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Saying goodbye to the viral video

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I think the first “viral video” I was aware of was the Mentos-in-Diet Coke geyser. It might have been the Numa Numa guy. 

“Numa Numa” totally holds up, by the way. If you haven’t watched it in a while, take a minute and do so again. If you’ve forgotten what joy feels like, it will remind you.

Just 10 years later, we expect more from our viral videos than the pixelated, badly lit production values of Numa Numa. Which raises the question, is there still room on the Internet for the Numa Numa guy?

Two weeks ago, a new musical genre was invented: the Asian teen pop–death metal crossover. It is a category of one; its only practitioner is Babymetal. The video for Babymetal’s “Gimme Chocolate” has already hit nearly 3.5 million views. And certainly anyone who’s ever raged for chocolate can identify with this song.

A few days later, Save the Children, a charity benefiting kids in troubled areas around the world, released its “Most Shocking Second a Day Video.” The video takes the form of a common viral-video phenomenon (and popular mobile app): a second or so from every day in a person’s life for one year cut together into a kind of timelapse. It has often shown a baby’s first year, or captured a milestone year, like the year you turn 30

Save the Children’s video depicts the life of a young girl as her happy childhood is torn apart in a civil war. Unlike the viral form it shares, it is a carefully staged, professionally produced (and quite affecting) video. It has been viewed nearly 26 million times, as of this writing.

It’s not all “go big-budget or go home” on the Internet, however. I couldn’t help cracking up at OB1FBM’s project, shared on Reddit, from a recent Magic: The Gathering tournament. The Redditor and rapper took a picture of himself with every instance of exposed butt cleavage he could find at the tournament. 

What makes it really shine is the look of sensitive concern on his face, like he’s finally bringing to the antiseptic light of public attention on of the key injustices of our time.

It’s not a video, but it’s the same spirit, I think. 

If by “viral video,” we meant something decidedly amateur, then it’s tough to wonder whether it’s in fact an endangered species. And if the amateur viral video is no longer extant, what of the Web it characterized? The one we all fell in love with?

On the one hand, nothing is there to stop the next Numa Numa guy posting to YouTube. And yet, what has it got him? Two hundred YouTube subscribers. The guys who posted the Mentos-and-Diet Coke video have a little more than 6,000 Facebook fans. I don’t know who produced Babymetal, but it is a professionally packaged deal, like Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber, and Max Martin, the man behind those acts’ greatest hits, is worth $250 million—though I doubt he even has his own fan page.

Amateur production of viral videos is not really a good path to fame and fortune. The only reason to make such videos then, is for the love them. So maybe the very fact that makes the amateur viral video seem unsustainable—the fact that there’s no money in it—is its saving grace.

FROM THE TRENCHES

Earlier this week, SXSW Interactive took over Austin. It’s an important marker in our year—the Daily Dot would not exist without SXSW, after all. I met two of my cofounders there. Even more importantly, for me and the Daily Dot anyway, is that my first attendance at SXSW opened my eyes to the world that the Internet had created. So this year, I went back to my roots at SX and really focused on attending panels—I attended three the first day, as many as I’d attended the whole week last year. It was actually wonderful, I learned so much, but even more importantly, I was overwhelmed by the explosion of innovation and ideas that SXSW brings to the surface better than any other even.

Illustration by Jason Reed