Digital narcissism has made it into the New York Times. John Carney, in an article in Sunday’s Times entitled People Who Watch People: Lost in an Online Hall of Mirrors writes about YouTube, one of the most hyped paragons of the Web 2.0 revolution.
The tagline for YouTube is Broadcast Yourself. And that’s exactly what YouTube users do, abundantly, without scruple or shame. And, as Carney explains, the latest thing is for YouTubers to broadcast videos of themselves watching others watch videos:
“With the latest crop of videos, a new style has emerged, though, one that is at once absolutely mundane and completely postmodern: people posting videos of themselves watching YouTube videos.”
Carney writes about a young woman with the web name pizzelle2, who takes the broadcast yourself tagline literally. She films herself watching another YouTube user who is watching yet another user. This online hall of mirrors leads, eventually, to a woman in Wausua, Wis, called Nornna. Nornna has become the muse for 50,000 videographers. According to Carney, she has become a cult on YouTube for the simplicity of her life. Her videos – including ones of her making a peanut and jelly sandwich and watching tv – have been viewed more than 50,000 times.
One of Nornna’s voyeuristic fans, James98105, wrote:
“The reason why I love Nornna's videos so much is because her day-to-day activities in Wisconsin make me envious because I wish my life were that simple!”
James98105 comes at the end of a long tradition of making moving pictures about the obsessive art of watching others. From Alan Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad to Fellini’s 8 ½ to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation to my own favorite, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, it has been one of the richest themes in moviemaking history. In all these motion pictures, however, the art of watching is a complicated commentary on love or politics or sexuality or aesthetics. In all these movies, the movie camera points outwards, away from the cameraman, into the world.
Pointing a movie camera at something or someone is not, in itself, interesting. But in YouTube’s hall of mirrors, watching has become the-thing-in-itself rather than an art . The April 3 issue of Newsweek ran an excellent cover story on Web 2.0 entitled “It’s all about you.” Exactly. the YouTube service is the first mirror, the mirror behind all the other mirrors in the online hall. The user-generated content on YouTube is all about the watcher and nothing about the watched. The camera might be fixed on something else, but on YouTube it is actually pointed inwards, away from the world. Like James98105, pointing a camera at somebody else is really a commentary on ourselves. YouTube might call this “Broadcast Yourself,” but it actually just another example of the digital narcissism of the Web 2.0 world.