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VIDEO ESSAY: The Essential Online Videos of 2012

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by Kevin B. Lee
December 27, 2012 12:14 PM
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While “Gangnam Style” was an international phenomenon of unprecedented viral proportions, I’m not sure what the video has to say about the world we live in other than that the ersatz elements of both contemporary music and music videos have now reached global pandemic levels. On the other hand, the improbable spread of this utterly disposable South Korean pop artifact was a breathtaking demonstration of how a worldwide social media infrastructure can be exploited in full. Just imagine what the world would be like if such a network could be utilized to spread things of actual value.

With that in mind, let me use what small piece of the virtual ecosystem I have to shed light on five online videos that did more than just offer a moments’ distraction. Each of them left me with much to think about in how vividly they reflect the world we live in, and how they function as art in their own surprising ways. Taking stock of all of them at once, the prevailing theme is one of public vs. private. Putting Girl Walk // All Day next to Mitt Romney’s notorious “47 percent” video provides a startling contrast between two classes of people and how they find their power in two types of spaces: closed doors vs. open streets.

Tensions between public and private also bubble up as a new kind of popular performance art: in a six-year-old’s recording of her first ski jump, and in a prankster’s punking of private online chats set to 2012′s most ubiquitous love song. At their best, online videos do more than let us escape into secret worlds (i.e. a pop fantasy version of Korea that doesn’t exist) but reflect back on our own lives, whether in public or private.

Thanks to Wes Kim, John Lichman, Bart Verbanck, Tom McCormack and others for helping me discover these gems.

Originally published on Fandor, where you can read the full transcript of the video.

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