I wrote this post to model what a research diary entry could look like, for my Latin American Media course. It’s a little rough, but I wanted to set an informal tone because I thought that if I did that, students would be more inclined to write freely. I wrote about the research diary in a previous post.
A day in the life of Dr. Medina (or how I learned to love Kony 2012)
Let me start by saying this… I decided to write the Kony parody essay because I was very annoyed by Kony 2012. I kept reading all of these really negative reviews about the video’s assumptions of orientalism and white man’s burden. However, I didn’t want to spend months of my time trying to examine orientalism in Kony 2012. I wanted something different, so after giving it some thought, I realized that I was really interested in parody. More specifically, I thought I could make the argument that parody through YouTube is an example of participatory culture. So I figured I’d educate myself on both parody and participatory culture, in order to come up with the literature review for the project. I got done writing that sometime in June, and I also selected the videos at around the same time.
Now that selection was challenging. I didn’t realize that so many people mislabel things as parody. I mean, if you use an academic definition of parody, which is what I did, many of the videos that claim to parody Kony 2012 are just making fun of it. It’s not the same thing. A parody intends to mimic elements of the original, often in an exaggerated manner TO MAKE FUN OF IT. No mimicry? no parody. Furthermore, parody is really a critical art form (Bakhtin says so!). Parodists can point out the flaws in an argument. That, in itself, is a form of socio-cultural critique, and that’s what drew me to this project.
Anyway, I ended up with a list of selection parameters, which may sound totally arbitrary, but they helped me immensely. As far as I know, there’s no “how to pick YouTube videos” magical guide out there. Nope, you have to figure that out on your own, so I said I’d only look at videos uploaded in April, that could be considered user-generated content. The videos also had to have over 1000 views, and they had to fit the definition of parody I am using. I also decided to look only at content with intelligible audio, as I found that several videos that fit the above mentioned criteria, weren’t useful at all because I could not understand the narration. Also, as a safety precaution, I downloaded all the source material to my laptop. I did not want to run the risk of videos “disappearing,” and if that were to happen, I’d probably have to re-think whether or not to keep them in the sample. I thought I’d cross that bridge if I got to it.
And I did. It happened in two ways. First, I had selected a video called Yoda 2012. It was perfect, except for one thing. It was not user-generated content. As it turned out, it was produced by The Poke, which a British version of The Onion. Another YouTuber cut out the final credits of the video, and then posted it as their own. I had already taken extensive notes about it, but I had to drop it, and that wasn’t the only instance of wasted work. I also had a video called Giovanni 2012. This one was most definitely user generated. However, when I revisited my sample after a few weeks off, it had been made private. I had a downloaded copy of it, but I decided that it would be unethical to use it. The person who created it had reasons to retrieve it from public view, and I wasn’t about to ask why, or just take advantage of the fact that I had a copy, so that was that.
After these two experiences, I went back to my original selection parameters. I decided to keep April as my reference month for the publication, but I added that the videos had to come from accounts in good standing. Whomever posted the recut Yoda 2012 video had their account suspended, and that’s how I ended up realizing that it was recut. I am very glad that I did.
I have now been working on and off on the essay for a few weeks. I have a whole first draft completed, and my thinking has somewhat changed. As I was looking into YouTube, I realized that there’s more to parodies on the site than criticism. These videos are also being produced within a commercial platform that provides incentives to individuals who are willing to host advertisement on their videos. It’s an issue that appeals to my darker, political economy side, and I’m in the process of exploring it more fully.
More to that later.