Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Critical Analysis of Rebecca Black...and Fred Figglehorn

After seeing various vlogs and reading this article about Rebecca Black's "Friday" music video, I decided to watch it. At first I was moderately impressed, because I was expecting it to filmed and edited with amateur equipment, and I was rather surprised it was done in a "professional" style. Yet the lyrics were ho-hum, (as opposed to especially funny or deep), the voice was, "okay", (though it seems most people think it was worse than that), so the best I can say is, "good try."

But then I got to thinking, "Wait, there have been plenty of virals floating around online that are famous because people like them, how is it that a relatively expensive music video, shot with professional equipment, got less 'likes' than Charlie Bit My Finger?" Basically, I was thinking I should like it, but didn't.

Here is my ultimate take. I think "Friday" could have been a good amateur video, but was a poor professional video. I could be wrong, but I believe that if Ms. Black did the same song, with same lyrics, shot with a home-video camera, with music provided by a cheap sythesizer program, at the very least, the flaming would not have been so bad. In fact, I'm confident that while it would not have gotten as much publicity, it would have gotten more "likes".

In my opinion, it is easier to accept and praise amateur work when it is displayed as such. Professional work, on the other hand, needs to have professional talent to match. An exception is when you are going for extremely goofy, like Chad Vader, an absurd series about Darth Vader's younger brother working in a grocery store. Or askaninja, where a ninja answers questions posed by viewers, and (nowadays) reviews various viral videos. Though they are filmed with above-home-video equipment, none of them pretend to be "sophisticated," and may not reach everyone's taste, yet if you look at the number of "likes" and comments, you'll see that they strike the funnybone of a lot of people.

On the home-video level, there is justsomerandomguy, a youtube channel whose videos mainly consist of Marvel and DC comic book characters arguing over whose movies were better. The filming is as low-budget as you can get; the characters are represented by action figures, who are moved by off-screen hands, and there are only two people doing the voices for all the characters. Yet the dialogue is "sophisticated", as the characters critically analyze each other's movies and profiles in a Siskel and Ebert type manner. The theme is generally a parody of the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC", commercials. Even as your laughing at the characters' cheap shots at one another, you're also thinking about elements of said characters you might not have noticed before, or viewed in that particular way. This whole format would not work as a syndicated TV show, (unless perhaps the filming was professional-grade), but as a YouTube series, it works very well as an entertaining analysis of comics and the movies they're based on.

An example of amateur YouTube work going "pro" is the infamous Fred Figglehorn, a character created by Lucas Cruikshank, who films himself acting like a hyper six-year-old (and sounding like a chipmunk). While the concept gets plenty of flaming, the Fred YouTube channel has over 1 million subscribers, and Nickelodeon produced a "Fred" movie. The movie itself was not well received (at least in some quarters), which leads me to conclude that Fred is another good example of amateur filming that works best as amateur.

Of course, one could say that concepts such as Fred shouldn't work at all, because they are so pathetically ridiculous. But that I believe, is the point. Mr. Cruikshank's purpose was to act out a character with complete, reckless abandon.Not everyone's cup of tea, of course, but there are still quite a few people who appreciate the shear chutzpa of the endeavor. So it can still be argued that Lucas accomplished his purpose ("fear, chaos, my work here is done"), at least as far as his YouTube videos are concerned.

Some may say that professional companies and agents need to be more careful about creating "instant celebrities", lest they pick up kids with no talent and thrust them into a spotlight they haven't earned. I partially agree, but I think there are two extremes in talent scouting that need to be avoided. First, the idea that only professional critics should have the final say on what is "good" and what isn't, and anything which pleases the unwashed masses but bypasses the critics is an abomination. Second, the idea that anybody can be a superstar, so everybody should get an equal chance.
The problem with the first extreme is that while critics can be useful in recommendations, and thought-provoking analysis, the final say in showbiz should ultimately go to the consumers, who should not rely on other people to dictate their own personal taste. If people like it enough to watch/pay for it (they may only care for the former and not the latter) and enough like it to draw other's attention to it, can you really argue against success?
The problem with the second extreme is that not everyone can be be a superstar, at least not right away. Again, you ultimately have to please the consumers, meaning you have to come up with something which will do that. This takes time, effort, trial and error, and there is plenty of competition. If you define "success" as pleasing only yourself, then go ahead plug away on your own time and budget. But if you define "success" as producing something people will pay for, you have to make the effort to know and please your audience. Not everyone has the will to do this, at least not in show biz.

Did Rebecca Black accomplish her purpose in doing a record-label worthy, widely popular song and music video? Probably not, but I think it is only because she over-reached with what she had. If she could get a longer arm, so to speak, in improving her voice, and getting better lyrics, then perhaps she has a shot at being the next Taylor Swift. But that is ultimately for the consumers to decide, and if enough consumers decide an artist's work is good, that said artist makes a decent amount of money, then the artist's purpose is accomplished, even if they aren't universally popular. If the artist's goal is merely to make funny videos that get people laughing, and lots of people laugh, then the artist's purpose is still accomplished, again even if they aren't universally popular.

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