Last semester, I went out on a limb and made a meme-edited video. Edited on a computer in the first floor of the library, a video titled “polygon’s brian david gilbert out of context” came into existence.
In this video, I took funny quotes that Brian David Gilbert said in his show on Polygon’s YouTube channel. I made this video because I had seen videos of this format but not any for this creator. The video was uploaded on February 28, 2019 and it now currently sits at 422,163 views. Although I did not think much about the process of at the time, continually making these videos has made me think a lot about what meme videos are and how they work.
Meme editing was not something I thought I would have to define. The gist of its conceptualization has already deeply integrated itself into the psyche of many young users of the internet. Surprisingly, Merriam-Webster does a particularly good job of attempting to define the term, as their second definition states “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media” However, even that definition is flawed due to its general vagueness. Explaining this sentiment to my professors or fellow classmates that had not seen this type of video before proved to be difficult. In order to define meme editing past the colloquial, I will be exploring the past predecessors of the editing style and humor variation.
One of the most common and prolific predecessors is compilation-style editing. This predecessor is a multifaceted beast that spans back many decades. As a concept, compilation editing has existed far longer than its internet related counterparts. A well known participant in this art form is Bruce Conner. His first film was A MOVIE in 1958.
John McKinnon describes Conner’s editing style as inventive, saying that “Conner used breaks in film narratives and their structures to cause temporary departures from linear movement, thereby departing from an expected and continuous timeline.” (McKinnon 67) Compilation editing has continued to focus on a specific theme rather than the narrative as a continuous unit.
Supercut, a subgenre of compilation, exemplifies this as it is focused on compiling the same type of trope, be it an action, word, scene, phrase, gesture or cliché, into a video. “Supercut and aggressive compilation works by Jonathan Harris and Jason Salavon respectively build on the experimental film legacy of the found footage film pioneered by Bruce Conner and the art historical legacies of pop art.” (Hodge 177) As a staple of the internet video age of the mid-to-late 2000s, many people retain a nostalgic view of supercut as more revolutionary and superior. One of these people is Raferty who states “In many ways, supercuts could only have thrived in the mid-to-late ‘00s, a period in which the web was still transitioning from quasi-lawless creative outpost to monetized, polarized aggravation machine.” The general oversight in this assessment is that although there is more content on the internet now and although a large amount of it is monetized, that in itself allows for a new “quasi-lawless creative outpost.” Instead of movies and television, creators are supercutting other content creators. Fandom creation has almost always come from smaller creatives and as the platform has become larger over the years, it can be harder to find these videos. They still do exist and are still currently made. Although Raftery and the person he quotes, Saslaw, give leave that some of the format is returning, even that conversation is slightly stilted: “‘They’re not super-elevated the way our supercuts were, but there is a supercutty component of it: It’s the same formula, and with the same appreciation, but with all of these crazy effects.’”
A genre of video editing that Raftery and Saslaw were possibly referencing is “mashup” or more specifically “YouTube Poop.” YouTube Poop is a genre that is hard to define as well due to its absurdist nature, which is a large point of contention in the community. The Fandom Wikia for YouTube Poops even acknowledges this: ”The definition of “YouTube Poop” is often disputed amongst fans of its creations and creators. For example, in Rocketboom’s “Know Your Meme” series (Weegee episode, 7 August 09), they stated that ‘YouTube Poop are clips of cartoons and other assorted junk strung together to form nonsensical moving images on YouTube.’” Wikipedia also attempts to define it as “a type of video mashup created by editing pre-existing media sources for humorous, profane, annoying, confusing, shocking, détournement, or dramatic purposes.” Although these videos are nonsensical, weird and extremely varied, all of them work toward a sense of provocation of emotion. Many of these videos use “visual and auditory effects to alter the underlying work” and “may involve completely or partially repurposing sources to create or convey a story, while others follow a non-linear narrative, and some may contain no storyline at all.” Interestingly, although these videos have been dismissed by those such as Raftery and Saslaw, it seems to echo the same sense of seemingly nonsensical and absurdist purposes as Bruce Conner’s films.
Last of the predecessors is remix, which is fairly related to YouTube Poops. A remix is a piece of media that has been altered from its original form by changing it. This is usually accomplished by adding, removing or completely changing pieces of the media used. In a sense, all YouTube Poops are remixes but not all remixes are YouTube Poops, especially since remixes do not have the absurdity inherently linked to them. The term is tied strongly to music and music alterations colloquially because there has been strong use of the word in the music industry. Artists have made a name for themselves by remixing and reappropriating existing work.
Aligning meme editing with the definitions of its predecessors turns quite messy in actuality. (See my attempt to do so) Although some common traits lie between current day meme editing and predecessors, quite a few meme edited videos pull exactly from their predecessors, such as supercut and compilation.
This video, for example, is a clear derivative of the supercut editing style.
In attempting to define meme editing and meme edited videos, I have found that most of these videos share certain qualities. Meme edited videos are usually compiled from other content. Sometimes they are a compilation of funny moments.
Other times they are a compilation of funny moments put out of context.
These videos take on an almost absurd and nonsensical tone, as the original content is thrown out of context and sometimes out of sense itself.
Even now, I am barely touching the surface of the amount of videos that are being made. On the whole, many meme edited videos are, as mentioned earlier, compiled from other content. They take on an absurd, if not solely funny, purpose. Finally, they are a repurposing of content to create a new narrative, a new purpose or a new creation.
In speaking about remix and the culture surrounding it, the concept of remix culture comes to light, especially in academia when speaking about variations on text and media as a whole. Scholars have debated about what the benefits of remixing may even be. A common argument is “Why can’t people just create original content?” Although seemingly valid, there are two main benefits to remixing according to Dr. Lawrence Lessig, a leading scholar on the topic. He states in his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy that they are community and education. In terms of community, he states “Remixes happen within a community of remixers. In the digital age, that community can be spread around the world. Members of that community create in part for one another. They are showing one another how they can create, as kids on a skateboard are showing their friends how they can create. That showing is valuable, even when the stuff produced is not.” (Lessig 77) Community is an essential part of the benefit for the internet age because along with a creative outlet, remixing and reediting allows for agency within the audience of the original creator. For education, Lessig states “Remix is also and often, as Mimi Ito describes, a strategy to excite “ interest- based learning.” As the name suggests, interest-based learning is the learning driven by found interests. When kids get to do work that they feel passionate about, kids (and, for that matter, adults) learn more and learn more effectively.” (Lessig 80) Although I am not looking at this topic in terms of education, I can concede that it would be helpful in teaching its creators new techniques and skills.
Meme editing and meme-edited videos have become a modern take on comedy, remixing and compilation. The new genre of these videos encompassed by the title “meme editing” has pervaded popular colloquial knowledge to the point that even the creators are not fully conscious of its predecessors, derivative techniques, and the qualities it draws from the past. Remix culture in this day and age allows the viewer to also be the creator; it allows them to participate in the media they consume by supporting this kind of editing and reediting.
“Conclusion: DATA INCOMPLETE: The Web As Already There.” Sensations of History: Animation and New Media Art, by James J. Hodge, University of Minnesota Press, MINNEAPOLIS; LONDON, 2019, pp. 171–180. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctvpb3wh2.8.
Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Penguin Books, 2009.
McKinnon, John. “End Notes: Bruce Conner, 1933-2008.” X-Tra: Contemporary Art Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 4, Summer 2009, p. 66. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=brb&AN=505445828&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
“Meme.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme.
Raftery, Brian. “I’m Not Here to Make Friends: The Rise and Fall of the Supercut Video.” Wired, 30 Aug. 2018, https://www.wired.com/story/supercut-video-rise-and-fall/.
“YouTube Poop.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouTube_Poop.
“YouTube Poop.” YouTube Poop Wiki, https://youtubepoop.fandom.com/wiki/YouTube_Poop.