(Continued from: Watch the Universe Do the Rest)
I thought it would end there. I’d had my silly moment to shine, and I’d gone home and written a small story about it. After that, I promptly forgot that it had ever happened. I thought that the moment was behind me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A few days later, I received the following text from a friend of mine:
Chris: Dude, there’s a video of you up on YouTube
Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 9:15 PM
Confused, and a bit concerned, I asked him for a link. He directed me to a YouTube video that had captured my lone performance from a few nights before.
I watched the video with a small amount of embarrassment. It seemed to be nothing special. I wasn’t particularly impressed with my performance. The clip was all of twenty seconds long. It was almost not worth mention. Though the video was soon circulated among all of my friends, who got a bit of a laugh. I sheepishly responded to their jokes and light-hearted praise. I figured it would end there.
Once again, I was wrong.
I forgot about the video for awhile, until one day, when I was out at Pep Boys getting my car serviced. While I was sitting in the waiting room, reading, someone across the room pointed at me and asked, “Hey, aren’t you the ‘Standing on a chair’ guy?”
My response was to look dumbly up at him and ask, “What?”
“Yeah!” he said. “I saw that shit on YouTube! Fucking awesome, man!”
“Uhh, thanks…” I replied, returning to my book. I was a bit disconcerted that some random person had somehow recognized me, though considering I was still in my hometown, I had no way of realizing just how far the phenomenon had already spread.
When I got home that night, I decided to check the video once more. What I saw could not have shocked me more: over 200,000 hits, with thousands of ‘likes’ and only a scattering of ‘dislikes.’ I booted up AOL Instant Messenger and sent a message to the friend who had originally brought the video to my attention:
|Jason Cantrell (11:19:55 PM):||Yo|
|Chris (11:23:29 PM):||whats up man|
|Jason Cantrell (11:23:47 PM):||Have you seen what’s been going on with that video?
|Chris (11:24:17 PM):||What video?
|Chris (11:24:57 PM):||Oh wait, that thing with the chair? No, what?
|Jason Cantrell (11:25:49 PM):||It’s got like 200,000 hits…
|Chris (11:27:03 PM):||What!? Really?
|Chris (11:27:08 PM):||I didn’t think it was that good?|
|Jason Cantrell (11:27:14 PM):||Me neither.
|Chris (11:27:23 PM):||what you think?|
|Chris (11:27:30 PM):||Going viral?|
|Chris (11:27:48 PM):||Pretty cool, right?
|Jason Cantrell (11:28:54 PM):||I guess…
I didn’t know what to think. Surely I wasn’t going to follow the path of the infamous Numa Numa guy. Nor did I really want to. I didn’t really want that level of exposure. Of course, once I had decided to let the universe do the rest, it was really out of my hands.
It started with comments. People posted their thoughts on the video, some mocking, some praising. People shared the video on Facebook and Twitter. Before I knew it, it was spreading around the world. The hit count rose daily, soaring through the ranks on its way to over a million views. I had nothing to do with it; I never shared the video with anyone, and in fact I had no control over it. I didn’t even know who had posted it. The only clue to the poster’s identity was their YouTube username: UniversalSquared. They could have been anyone.
Next there came imitators. Others started posting their own videos, recording themselves standing on a chair and shouting their hearts out for all the world to hear. The range of videos crossed all cultures and areas of interests, with YouTubers proclaiming, “I AM A MUSICIAN!”, “I AM AN ACTOR!”, “I AM GAY!”, “I AM A GINGER!” or whatever else they wanted to declare. Soon the movement grew, and it was no longer limited simply to declarations. People climbed on chairs and danced, giving performances set to music. Others recorded their pets on chairs. Some people did it as pranks, standing on chairs in public places just to see what would happen. It was the new ‘planking,‘ and the movement had no signs of stopping. When it reached Fox News, I knew it had become something big. It even ended up inspiring an Indy band to write a song based on the movement.
When I tried to figure out what it all meant, I realized it was all about participatory culture. Michael Wesch said it best, “This is really a story about new forms of expression and new forms of community and new forms of identity emerging…” He described the cultural reaction to the Numa Numa video by saying, “This video obviously became a huge phenomenon … and you’ll see people from all over the world joining in this dance. And this then becomes something really important that’s going on.” He was referring to the spread of culture. The celebration of being able to join in. Of being able to participate on a field that was once restricted only to professional actors and musicians. Before the internet, before YouTube, anyone who wanted to perform and make themselves known had to audition and risk rejection from producers. Only a select few, the best of the best, could ever become famous, could ever achieve anything of their dreams.
Yet now, anyone could. Anyone can reach out there, and grab their small bit of fame. All they had to do was find their own chair, drag it out into the own street, climb on high, and shout out to the world, “I AM A ______!” And by doing so, they are doing more than making a declaration. They are grabbing their own little piece of fame.
(Note: I do not actually own or have any connection to any of the content linked above.)