Postmodern YouTube Comments
Any medium through which humans convey information is structured, limited but infinitely malleable.
The limitations of a medium invite the manufacture of clichés and canonical archetypes – there are novelistic clichés, painterly clichés and cinematic clichés. There are also key examples of any given medium that we often take as paradigmatic: other iterations resemble or subvert them in varying shades.
The development of clichés and the ossification of a canon lead to an inevitable stage of conscious reflection upon the qualities of the medium, as witnessed in the birth of modernism and postmodernism in various art forms throughout the 20th century. Modernism in painting defined limits as it tested them (flatness, a framed edge) and postmodernism dismantled them.
This process is evident in media everywhere, even YouTube comments. YouTube comments are restricted by a character limit and informed by their given function as brief opinions about a video; these are some basic limitations that the medium presents.
In its nascent, unreflexive stage the YouTube comment is representational and serves an external purpose. It is about that video at the top of the page; it serves to pass judgement on it, highlight aspects of it or question it. Just as a novel is conceived as a vehicle for narrative and a painting is faithful to its subject.
Some YouTube users introduce stylistic variation and begin to develop an oeuvre, with their own brand of crafted comments that do more than simply make observations about the video. Medium-as-vehicle is challenged and users start to delight in the possibilities that the comment board provides.
Micro-genres emerge as memes become established: variations on the joke about the number of people who disliked a video (‘X people Y’), ‘I liked the part where…’, ‘First!’, ‘Thumbs up if…’ are established as jokes with wide applicability – a sort of template that can be filled out with different content, like restaging Othello in contemporary America or producing iterations of the Cubist guitar. Badiou suggests all artworks are manifestations of particular ‘truths’ that are anchored in different contexts – one story retold, one song replayed or one picture reworked.
These memes display an awareness of the medium’s history and an insider’s knowledge of the form. A dialogue is established that entrenches – and tests – users’ facility with the tool. The modernist moment arrives with complete reflexivity: not just comments about the content of other comments, but comments about Comments.
Can we get postmodern comments? They can possess the requisite irony, they can borrow elements from other media (with a little creativity) but can they melt existing boundaries between ‘a YouTube comment’ and something else…?
Keep an eye out for a user attempting to post recipes, paintings and overtures ‘as comments’, questioning the role of comments in contemporary society , exploring the tension between comment and not-comment, inhabiting the liminal zonein which