It was Wikileaks that did it. Their sublime parody of a MasterCard commercial, one of the companies that had blocked transactions on their account, hilariously recast a cosy advert in the cause of the world’s most notorious fugitive dissident. A year later the leader of the UK Liberal-Democrats who sold out on election promises to jump in bed with the government woke up to find himself an accidental pop star after his grovelling apology speech was autotuned and sent viral around the country. Whatever you might think of Nick Clegg or Julian Assange, there was no doubt this was cultural ju-jitsu, call-and-response heckling of the highest order: never before has the ‘voice of the people’ hit such perfect pitch. Scan the US viral charts and you’ll come across countless ‘Autotune the News’ and ‘Songify the News’ hits in a similar vein, many of them employing not only jump-cuts and audio remixing but clever compositing to create musical ensemble numbers satirising, among other targets, pro-gun lobbies, Joe Biden and a Republican media bias. That was when it struck me: the YouTube mashup isn’t just a bit of clever fun – it’s a satirical folk art for the twenty first century.
We’ve reached the point where public figures act in the knowledge
that any speech, slip-up or appearance they make may be subject to the
mashup treatment, and where a successful film, pop video or movie game
character almost certainly will be. But can we credit this as ‘satire’?
It’s a grand claim for a medium whose most famous output features
karaoke teens and a finger-biting baby. But perhaps a society’s jokes
tell you a lot more about it than its national anthems do. Mashups –
those Fraken-clips patched together from other sources, and distributed
on video-sharing sites like YouTube, Vimeo or DailyMotion – are often
complex creations, requiring time and skill to assemble. And some of
them actually have something to say.
Take the flurry of parody responses to Robin Thicke’s notoriously
mysognist ‘Blurred Lines’ pop video, which provoked responses such as
‘boylesque’ troupe Mod Carousel’s video which reversed the genders so
that this time the girls are fully clothed. Or the ‘Muslamic rayguns’
montage where the incoherent stutterings of an anti-Islamic protestor
are re-fashioned into a catchy song to reveal them in all their bigotry.
These virals may be jokey but they are also politically charged, like
William Shatner’s hilarious reciting of Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed as
Read my article for Culture Counter here