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Thursday, January 18, 2007

YouTube: Anyone Else Feeling Anything Right Now?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 18, 2007 at 3:52 PM

In the days since the recovery of Shawn Hornbeck and William "Ben" Ownby, reporters, television personalities and law-enforcement experts have attempted to put into words exactly what they themselves felt upon hearing the boys were rescued. It's an awkward moment every time, as people struggle to distill a rush of emotions -- shock, relief, elation -- into a meaningful sound bite. The Germans probably have a word for the emotion, and they probably have a word for being unable to express it.

The rest of us have

Shortly after local stations began broadcasting the good word about the "Missouri Miracle" on Friday, January 12, YouTube user jmac017 uploaded this clip of Mandy Murphy and Roche Madden announcing the story on FOX2 News. It's a rather lazy, pedestrian attempt at content; jmac017 merely filmed a television as the broadcast aired, then slapped the recording on YouTube...

Trinityyyx3 took a much more personal approach to the story, and she was just as quick in posting, logging her entry on January 12 as well. But the girl (she claims she's fifteen but we're betting thirteen max) actually reports developments herself, talking into her Webcam with the unself-conscious, somewhat distracted tone of a seasoned Internet pro. Her studio is her darkened bedroom, but with her lip gloss and eye liner she looks fresh and professional enough to keep following the story all night. Of course, she doesn't. In the world of YouTubers, what's important is the initial broadcast. If you feel the need to revisit an earlier story, well, that's what the comments section is for.

"Yeah when i heard about it it really reminded me of Steven Stayner as well," ShellyHH8 posted in response to Trinityyyx3's video. Steven Stayner, a young man abducted in 1972 and held captive for several years before his eventual escape, had his story made into the TV movie, I Know My First Name Is Steven. His case is documented in one tribute on YouTube. Nellygirl220200 posted her slide show and music tribute to Stayner's ordeal and life in July 2006, many years after the actual events of Stayner's life were done (Stayner died in a motorcycle accident in 1989).

Elizabeth Smart, another high-profile abduction and recovery story, inspired only two clips: This timeline of her disappearance and recovery, and this very brief clip of Smart performing on her harp at a public event a year after she was returned to her family.

Why is it that seventeen years after his death, a stranger is memorializing Steven Stayner's life on YouTube? Because they can. YouTube's easy operation and popularity have made it the go-to resource for instant communication for a generation raised with computers, high-speed Internet access, camera phones and free time. Instead of crumbling under the weight of this technological hyperstimulation, the YouTube community chooses to respond in kind. The site provides a ready and popular forum for these people to express themselves to a semi-anonymous audience.

And when the story of Hornbeck and Ownby's unbelievable rescue hit the national news, YouTube lit up with tributes from people who view the site as their first outlet for expression.

On January 14, Violetgurl33 posted her own talking-head broadcast, not quite as polished as Trinityyyx3's. Violetgurl33 looks off-camera too much, seemingly watching a television set on the other side of the room, and she merely repeats what the "pros" are saying on CNN. Still, the charming way she pronounces "hostages" with a long o, and the bubbling delight she doesn't attempt to contain at the good news carry the piece.

SuzeQ101 opted for a more involved tribute, with scene wipes, a slide show of photos (lifted from news Web sites) of the principal characters and a musical track that cycles through several songs in the space of two minutes and thirty-odd seconds. The horrible spelling of the title cards that narrate the post falls by the wayside in light of SuzeQ101's heartfelt statement about her efforts: "I hope their familys see it and know we all care!"

ChrisDaughtryFn1 goes for a musical tribute with a unified narrative, using only one song -- not surprisingly, American Idol Daughtry's "All These Lives" -- as the soundtrack. The work ChrisDaughtryFn1 has put in yields a whopping thirty comments from the community, with people still chiming in four days after it was initially posted. Commenters struggle with the familiar anger and questions about how and why this happened, and declare their relief that the boys were returned safely; ChrisDaughtryFn1 doesn't respond; the video post said everything he or she needed to say on the matter.

All of these posts fall into two common YouTube categories: the video log and the musical tribute. Search through YouTube and you'll find thousands upon thousands of diary entries by registered users like Trinityyyx3 relating the mundane details of their lives, as well as hundreds of thousands of musical montages devoted to favorite television shows, actors, sports teams -- and now, missing-children stories with happy endings.

But every once in a while, this homogenous digital ocean throws up a bit of treasure from the depths, something like Taylorchristensen's interpretive tribute, "2 Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck and Mitchell Hutl [sic]."

This soundless film, featuring still shots of the Arch, pawn shop signs and the Delmar Loop, is almost Jodorowsky-esque in its approach to the topic of Hornbeck and Ownby. "I was in missouri once/shot some stuff for a tv commercial," Taylorchristensen explains via an on-screen text crawl before declaring "hats off 2 teens," stating his pride in the actions of key witness Mitchell Hults and relaying a strange warning about Missouri's concealed-carry law. With his excess footage now relevant (or at least useful) and YouTube just a few clicks away, Taylor addresses the emotional hurricane of what it all means with a tribute that approximates the lucid, non-Euclidean language of dreams.

It's the most honest answer to the oft-asked question, "What are you feeling right now?"

-Paul Friswold


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