[There's an update to this post - See Viral Videos: Election 2008 Edition At This Link]
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It's been all over the news and you've read about it everywhere: Radio personality Imus recently did his part to bridge the racial divide in our country by making some racially insensitive comments about Rutger's women's basketball team:
In today's wired world, the spread of information is so total and so quick that words uttered by a radio dinosaur one morning can reach the ears of tens of millions of TV viewers, internet readers, and radio listeners by the end of the day. As a result of Imus' mistake, he's lost sponsors, been dropped by MSNBC, and been forced to kowtow to Al Sharpton on Sharpton's radio show.
But this isn't the first time that a video has gotten loose into the world and totally played havoc with someone's life. Here are five that I think are particularly noteworthy. I chose these based on a) The ability of the video to shock you, make you laugh, and/or basically make you just say "WTF?", and b) The relative impact the video had on that person's life. So without further ado, here we go:
5) Gray Brolsma's "Numa Numa" - Gary Brolsma was just a normal kid who knew how to get down with a webcam. But in late 2004, he submitted his "Numa Numa Dance" to Newgrounds, in which he lip-synched a Romanian song, "Dragostea Din Tei" ("From the Linden Trees"):
(from Youtube user xloserkidx)
The world was never the same. Brolsma rocketed to internet stardom nearly overnight, and his video was seen by millions all across the world. His video was seen on CNN and VH1 and Brolsma himself even made an appearance on "Good Morning America"
But apparently, Brolsma wasn't the same again either. In interviews given for a New York Times article from 2005, family and friends described him as moping around the house, feeling himself a victim of his own fame. Apparently, getting recognized on the bus for being that guy that can dance flailingly and move his eyebrows with great force wasn't a big boost for Gary's self-esteem. "I don't know what's wrong with him," his grandfather was quoted as saying.
This is the one story on this list that has a happy ending though. In September 2006, Brolsma emerged from obscurity to present us with this gem:
(From Youtube user NewNuma)
Happily, it appears that Brolsma was able to embrace his fame after all. His videos still bring a smile to my face at least, and for that I'm grateful.
(For more information, see "Internet Fame is a Cruel Mistress for a Numa Numa Dancer" by Alan Feuer and Jason George in The New York Times, 2/26/2005)
4) The Howard Dean Scream - Things were going great for the Dean campaign back in 2004. Howard Dean was the pre-eminent front-runner, raising tens of millions of dollars using grassroots movements to fuel his meteoric rise to the top. But in a shocking upset, he only won 3rd place in Iowa, losing out to the clearly-more-charismatic Kerry (?). So in a moment of apparent delirium, he did this on national television:
(From Youtube user Kittensaremegasilly)
The rest is history. (Dean has no plans to run for President in 2008)
3) George Allen's "Macaca" - A year ago, George Allen was heavily favored to be George W. Bush's successor. He had great down-home, country appeal in the South, was an articulate and personable speaker, and had the conservative politics to boot. Allen was a virtual lock to win the Senatorial race in Virginia, and afterwards, to potentially win the Republican nomination for the Presidential Primary. And then S.R. Sidarth, a dark-skinned staffer from his opponent's campaign, filmed Allen saying this to a crowd of white people:
(From Youtube user zkman)
Daaaaamn! He just called him...something that sounded vaguely racist. Yet despite the fact that no one really knew what "Macaca" meant (it was later revealed to be a racial slur based on a word referring to a monkey) , almost overnight, the polls indicated that Allen's supporters were deserting him en masse; the race was a dead heat shortly after the video was released on Youtube (many mainstream media outlets were also sent the video).
Allen ended up losing the Senatorial election by a hair, in a decisive election that gave the Democrats a majority in the Senate. From my understanding, his political career is over.
2) Michael Richards' N-Word Tirade - It was supposed to be a private, embarrassing night for Michael Richards. His set was bombing. The crowd was starting to get rowdy. But rather than deflect their jeers with some well-timed and classy barbs of his own, he said this (and some guy filmed it with his cell phone camera):
(From Youtube user ZILLA2010)
Instantly, everyone in the country became convinced that Richards was a racist. He appeared on Letterman later, in a cringe-inducing apology that was awkward for everyone involved:
(From CBS, via Youtube)
Is Michael Richards really a racist? I don't know, but he definitely shouldn't have said what he said. More to the point, because of this video, this will be the single incident he will be judged against for the rest of his life. Being Michael Richards will be a tough gambit from here on out.
It's now no longer possible to watch those old Seinfeld DVDs without in some way remembering this incident. That, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of all.
1) The Star Wars Kid -
(From Youtube user raze7ds)
No explanation necessary, but here's the video anyway for old time's sake
Update 1: After she read my blog post, my friend Angie directed me to this fantastic article from Radar Magazine, which has a longer and superior write-up of this phenomenon, along with a bunch more videos. You can click on the link for the article, but in the meantime, here are a few more of my favorites that I had forgotten about:
Lee Paige's self-inflicted gunshot wound - DEA Agent Lee Paige could kill you using just his thumb. He has FORGOTTEN more about firearms than I will ever know. But as fate would have it, one day, while Paige was giving a safety lecture (fate is cruel), a loaded firearm accidently discharged into his leg:
(From Youtube user Punisherx75)
Somehow the video leaked out and Paige became the object of ridicule everywhere. Law enforcement agents stopped taking him seriously, and eventually, he got recognized in everyday situations. As Paige put it, "Imagine the 16-year-old working at Panera Bread says, 'Hey, you're the cop who shot himself.'" Ouch.
Aleksey Vayner's UBS Video Resume - Aleksey Vayner is my hero because he made this video resume, which is possibly the most inspirational video I've ever seen in my life. Perhaps if I work as hard as Aleksey Vayner, impossible will be nothing for me too:
(From Youtube user actionpetential)
Unfortunately, UBS Investment Bank didn't think so, but they enjoyed the video enough to distribute it through intra-office communication. The video spread through all of Wall Street and eventually, through the rest of the country, getting picked up by various outlets including "The New York Times", "US News and World Report," and "The New Yorker". Vayner didn't get the job, is currently unemployed, and has now become a cautionary tale for video resume enthusiasts everywhere. His video was even parodied by "Arrested Development's" Michael Cera:
(From Youtube user maplestreet)
Good luck, Aleksey. If you can overcome the challenges you described in your video, no doubt you can overcome this too.
Update 2: Thanks for all the comments everyone, and thanks for reading! Let me respond to a few things.
Digg user olik said the following: Come on people, get your political history straight. Howard Dean was the target of media fanboyism, but his campaign was doomed. His big hook was that he raised a bunch of money by getting college students to donate $15 apiece, but college students in New Hampshire don't control the outcome of primary elections. His campaign was in hot water way before the scream. The scream was the cherry on his sundae of failure, not the source or the cause.
My response? You're absolutely right, Dean's campaign was already very much headed downhill, but I don't think it would be too far of a stretch to say that the scream helped him to seal the deal. In any case, I apologize for any distortion of the facts I may have made.
Digg user happyscrappy said the following: Dean's life wasn't changed by a viral video. That video wasn't passed around the net, it was all over the professional news media outlets. I mean wasn't [sic] simply passed around the net.Even without stuff like YouTube, Dean got more than enough exposure to end his run to office.
I think it's 100% accurate to say that without Youtube and the internet, that video would've been seen by millions of America thanks to the mainstream press. However, to say that the video wasn't viral would be inaccurate. As evidence of this as a viral phenomenon, haven't we all seen or heard "Dean's Scream Remixed" or something similar?
Digg user hdtvdust said: George Allen was never favored to be George Bush's successor.
I don't know if you just think my use of the term "favored" is wrong, but Allen was definitely trying to position himself as Bush's successor, a fact which actually became a liability as Bush's popularity plummeted. See this Washington Post article for details. There are more, similar articles on the subject but I think what I've said on the matter is pretty indisputable.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
[There's an update to this post - See Viral Videos: Election 2008 Edition At This Link]