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The year in YouTube: The good, the bad and the hilarious
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist

Leave Plankton, er, Britney alone!


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Published: 12/27/2007 12:02 AM

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A virus is sweeping the world. The question is, is it benign, something we'll all soon adapt to, or virulent, poisoning the popular culture?

I'm referring to what the entertainment industry calls "user-generated content," but what is more commonly called "viral videos," the sort of stuff that pops up on the Internet at sites like YouTube, where it can spread, yes, like a virus -- or be utterly ignored by the masses.

This was the year viral videos went mainstream, with broadband and wireless technology and cell phones and video iPods making for an accommodating environment.

Many of the most popular were celebrity gotcha videos, with last year's Michael Richards racist rant being replaced this year by Tony LaRussa's arrest video. Others were prepared deliberately for the Web, but while amusing, they generally weren't as good as an actual movie or TV show. Others were found or spontaneous moments, news events such as Andrew Meyer questioning John Kerry, or Chris Crocker's impassioned defense of Britney Spears.

Popularity aside -- and this is a field where the number of hits quite literally dictates what's a hit -- what makes for a great Web video? As I'll show below, many are simply compelling moments caught somehow on camera; then what happens is someone else puts a comical twist on that moment.

It's a product of the age. Nothing is taken too seriously; everything is a source of satire. And if that blithe attitude can be off-putting for oldsters -- or anyone with any humanity intact, for that matter -- there's no denying it's here and now, and it's the lingua franca on the Web. Just look at my list of the top 10 videos of the year.

1) "Don't Tase Me, Bro!" -- When Andrew Meyer harangued John Kerry with an endless question at a Florida appearance, he was eventually Tasered into submission by local cops. This video -- available in several versions on YouTube, all taken on site -- goes quickly from the ridiculous to the horrific as Meyer goes on and on, then struggles against capture, finally pleading, "Don't Tase me, Bro!" before he screams again and again as the electrical pulses hit his body. It really is a chilling scene, which makes the next video all the more remarkable.

2) "Can't Tase This" -- Submitted by bradlee92 at YouTube, this takes Meyer's screams of "Ow!" and shouts of "Don't Tase me, Bro!" and sets them to M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This." The video takes the horrific and makes it hilarious.

3) Saddam Hussein's execution -- Talk about horrific, when Saddam was hanged to death last Dec. 30, the video -- apparently taken on a camera phone -- made its way to the Web and cable-news channels within days. It's awful, but compelling, yet it also begs the question: How far are we from a genuine snuff film reaching wide distribution on the Web? As for a comical twist on this video, I haven't seen it yet, but I wouldn't be surprised.

4) "Devin Hester Anytime" -- Technically added midway through 2006 by York at YouTube, this compilation of Hester's college punt and kickoff runbacks, set to a University of Miami Hurricanes rap song, is a joy and really came into its own this year. If only the NFL's closely held rights didn't prevent someone from stringing his 13 pro return touchdowns with the Bears together.

5) "The Landlord Out Takes" tops …

6) "The Landlord" -- For the simple reason that the spontaneous is better than the contrived, at least where Web videos are concerned. Will Ferrell's "Landlord," in which he is hectored and insulted by a toddler playing his landlord, is really a one-joke short on his Web site. Once you get past little Pearl shouting, "I want my money, (rhymes-with-witch)!" there's not much to it. The outtakes, in which her mom, off camera, tries to get her to say her lines, is better, and when she dashes off some Hollywood industry wag utters the priceless ad-lib, "This is the action sequence."

7) "Laughing Baby" -- Little baby Ethan laughing at ripped paper until he literally falls over, submitted by gsager1234 at YouTube, is an instant smile producer, to the point where it was later picked up by a TV ad.

8) "Thriller" as performed by the inmates at a Filipino prison -- Some 1,500 prisoners in orange jumpsuits break into Michael Jackson's most famous group dance routine. See it once and you've seen it enough, but it simply must be seen at YouTube. Yet the sequel, set to a Black Eyed Peas song, is derivative and unfunny. Spontaneity only strikes once with this sort of thing.

9) "Leave Britney Alone!" -- Chris Crocker's heartfelt appeal -- "She's a human!" -- topped any actual gotcha celebrity video of Spears running over someone's foot or going commando. Again, for a hilarious twist on it, see SpongeBob SquarePants mouthing Crocker's words, also on YouTube.

10) Hillary Clinton's "Sopranos" parody -- To promote the release of the voting results on her official campaign song, Clinton put together a terrific parody on the concluding sequence of "The Sopranos." Bill Clinton gets off the best line when he picks up a carrot stick and says, "No onion rings?" Celine Dion's "You and I" was the eventual winner, but it has already apparently been abandoned on the campaign trail. Talk about flip-flopping.