Tuesday, November 21, 2006

YouTube Nation

The Michael Richards tirade, like a great many things, is the sort of thing that could have easily been covered up and made to have less of an impact even 15 years ago (I'm not going to post it here, as I don't know if, exactly, I can post YouTube videos with content warnings). In the early 90s, it would have been easy enough for Richards' publicist to write off his racist tirade as a misunderstood joke or a greatly overblown event. Even if the video had been readily available to the press, it would have been easy to limit who had access to it -- even then, broadcast of it would have been limited to news shows and the sheer horror of the clip would have been blunted by bleeping words out and editing around them.

I'm not just saying this because I deplore racism or anything (though, obviously, I do); Richards is genuinely scary in the video that TMZ.com posted earlier today. He really, really seems like a man who's completely lost it. But what makes this a potential career ender for him is that we now live in a world where this sort of thing is available easily and instantly to anyone with Internet access (which is a segment of the population that grows more every day). You can see the edited down version on the local news, or you can see the uncut version in all its glory on YouTube.

As corporatized as it has become, the Internet is still the best place to get unvarnished information, free from editing or other manipulation. To a very real degree, the next media wars are going to be fought over who can control the YouTube market (which, of course, is very nascent). A real reason the Democrats swept up so much more of the youth vote this time around is because of the way they and their devotees used the Internet. Republicans tried to play catch up but were always at least two steps behind at all turns -- it didn't help that the most devastating "videobites" played against Republicans in most cases (the Internet, of course, is not the sole reason young people turned out to vote for Democrats, but it was a good way to keep them informed and interested).

Obviously, I'm a TV guy, so I don't think that or any other old medium is going to disappear completely. But they're going to merge more and more with things like YouTube. The age of the mass culture is almost over, and the age when we all become our own programmers is just beginning.

(Just some brief thoughts spurred by the Richards video -- expect fuller thoughts on this subject in a year-in-review piece.)

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