I'm proud to report that I was named the winner of this year's Tube Time event at the New York Underground Film Festival, about which I gave the heads-up here last week. I can't entirely bask in the glory, though, of winning over about 150 people (140 or so, strangers) with my selection of viral videos -- I was lucky that the ones I chose downloaded properly and completely. Many other people's videos were plagued with faulty sound and/or shortened running times as a result of the videos being downloaded as files from YouTube (it's always a dicey prospect to convert streaming video to actual files). Those people might hold my illustrious title and the resulting status today if everything worked out for them. But then, where would I be?
As described, the event was basically a viral-video battle. There were probably 14 participants at the start of the event. We were paired up (randomly?) and, in turn, each contestant announced which video we had chosen to play. The videos were then played from the control room, which beamed a computer desktop onto the big screen. After both videos were played, the audience was asked to cheer for their favorite of the two, Showtime at the Apollo-style (as Nate pointed out). Whomever selected the winning video moved onto the next round. The process repeated until there were only two of us left standing. It was also possible for videos to be booed off before they were finished, again in the tradition of Showtime at the Apollo (and The Gong Show). The audience was extremely vocal, which the event called for, but sometimes overly harsh, I thought. For example, exhibiting a complete and utter intolerance for white-girl-hip-hop irony and maybe general girl-ness, they booed Jessica Delfino's "My Pussy Is Magic" (played by its creator) not 30 seconds into it (as soon as she said, "vagina," in fact). I like that video, but its unquestionable strength is its chorus (it's a catchy tune!). Had the audience allowed it to play for at least 30 more seconds, things could have gone different for Jessica.
I don't remember the entire selection of videos that were played, but I remember a few. The audience hatedthat "Whistles go woooooo!" news segment, I suppose, because everybody and their 6th grade cousins have already seen it. Valentine for Perfect Strangers (which I'd never seen before but fucking love now!) and Chow Daddy (looped three times for maximum hilarity) were huge hits. A clips reel of unintentional comedy from the Wicker Man remake had the audience cracking up for about a minute, before everyone became unruly and decided they hated it (they screwed themselves, as it was shut off before the sight of Nic Cage in the bear costume). An elephant eating poop out of another elephant's ass and turtle sex went over well; a kid with...uh, problems, singing Phil Collins and 500 Asian people having sex (penetration and all, so it's not on YouTube) did not.
For my part, here's what I played (in order):
Since we had to select and send in the videos ahead of time, I also had this Tyra thing in my folder, but I didn't get to play it. Going over my selections in my head before the event, I came to a conclusion: my shit was sooooooo gay. Like, hold-on-to-your-asses-because-the-butt-pirate's-on-the-rampage gay. I decided that I'd see what the audience was made of by what they made of my selection. If I lost, I could play the homophobia card and furthermore throw a fit to really show them what gay was.
It wasn't necessary, though, I'm happy to say. Liza got the biggest response, which I really took to heart since I assembled that gonzo reel myself. Florrie got some love, too, although there was a lull as her diatribe went on -- I'm not sure if people became bored or if they were genuinely interested in fate of the girl on the striker frame. Regardless, when Florrie ripped into "She is a RAVING MANIAC and her prognosis is NIL!" it was guffaws all over the place again. Shane King elicited the weakest response. I really thought I was going to lose it there. I guess maybe the power of Swan Brooner protected me. Or maybe it was the ghost of Robin Browne watching over me (I like to think she does that, ashing on my shoulder while she tells me not to be so stupid). Now more than ever I am sure that some day, I'll be Miss America.
For my last video, when it was down to one other guy and me, I chose Reh Dogg's "Why Must I Cry," which I've never written about on this blog but which really appeals to me on every possible level that my taste reaches. It is the Showgirls of YouTube videos to me. I love it like I love intricately painted acrylic nails, thrashing pool sex and chips.
I'm sure you've seen it already, and I'm doubly sure that you want to see it again:
So, I announce that this will be my final video and one of the contestants who'd been eliminated in a previous round yelled at the stage, "It's not funny!" "Yes it is," I said, because, yes it is. "It's mean!" he countered. "No it's not," I said because no it's not. Our back-and-forth was cut short by the actual video. The audience mostly agreed with me, apparently. For the most part, they, like me, found a guy droning "Why must I cryyyyyyyyyyy" while wincing and then doing so naked in the shower and then flipping the rhythm entirely to be funny. Honestly, I was worried that they'd get restless, as they tended to be all night, but people soaked in the bizarreness, and let the video play till the end. At one point, people began clapping to the rhythm. It was a moment of participatory beauty unlike any I'd witnessed. I was thrilled that they let the video play till the end primarily because they got to see my very favorite part: the sped-up shot that begins at 3:32 of the kid holding his one leg behind him and dancing on the other. I don't know exactly why, but that gets me every time.
So, as if I didn't love Reh Dogg enough already, his video won the competition for me. The MC asked me if I had any words of thanks to say, so I looked at the audience and said, "Thanks." I figure that minimalist is the way to go if you don't have something prepared. Although the next morning, I started wishing that I'd said, "I just wanna thank God for letting me win this. You guys really had nothing to do with it." My inability to think on my feet and my constant sense of regret regarding communication are key to me choosing writing (as opposed to, say, public speaking) as my primary medium.
Also, in my defense, I was sort of distracted by that heckler (again, whose name I don't know) who told me that I was mean. I don't know why that pissed me off as much as it did, but as soon as I said my thanks, I jumped off the stage and confronted him. "I didn't choose that video to be mean." "You don't think that's mean? To have everyone laughing at him?" he asked me. "No! Reh Dogg is setting out to entertain and he's accomplished his goal!" I don't remember how he responded to that, but I'm pretty sure he brought up the song's puported autobiographical component and how it wasn't cool to laugh at something that comes from someone's heart.
But let's face it: before it's anything else, "Why Must I Cry" is absurd. It's the song that dares to ask the question, "Tammie Starr, who do you you are?" Moreover, it's called, "Why Must I Cry." What does that even mean? How could you possibly answer that question without saying in some way, "Uh, because you're disturbed, dude. Maybe severely." And then there's the easy (but vaild!) "If he puts himself out there, he's risking criticism" argument, but I ignored that. Instead, to the heckler, I brought up the fact that what's compelling about "Why Must I Cry" is that it works on a lot of levels -- it isn't merely a retard joke. If we are to believe that this is Reh Dogg's truth, there's something moving about it. It's outsider-arty in its determination to relay its story, shortcomings of its creator be damned (in the video's description, Reh Dogg himself points out, "This song is highly emotional and it's not about how well the singer is it's about expression of hard times [sic all]."). And so, not very eloquently as my hot head was really getting heated, I explained that it's possible to be struck on many different levels by "Why Must I Cry." It's OK to be confused and to laugh and to be saddened (for any number of reasons). In fact, I argued, it's OK to experience art however it strikes you. That's really my guiding philosophy. The guy said that he only felt sad by it and I answered, "Well, I guess I experience things more complexly than you do!" (Somewhere in there, I also implied that, as someone who was eliminated before me, he wasn't really an authority on what was and wasn't funny. Perhaps that's true, but I regret being that condescending, as that's not really an effective way to disprove someone who just accused you of being mean.) To his credit, he soon congratulated me for winning, apologized for making me feel insulted me and shook my hand. Obviously, he wasn't a bad guy.
But then, I had to deal with someone else who'd crept up during our conversation, someone closer to the festival, who'd been filming the event. I'm sure you'll be shocked to find out that I don't know what his name was, either. He was also on the bleeding heart tip, taking me to task for allowing people to laugh at Reh Dogg's tumultous life. "Do you even know the story behind that song?" Duh. I'm not someone who could watch something like that and not want to know EVERYTHING there is to know about it. I said that I did, paraphrasing the "fatherless ghetto boy" who stole from the narrator "time and time again" that's in the video's description. Shit, I even know the names of the twins that form the center of the last part of "Why Must I Cry" (Tyreeq and Tyreez, motherfuckers!). Seriously, I watch his shit. I listen to him talk. I know my Reh Dogg. I know him so well that I know that his ex, Tammie Starr, has an amazingly fertile womb (she had twins with Reh Dogg and now may have triplets on the way!). I also know how ridiculous all of this sounds, and the melodrama is clearly key to the appeal of Reh Dogg's work, if it's even true in the first place. And if it is, his presentation is awesome -- seriously, this is some interpretive-reality-programming-type shit. And if it isn't: way to go Reh Dogg for subverting the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction cliche. Bravo! More! More!
So yeah, I told the camera man, I know Reh Dogg's story. "And don't you think that you should have told it to the audience before you showed the video?" Well, no. I didn't tell them about Liza Minnelli or that Florrie Fisher was a "reformed" drug addict or that Shane King's fruity skills pay his bills. It's all out of context, like any viral video. These things have to work on a superficial level to float in a competition that demands immediate response. Besides, we're really laughing at the eccentricity of all of these people, and as corny as it sounds, I like to think that in doing so, we're embracing diversity. We're giggling at the capacity of human emotion and behavior. If the laughter is coming from a place of fondness instead of derision, it's ultimately in support of the quirks that make for individuality. If we can't laugh at our differences then what can we do? We've already tried hating each other for them and, as you may know, that sucks.
I talked to a few more people after that about the Reh Dogg video. No one else was anti, really -- people seemed amused, maybe perplexed. One girl called it "intense." So it was. Ultimately, I love that something as superficially goofy as "Why Must I Cry" grabbed people and created immediate discourse. I thought before that night that maybe somewhere jumbled in the song was a sense of poignancy. Really, I had no idea how affecting it could be.