February 26, 2011

Insincere YouTube Auteur


I wanted, I desired, to become the Jean Luc Godard of YouTube. Could there actually be a Jean Luc Godard of YouTube? I was in Brussels. Marcel Broodthaers was a Belgian conceptual artist from the sixties. He is very well regarded here in Belgium but I’m not sure how many people know about him back in Canada. There is a postcard of him staring out the back of a moving train, smiling and waving. Besides him is a small girl who is also smiling and waving. I used to have that postcard. I have no idea where it is now. But I kept thinking of that postcard and of these two Broodthaers quotes from 1964:

I too wondered if I couldn't sell something and succeed in life. I had for quite a little while been good for nothing. I am forty years old... the idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work at once.

In art exhibitions I often mused... Finally I would try to change into an amateur. I would revel in my bad faith... Since I couldn’t build a collection of my own, for lack of even the minimum of financial means, I had to find another way of dealing with the bad faith that allowed me to indulge in so many strong emotions. So, I said to myself, I’ll be a creator. 

All my life I have been working with too much sincerity, trying to make works of art that would last forever, becoming quietly ridiculous in the attempt. I am 39. I too wondered if I couldn't sell something, or rather give something way for free, and therefore succeed in life. On YouTube I could be ephemeral, amateur, insincere in a way that simply felt impossible elsewhere in my life. Or so I hoped, desired. Could there be a Jean Luc Godard of YouTube? Is Lil B already the Jean Luc Godard of YouTube or is there room for me as well? Is Ryan Trecartin? I knew I meant something fairly specific with this idea, this desire, this phrase ‘YouTube auteur’, yet I still didn’t know exactly what. I knew I wanted to make video, or rather I didn’t want to make video at all, I wanted to make YouTube, perhaps make YouTube every day, seven days a week, have it watched by millions of people all around the world, and have those millions of people experience the work in a manner that effectively transcended how they had previously experienced the internet. I knew that by ‘YouTube’ I meant something both the same and radically different than what everyone else meant when they used the term, that my plan had absolutely nothing to do with videos of cats or babies eating lemons. But then again I didn’t know even that. Maybe there was room for cats, or at least kittens, somewhere within the labyrinthine vision of my daily YouTube making practice.

In 1960, with his debut film À bout de souffle, Godard invented the jump cut. He did so almost by accident. The conversation scenes he had shot were too long and boring, and he had no coverage, so he simply got rid of the boring parts, cutting from one highlight to the next. It was the simplest idea and yet apparently no one had tried it before. What has no one ever tried on YouTube and why do I feel certain someone else will think of it before me? And I don’t want them, those who are more clever, ingenious or simply much younger, to become the Jean Luc Godard’s of YouTube. I want it to be me, with my language, craft and insincerity. I want to think of the idea, the breakthrough, perhaps even tonight, purchase a video camera first thing tomorrow morning, start shooting. But not shooting just anything. Shooting something that will effortlessly manage to cut through, to shatter, the incessant chatter of the internet. Something that will accrue meaning with repeated viewings, inspire imitators, be critical towards the medium which it is simultaneously revolutionizing, change the fundamental ways in which YouTube videos are made and perceived. Clearly I do not know how to make this happen.

Godard invented the jump cut, emulated Hollywood while simultaneously disassembling it, was part of a zeitgeist that altered cinema forever. Broodthaters built his own museums long before such conceptual bait and switch was the art world norm. Where was the lever that could turn YouTube inside out, twist it around so it quietly, thrillingly, became new again? Why was I so certain this was possible and yet equally uncertain how? And why was I also certain that some strain of insincerity, of forcing the issue, lay at the heart of the project. Was it only that I had no idea how to proceed yet planed to blindly push forward regardless, marking any action I might take as insincere, motivated solely by the attempt to fill the empty husk of YouTube and not from any inner content or need? What was sincerity on the internet? Could it be anything other than a lure for endless anonymous ridicule? Did I want to be ridiculed? Ridiculed like a genius down into the grave?

I didn’t know what I wanted. I wanted to become the Jean Luc Godard of YouTube but instead wrote a 941 word text and published it on my blog, which is no more able to christen me the Jean Luc Godard of YouTube than I am able to christen it the Bible.


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