The Final Blog Post: YouTube Extravaganza

The viral video. How can I even begin to describe it? I could have done my entire blog just on viral videos, it’s such a broad category. For the purpose of this post, however, I’ll focus on a few specific varied cases and how the main two theories of humor, the Superiority Theory and the Incongruity Theory, apply to each video. In this batch of videos, we will see how humor theories aren’t black and white: often the two theories work together to create even more humor, or sometimes it’s not clear which theory is supported more. The great thing about viral videos is that they don’t stay within the boundaries of YouTube: they pervade every facet of the Internet by transforming into different memes to stay relevant, intrude into our daily language by becoming instant catch phrases, and take up an astounding amount of our day.

Bed Intruder

On July 28th, 2010, an NBC affiliate news station in Alabama reported on a disturbing event: a man had climbed through a woman’s window and tried to rape her. Though a very serious subject matter, things turned toward the comedic when the reporter interviewed on Antoine Dodson, the victim’s brother. After spreading through various meme-creating websites like Reddit and Buzzfeed, the clip of the interview became an Internet sensation, currently holding 4.4 million views. Of course, controversy popped up in the form of articles either condemning Dodson as perpetuating stereotypes or supporting him as a passionate brother. The lulz got back on track a mere three days after the original interview was posted when the Gregory Brothers of Auto-Tune the News created the Bed Intruder Song. Now a single on iTunes, the YouTube video alone has over 90 million views, and that’s not even thinking about the hundreds of covers it spawned.

So why do we laugh? Knowyourmeme.com puts it this way when comparing Antoine Dodson to Basil Marceaux, who’s campaign plug on another NBC local news station in Tennessee made the rounds on the Internet about the same time as Dodson: we laugh at Marceaux but with Dodson because while Marceaux is incomprehensible, Dodson is understandable. In the language of humor theories, this would mean that Dodson’s humor does not fall under the Superiority Theory. While some might laugh at him because they see him as the butt of a painful joke, Dodson can be seen as humorous for his phrasing of his opinions rather than his overall image or the actual subject matter. As evidenced by the immensely popular auto-tune version of the interview, Dodson’s cadence makes for an extremely catchy song. While many may try to push the idea that it Dodson’s passion makes him a sympathetic character or that the song is just plain catchy, the underlying reason for the humor boils down to the Superiority Theory. While the viewer may not be laughing at Antoine Dodson as a person, they are certainly laughing at the way he talks, his mannerisms, or what he says. While the Incongruity Theory would take the weight off the conscience, Dodson does play into acknowledged stereotypes so there isn’t any incongruity there. There certainly isn’t incongruity in the way he reacts to an attempted rape of his sister. Complete apathy would be incongruous, but certainly not funny.

Evolution of Dance

Uploaded by Judson Laipply, a motivational speaker, in 2006, The Evolution of Dance is the #23 most viewed video of YouTube, with over 180 million views. For those of you too lazy to watch the 6 minute video (it’s so worth it though), the routine features a compilation of iconic dances to songs from Elvis’ “Hound Dog” to Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” The crowd loves it, and so does YouTube. There’s certainly few feelings of superiority on the part of the viewer, since he has mastered both knowledge and skill of more dances that most people will in their lives. The humor comes from the span and the variety of the songs and dances. The songs reach across 50 years, ranging from artists like the Village People to Eminem to Michael Jackson. Incongruity arises from the combination of so many different songs from different artists, as well as Laipply’s ability to perform all these dances. With his receding hairline, ironic t-shirt and fitted jeans, he doesn’t look like much. Therefore, every time he whips out a new dance the crowd goes wild.

With this video, we can see another aspect of the Incongruity: humor that relies too heavily on it quickly loses it’s humor. A second video, Evolution of Dance 2, appeared on YouTube 3 years later. With a mere 17.5 million views, the first video dwarfs its sequel in popularity. The sequel relies on exactly the same schtick as the first: the same guy dances to a compliation of songs from various artists. He even wears the same outfit, although his hairline seems to be doing better. It’s not surprising that the sequal did not have as much success: it no longer has the incongruities of the first video, since, you know, there is a whole other video of the same thing. The same principle applies when you tell the same joke over and over.

Dramatic Chipmunk

*Disclaimer: the animal in this video is actually a prairie dog.

The original clip of the prairie dog appeared on a Japanese TV show, Hello! Morning (I’m so shocked). The shortened version of just the praire dog’s head turn appeared as a .gif on 4chan and a video on Digg. The music is sampled from the 1974 movie Young Frankenstein. On YouTube, it has received over 60 million views between the two most viewed uploads of the original 5 second clip with music.
The humor is in the simplicity. With only 5 seconds, this video pack quite a bit of incongruity. First, the unexpected head turn and wide eyed stare. The motion is a surprise, but not hysterically funny: the true humor comes with the pairing of the visual with the audio. The dramatic music, which sounds like it should be setting up extreme tension of a dramatic moment, instead plays over…a prairie dog turning its head and staring. The prairie dog is just amusing; Dramatic Chipmunk is hysterically unexpected.

The many spinoffs of Dramatic Chipmunk demonstrate the right way to continue to use incongruity as humor. After the first 50 times, Dramatic Chipmunk’s head turn and soundtrack become expected, and so no longer funny. However, a Dramatic Chipmunk who then opens a light saber gains back incongruity and becomes funny again. However, there is only so long this can go on. Eventually, only the most clever new incongruities survive.

Charlie bit my finger

We must not ignore the wealth of home videos posted on YouTube. Many are simply for the enjoyment of family; some become famous. One such video is of Charlie. A family in Buckinghamshire, England uploaded the video for viewing by relatives in Colorado and California in March, 2007. In November, 2007 Collegehumor.com featured the video, and by the end of 2007 the video reached 1 million views. As of May, 2011, the video has over 300 million views. Like most popular YouTube videos of unassuming activities, there are a variety of parodies.

First: they have British accents. Americans will probably find anything funnier if it is said in a quaint British accent.

The video starts off as another cute baby video. Baby videos are enjoyable, but not actually humorous unless something happens. And oh, does something happen. The older of the two, Harry, notices the younger Charlies is chewing on his left hand. Harry then proceeds to stick his finger in Charlie’s mouth. Right away we’re looking at Superiority Theory: we know we’re smarter than both of these children. When Charlie nonchalantly continues to bite, Harry’s slight discomfort turns to pain as he begins to scream. The humor is already flowing as we laugh at Harry’s seeming inability to remove his finger from Charlie’s mouth. Those viewers who glance at Charlie’s face, however, start to notice the incongruity: Charlie does not appear to give any emotional reaction to his screaming brother. Yes, Charlie is a baby; but a loud noise should still provoke some reaction. Charlie’s deadpan is even more incongruous when placed next to Harry’s very painful reaction. After Harry removes his finger, the brother’s look at each other, and Charlie cracks out a smile and a laugh.  Harry comes around quickly, but Charlie is still laughing. His eyes seem to say, “He got bitten by a baby. What an idiot.” Charlie’s apparent self awareness of what he just did and his reaction to it is entirely incongruous with the reality of how babies actually function. This creates an interesting combination of the Superiority and Incongruity theories: the viewer can laugh not only at Harry for being stupid enough to put his finger in Charlie’s mouth and keep it there, but also at the incongruity of a malevolent baby aware of his painful actions.

Friday

You knew it had to come sometime. I can’t believe I actually waited until the very last post to talk about this video, which is so very near and dear to my heart.

In February 2011, the music video for “Friday” by Rebecca Black was uploaded to Youtube. It’s popularity exploded after The Daily What posted the video in March, 2011. Rebecca Black is a 14 year old from California whose parents hired Ark Music Factory, now know for its teenager pop music videos, to create both the song and video for Black. The song has gained much negative attention, with 43,866 dislikes to 10,491 likes on the videos second upload. After the incredible jump in popularity in March, 2011, Friday took over pop culture for about 2 weeks. Students at William and Mary will remember the first Friday after the initial craze; no one could escape it. Even now, mentions of being excited for the weekend or waking up at 7 am incite Rebecca Black jokes or mockery of the songs lyrics.

This is the perfect example of something so bad, it’s hysterical. We can certainly jump to the conclusion that the humor of “Friday” applies to the Superiority Theory. Most of Black’s lyrics state mundane facts to auto-tune, and the song as a whole is a good example of the basic minimum amount of talent needed to make a music video. But could there be some Incongruity Theory-based humor mixed in with all that mocking laughter? During the video, many surprises prompt some questions: Why is her face drawn like that? Aren’t those kids way too young to actually be driving that car? Wasn’t Rebecca supposed to be going to school? Why is she deliberating over which seat to take, the front seat’s already full! If her friend is on her right, who’s that girl on her left? Now she’s already sitting in the back, so why is she still trying to make up her mind? Is she actually giving us a review of the days of the week? Where did her verbs go? Why is there a bad Usher impersonator? There is a huge incongruity between “Friday” and those music videos that are done by well known pop artists. However, the humor in the video still falls under the Superiority Theory, since the incongruities don’t please us: most of the surprises involve the songs inferiority or stupidity. While the Superiority Theory aspect may be heightened by the incongruities and our amusement of them, the humor is based firmly on the belief that Black’s video is horrible. Black herself becomes the loser of the situation and the butt of many a joke.

Strangely enough, without all the auto-tune, she’s not that bad a singer, as shown on Good Morning America.

That’s all, folks.

But just in case you’re trying to study:
Interrupting Kanye
Hitler Rage (Hitler Registers for Classes at William and Mary)
Internet Party (Cracked.com)
Boys Will Be Girls (Harvard Sailing Team)
The Count Counts (Censored Version)
Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig)
I’m On A Boat (The Lonely Island)
David After Dentist
Kittens (Inspired by Kittens)