Experimental Artists are Still Misunderstood, Despite Nod on YouTube

Yesterday a friend of mine forwarded me an email that said “CALL TO ARMS, of the utmost importance!” in the subject line. The urgent message was that a video of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s infamous “Helicopter String Quartet” had been chosen as a feature for YouTube’s homepage (in the online video world, this is like hitting the viral jackpot) but, due to the far out and wacky nature of this piece, the video was getting tons of derogatory comments and awful reviews from users. The email I received was a call to all supporters of the avant gard to get on YouTube and counteract the blasphemy taking place.

Well, I had to laugh, and hopefully Stockhausen (RIP) was chuckling too from his heavily sound-proofed corner of heaven. Finally the experimental art world got their wish come true. One of their own had been discovered and was being seen by the ignorant masses. As was prophesized, once the people saw this great light they would renounce pop culture and take up the cross of experimentalism. Never would they be placated and amused by fluffy cheap entertainment again. Britney would have to go on unemployment and spend the rest of her days in a trailer park, Justin Timberlake would need to wait tables for the new glittering literati…

I’m sorry to report this folks, but the light of true art did not convert the masses. Once again, they attacked our art with hateful ignorance, vile words, and blatant indifference.  Here are a few comments made only hours ago by the barbarians:

“They are serious with this? This Is not a joke or a parody or something like that? It would be funny as a parody of pretentious ‘artistes’ with their condescending noses so far in the air they have to look out for low flying helicopters! HA! ROFLCOPTER!!”flyinDPOD

“This is the most retarded thing i’ve ever seen. There is no artistic value or point to what they are doing. Its just morons in a helicopter playing music to get the recognition of being ‘different, unique, artistic’ when in reality all they are doing is being retards. The music sounds like a camel taking a huge shit, but for all you yuppies out there who love this because of how ‘original’ it is, be my guest on buy their CD. lmao, enjoy not having 20$ anymore”j0n0666

“If this is artistic then I might as well start drawing helicopters with my shit. Then I could make the same exact argument that claims this is artistic.”locopaparone

My question is: How could experimentalists ever have supposed this or any work would be received differently? I’m calling for a moratorium on the whining that great experimental artists are not being appreciated enough by the mainstream. The only ways experimentalists have ever achieved world-wide fame and worship are either when the world finally catches up to them long after they’re dead (ie. Van Gogh) or when a big pop act like the Beatles gets sooo popular, they can do whatever they want and people will still buy their records. That’s it, period. Otherwise, I don’t care if you are Stockhausen or Merce Cunningham, you are not going to suddenly become a megastar on the home page of YouTube. That’s like expecting the world to start spinning in the other direction, or Dubya to come up with a good idea.

That said, I do have a few problems with YouTube and the way their website is set up. First of all, it’s nice they put a piece of experimental performance on their home page, but how about first making search categories for all the arts: visual arts, dance, theatre, etc. Right now the only art forms that have separate categories on YouTube are Music and Film/Animation. Great for those people, but what about the rest of us? Hello, “The Evolution of Dance” was the biggest YouTube hit ever!

One way YouTube could help their users and promote a greater range of content is by suggesting videos that were highly rated by other people like a particular user. This is something that Netflix does, and I’ve found some great films through this system. Basically Netflix stores my ratings on DVD’s I’ve watched and matches me with a group of other users who liked the same films I did. Then when enough other users in my group like a movie, they will suggest it to me. I think this would be a very handy tool for YouTuber’s trying to navigate the morass of videos and find the gems they want to see. With Google as a parent company, I don’t think this should be a difficult search function to set up on YouTube!

Also, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to YouTube’s editorial picks. A little more thought towards education and responsibility to their users could go a long way when they choose features. For instance, if they had put other experimental art pieces next to Stockhausen’s video, they would have had some context, and perhaps viewers who check the homepage wouldn’t have felt like they were being conned into eating this weird art spinach. I understand that the editors have to guard themselves from all sorts of tricks and manipulations people use to get their video featured, but still, a little thought and guidance could make YouTube a site that doesn’t just change the way media is distributed, but also how it is interpreted and digested by the world. This is something I think we all would appreciate.

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3 Responses to Experimental Artists are Still Misunderstood, Despite Nod on YouTube

  1. tonya says:

    Great post, Anna — your writing is very funny! I do wonder though how people honestly liked that ridiculous Evolution of Dance video and so completely shunned this. To me, this is at least interesting. I can’t say I completely understand it, but at least there is something there to try to grasp. I also wonder how it is that YouTube videos are selected as editorial picks — because there is no overall editor, right? It’s all user-generated … I think…

  2. Anna Brady Nuse says:

    Thanks for your kind words Tonya. I agree, I think the “Helicopter String Quartet” piece is great, and well worth putting out there for the mainstream to bump into. I just don’t think that it will ever achieve popular support. Also, because the YouTube features page is such a covetted position, even really populist videos get slammed there by jealous haters.

    BTW, I just found out a bit of info from YouTube’s FAQs page about how videos get featured:

    “YouTube’s members rate videos they like, and we review highly-rated and recent videos for consideration in the “Featured Videos” section of the home page and the featured videos on the “Categories” page. In addition, our programming team takes suggestions from members at editor@youtube.com and scans the site for videos of interest.”

    So for any would be YouTube stars, aim for high ratings from other users! Usually this is achieved by becoming an active member of the community and establishing connections with other YouTubers. It’s all about who you know, just like everything else in this world.

  3. Tonya says:

    That’s really interesting, Anna. Thanks for the info! I know Amazon does something similar — they automatically feature books that have high sales in a special section. So, authors will organize drives to have everyone they know buy their book on a certain day, thereby driving up sales for that day and getting their book in features for at least a small amount of time, which, even if small, can be significant because lots of people go there to check out what’s “popular”. It even has a name: “Amazon bombing.” What seems to have happened here is that some people couldn’t understand the video then got angry and defensive that a lot of others obviously had. Anyway, it’s interesting how people organize in these times of democratic media, right! — and I guess it’s also interesting how others react when they can’t understand something.

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