Understanding YouTube as a Popular Culture; Professional and Amateur Productions

Table of contents

Before the existence of new media, traditional media is used to convey messages via a one-way communication to huge audiences (Meckler, 2010). In traditional media, institutions are the ones providing information for consumers (Simon, 2010). However, with the easily accessible fuzzy edge of mobile media today, ‘nomadic’ communications in digital culture are made possible (Creeber and Martin, 2009). This can be linked to ‘mobile’ media which doesn’t necessarily distinct from static digital media, instead, the rise in mobile digital devices like smartphones have been techno-culturally known as symbiotic with consumer’s ‘hub’ personal computers in which digital content libraries are not only archived but images and videos are published and shared to social media (Creeber and Martin, 2009).

Web 2.0: Technology Creates Interactive Media

With software development, Web 2.0 has enabled a large amount of user-generated content (UGC) where netizens can upload contents (Cayari, 2011). Publishing, engaging or viewing contents on entertainment sites including YouTube create a sense of belonging to visitors (Prosumers as entertainers, 2015). Due to this freedom, some researchers identified this as a democratization of art (Cayari, 2011). Manovich identified user prototypes that emerged to a Web 2.0 content generators as amateurs, prosumers and pro-ams (professional amateurs) (Cayari, 2011). This essay will focus on prosumers.

The term “prosumer” is a contraction of words “producer” and “consumer”, which describes mostly youths who produce their own imagery drawn from their consumption of popular mass media (Duncum, 2011). They work as in how Jenkin would associate it as a “peer-to-peer culture” (P2P culture) and a “participatory culture” (Duncum, 2011). With inexpensive digital production tools and a wide range of online social platforms, reliable broadband speeds and hardware processing power, non-professional netizens are able to create their own content such as music or video sharing (2020 Media Futures, n.d.). Matt Hills explained that ‘nomadic’ digital communication devices has made self-expression and articulations of self-identity possible (Creeber and Martin, 2009). While the quality of content productions are mostly low and not intended as a business, some professional quality contents are created by non-professionals that gained recognition within industry circles and hence, giving these non-professional makers a career opportunity in cultural industries (2020 Media Futures, n.d.).

YouTube – A Participatory Culture

YouTube, officially launched in June 2005 is created by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim who were formerly employees at PayPal (Burgess and Green, 2009). ‘Broadcast Yourself’ was a former slogan retired in 2012 conjuring images of people taking the opportunity for self-express and grabbing controls of media production and distribution (Mueller, 2013). Providing with a simple, integrated interface, YouTube enables users to unlimitedly upload and view streaming videos without high technical knowledge and within technical constraints of standard browser software and relatively modest bandwidth (Burgess and Green, 2009). It also offers basic community functions including linking videos to other users and providing URLs and HTML code that allow videos to be easily embedded into other websites (Burgess and Green, 2009).

As this video hosting and sharing platform site is an ideal example of a media platform displaying the characteristic of Web 2.0 model, YouTube is considered a part of the participatory culture (Mueller, 2013). Jenkins defined “participatory culture” as a culture with moderately low boundaries to imaginative expressions and metro engagements, solid backing for making and sharing manifestations, and some kind of casual mentorship whereby experienced members go along information to locals (Duncum, 2011). Additionally, they trust their contributions and at some point, feel the association level with others (Duncum, 2011). Muller also regarded YouTube as the very first culture space of community building and shared experience (Duncum, 2011). On YouTube, participants do engage in terms of ‘publishing’ as a means to narrate and communicate their own cultural experiences as ‘citizen-consumers’, which are bound up with commercial popular media (Burgess and Green, 2009).

A YouTube personality or a “YouTuber”, can be any YouTube user who uploads and shares their video contents on the website (Vlog Nation, n.d.). They document their life and dominate most of the YouTube community, practically having their life out on social media (Quigley, 2014). Hence, it is claimed that what was once considered a privacy, confined in a bedroom with friends is now open for the view of the public (Duncum, 2011). Although videoblogging or “vlogging” is a dominant form of user-created content and a major part of the YouTube community, not all vlogs are necessarily personal journal entries created in bedrooms (Burgess and Green, 2009). In fact, there are other genres including user-created music videos, live materials such as concerts, and informational contents like interviews (Burgess and Green, 2009).

An example of a YouTube prosumer or a “Youtuber” can be an ordinary teenager musician. For instance, Wade who grew up in a musical background created an account on YouTube to subscribe musicians’ channels to keep himself updated (Cayari, 2011). Inspired by YouTube musicians, Wade decided to create his own video content under the genre of music (Cayari, 2011). From here, YouTube can be seen as a participatory cultural site where users can create, share and connect with others around the content (Simon, 2010). In addition, with the advantages of personal computing technology, multimedia processing, storage and networking capability, the Internet role really pays off as one can create and publish their own masterpiece independently from traditional models of mass media production (Mueller, 2013). Wade’s skills in terms of digital literacy and video editing aside from his musical talent improved as he began to make more videos including Time, tracked with original songs (Cayari, 2009).

As tracking is an editing technique involving overlapping more than one video or audio track, Time became Wade’s most impressive masterpiece (Cayari, 2009). It attracted viewers who reacted differently; some planning to subscribe to him while others felt awkward with Wade’s eye contact with the camera (Cayari, 2009). Wade’s number of subscribers continued to increase tremendously from 64 to 390 after his cover was featured on, Jacqueline’s, a well-known YouTube personality channel (Cayari, 2009). His fan base continue to grow as he also began participating events such as YouTube Live! 2008 and Extravaganza while creating more video contents on his trip (Cayari, 2009).

From Wade’s story, Henry Jenkins’s point of participatory culture is accepted as it a democratic ideal is indeed promoted by reducing barriers for anyone’s entry to create new incentives for participation, distinctively from the traditional monetary rewards of capitalist system (Mueller, 2013). It also shows peer-to-peer production in which users have equal participation chances and self-selection in deciding roles, instead of from authority figures, and the work created is judged by viewers through communal validation process (Mueller, 2013). Besides, his success story also indicated that the talented but undiscovered YouTubers can take the leap from an ordinary world to a bona fide media world (Burgess and Green, 2009).

Based on Henry Jenkins’s blog, participatory culture is meant to contrast with the older notions of media spectatorship (Jenkins, 2006). At one point, society has traditionally understood the distribution in the mass media era where information is conveyed by major corporations who controls the contents (Owens, 2014). However with the emerging media system today, what might be understood in a traditional way as media producers is that consumers who become participants and are expected to interact according to the new trend which no one fully understands (Jenkins, 2006).

Yet, it is undeniable that the rising of mobile image-making technology into our daily lives does not exclude flash points and moral panics as well as critiques (Creeber and Martin, 2009). There’s still a hybrid system not only moulded top-down by corporate players but bottom-up by networks of ordinary people who pursue to shift which matters to them in the media across social media, using it either legally or illegally (Owens, 2014). This causes an unexplained disruption, transforming media-related practices which depends intensively on metaphors of infection and assumptions of irrationality (Owens, 2014). However beyond headlines and spectacular transgressions, the increase in online sharing of UGC shows that this digital culture will produce more media content providers and generators in the history (Creeber and Martin, 2009). On the other hand, Graeme Turner argued that the participation of ordinary people as potential or temporary celebrities in mass media indicates ‘demoticization’ rather than ‘democratization’ of the media (Burgess and Green, 2009).

In order to understand YouTube as a popular culture, we shouldn’t distinct professional and amateur productions, or between commercial and community practices (Burgess and Green, 2009). UGC may lack media professionalism as it’s often being relatively low-resolution, a non-broadcast-quality digital ‘reality footage’ but this ‘underground’ media-making culture does have its own worth and connotations of rebellious authenticity, opposing to the professional and high-gloss values of the media mainstream (Creeber and Martin, 2009). Hence, it should be made clear that whoever who uploads, view, comment, or create a content on YouTube are considered as participants regardless being an individual or an organization (Burgess and Green. 2009).

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