it can through that medium. I think it's a fair trade.

I think this because the freedom of blogging is genuine. Just now I uploaded a video to my YouTube account. Along the way I had the options of making the video available to a select few of my choosing or to the universe. I chose the universe. I had the option of accepting feedback in terms of ratings and comments. I'm open to all feedback. I had the option of making the code available to others who might want to embed the video into their sites or link to my account. I'm open for that, too. YouTube asked me on my honor to upload only stuff that belongs to me. My work, for better or worse, is original.

I've accepted email and all the other forms of communication that YouTube offers, as well. Mostly I've received solicitations from Brazilian porn stars whose pimps are in Eastern Europe to watch some smutty videos. I asked YouTube to make the sex traders go away, and YouTube took care of me.

I call this a beautiful world. Makes me think of YouTube as digital graffiti. They are driven by the same ethics of open, immediate, nobody-really-owns-it communication. Big Media should join the fun. If I, a nobody with a little blog, can protect my privacy and the integrity of my work with a few mouse clicks here and there, surely the big guys can find fancy ways to protect the integrity of Sponge Bob and the rest of their gang.

Among my YouTube videos are my Strange Attractions, Exploring Graffiti pieces. The talk of Big Media going after Google/YouTube for copyright infringement brought to mind an incident that occurred while I began researching graffiti several years ago. I had come across in a book a photo of a spray-painted horse on a corrugated iron roof in Los Angeles. I wanted to use the image as a segue in my video documentary, so I contacted the author to see if I could have permission to use his work. For half a grand, yes, I could.

The irony was too sweet; I could not write the check. Here was a photo documenting someone else's work that was intended to be free and public. The art was not the photo but the graffito. But here was Joe Author assuming a proprietary right to this image. I'm guilty of often forgetting that the buck is almighty for many people, but I couldn't help wondering how in the spirit of graffiti this writer could be if he had such a "mine, mine, mine" attitude about a photo. The subculture itself is not like that. In fact, the graffiti subculture is all about open communication, creativity, living in art.

Of course, graffiti is also about art that is unsanctioned, which is to say illegal. From the writers' point-of-view, graffiti is a challenging of the status quo. It's about pulling you inside a world that you can't own, that can't own you, and that won't be here forever. It's about figuring out who you are and being it in full color. Graffiti is about fun. Writers are tricksters who remind us that the world is neither stable nor solid nor of our making.

Google and YouTube have unlocked just about all the doors of communication. That's beautiful and fun--unless, of course, you're trying to sell episodes of Sponge Bob at $1.99 a pop. Viacom, maybe you're running with the wrong crowd.

(Image by Jace)


  1. Oh, I get it NOW: That's a graffiti picture on a building abutment thing, in the picture. I thought for a while it was a scarf; then I was sure it was a tattoo on the back (part of the back) of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who has just been rejected as a "before" model by NutraSystem.

    And you are right: if Viacom doesn't drop it, they will quickly become the object of a sentence which begins, "Whatever became of...?"

  2. I'm having a second helping of Girl Scout cookies to make room for just such a tattoo. Great idea.

    I've always found the most interesting part of getting into New York City via car is looking at the bridges and basketball courts covered with this stuff. Prison grey has yet to move my little soul.

    By the way, who is Sponge Bob?

  3. Sponge Bob is a silly cartoon character, I think.

    Your comment about driving into NYC through Connecticut takes me back to the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge, on I-95 in 1983. A 100 foot long section of roadway fell 70 feet to the river below, killing three and injuring three. It happened at night. We were living in Stratford then, and we used that road all of the time.

    Not all graffiti is ugly, I think.

  4. There are ways into Connecticut by way of upstate NY and MA....Bridge-o-phobia and Connecticut have an intimate connection. I would prefer to go around than over. Finally the Hartford Brain Trust replaced that metal thing on the Merritt. My hair used to sweat every time I got on that thing.


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