Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Viral Video Revolution

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Sixties artist Andy Warhol is chiefly famous for two things: paintings of soup cans and the prediction that "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."

In recent years, a trio of technological innovations have combined to make that prophecy come true in ways even Warhol's sublimely twisted mind could never have imagined.

The three innovations are: fast Internet connections capable of showing videos on demand; cheap "Web-cams" that attach to your computer and broadcast your image over the 'net; and cheap digital video cameras that you can connect to your computer, where you can store, edit and add effects to your wackiest home videos.

A number of Web sites have sprung up, such as and Google Video, where people can upload any (non-x-rated) video they like: favorite TV moments, concert videos, and yes, homemade movies.

Some of the latter have turned their creators and/or subjects into stars of the Internet, sometimes without their consent. The phenomenon has become known as "viral video" for the way the movies spread across the Web.

One of the first to achieve inadvertent fame was the young man known as the "Numa Numa Kid." The NN Kid, as we'll call him, is a fellow named Gary from New Jersey (where else?) who's apparently a big fan of a Romanian techno-disco band called O-Zone.

One night in the throes of either extreme boredom or a heavy dose of psychedelic mushrooms, Gary made a video of himself lip-syncing to an O-Zone song whose chorus sounds something like "Numa Numa Yay, Numa Numa Numa Yay," etc. Actually lip-syncing is too mild a word. Gary obviously really loves this song. He sings along, acts out the words, and pumps his arms in the air like he just don't care. It has to be seen to be believed, because Gary is, how shall I say this delicately, a little hefty.

Most of us, upon creating something like this, would have taken one look and dispatched the file to the Recycle Bin, vowing never, ever to speak of it again. Not Gary. He uploaded the video to a site called, where it's been viewed over 13 million times. Gary was featured in the New York Times, and appeared on "Good Morning America," "Tonight" and VH1's "Best Week Ever."

Eventually, Gary started thinking that maybe, just maybe, people were laughing at him rather than with him. He withdrew from the public eye for a while, at least as much as you can when your mug is all over the Internet.

Eventually, however, Gary learned to embrace his notoriety, and he's even created some updated versions of the Numa Numa dance.

Another reluctant 'net-star is the so-called "Star Wars Kid."

SW Kid, whose real name is Ghyslain Raza, is another chunky fellow. He was messing around with a video camera at his high school, whirling around and doing martial arts-type moves with a long-handled golf ball retriever, while making sounds like a lightsaber from Star Wars.

Unfortunately, he left the tape lying around where it was picked up by some prankster who found Ghyslain's earnestness and lack of grace amusing and thought it would be funny to share the tape with the world. He encoded it as a video file and uploaded it. Others added digital effects to make it look and sound as if he really was wielding a double-bladed lightsaber with more enthusiasm than skill.

This video, too, spread across the 'net in true viral video fashion. There was even an online petition at one point to put the SW Kid in the next installment of the Star Wars movies. Ghyslain, however, didn't share in the hilarity, and he and his family ended up suing the kids who'd picked up and circulated the video. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount this past April.

A duo that embraces silliness from the get-go is two boys from China who call themselves, appropriately enough, "Two Chinese Boys."

The TC Boys started off uploading videos of themselves lip-syncing to Backstreet Boys songs. Lately, they've branched out to tunes by other artists such as Black Eyed Peas, but they haven't lost their hilariously passionate delivery, nor have they lost the guy in the background of the videos who keeps tapping away at his computer, oblivious to the "concert" going on a few feet away.

It's not just guys doing viral video. The next step in its evolution has arrived in the person of one Brooke Brodack, a cute but manic 20-year-old from Massachusetts.

"Brookers," as she calls herself online, seems to be determined to become the queen of YouTube.

She has her own version of the Numa Numa Dance, as well as a raft of other homemade vids, including several in which she rambles to the camera like someone in the throes of a psychotic break or rolls around on the floor with a platoon of plastic army men.

Brookers' occasionally surreal videos caught the eye of MTV's Carson Daly, who offered her an 18-month "development" contract.

Can viral video survive going mainstream? In a world where a lip-syncing fat kid can become an overnight sensation, anything is possible.

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