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.