This was originally posted on my school blog as part of a class exploring Learning With Digital Media
Over the past couple years, I have been on a quest to understand aesthetics. My jump off point was branding, (why do we respond to branding) and then exploring emotional connections to experience and it’s connection to consumerism. I came across an important realization in this: given two items, people will react stronger to the one they have established an emotional connection to. branding, in a sense, is the practice of generating that story in a top-down manner, from the producer out. We see commercials telling us the stories we could be telling others, if only we are to buy this product. Sometimes the story is a community, a top-down immitation of social connection: Join our club. Mac User, jeep driver. We then distill these stories and assign them agency, emulating their desired goal and in a sense, giving them authenticity. After a while, I began to see certain logos representing something of a granfalloon, a concept I give much weight to.
In the process of exploring this, I did what only seemed natural: I used my life as a model, and explored my own connection with branding and brands. I explored the stories I told myself of things, and questioned whether they were created by me, or someone else. I began to feel strongly that I would not let myself do anything to perpetuate branding myth, and in turn, began to activily seek ways to destroy their aesthetic power.
Such a process does not simply end here though, and one will find themself unravelling anything that may exist as rationalized to divulge reasoning. It’s blown my ability to do any graphic design pretty much to hell.
Tonight, while watching An anthropological introduction to YouTube, I came to see a connection between the issues explored and some of these thoughts on aesthetics. For one: most youtubers look goofy. While some folks dedicate their lives to calling out those who violate the social norms, I tend to embrace anything that might appear goofy, for it’s presence may signal something truly worthwhile, authenticity. This process reminds me of a concept Stephan Sagmeister has put forth in recent work “trying to look good limits my life“. While playing social policeman, we tend to put more value on the aesthetic, the product, what is visible, than to the process, the feeling, and that is where we make life. And youtube seems to have no pretense of product. Gone are the aesthetic rules which predominate contemporary film and art, youtube is about process. Yet there is more connection going on there than all the modern art of today can pretend to allude to. Human beings, riffing off of one another, to create things.
Against a landscape of emotional prescription, youtube is a truffle.
And like anything remotely authentic, there is a team of marketing folks determined to work that fertile field to a capital advantage. As a by-product, they turn the aesthetic into cliche, essentially strip mining culture until even the most unnerved is too self-aware to continue posting with any dignity, feeling aped out of their own method. And then they move on.
And they have been moving on. What we see on youtube is not the beginning of something, or the end. It’s a continuation of people making media work for them, as they have been doing for many decades. Early in the pamphleteers, on to zine culture, community access shows, punk rock, electronic music scenes, etc. All providing an outlet of unscripted catharsis up until the point that emulation by corporateers makes the channel become cliche, fradulent, suspicious, and faddish.