by Mike Shea on 25 March 2011
Rebecca Black's video, Friday, is awesome for one big reason - she didn't have to ask anyone's permission to make it. This video required no intervention by an army of suits in some Sony Music headquarters to get filmed, produced, stuck on the web, and viewed 50 million times in less than 60 days. Granted, this video isn't really a creative work, it's a machined vanity production paid for by rich parents, but that takes little away from the power of the distribution medium. Whatever you think of the content, and I'm guessing if you're reading this you're too old to have a valid opinion, being able to release your work to a potential two billion people without needing anyone's permission is awesome.
There is a great war of content going on. It's been going on for ten years now and it's going to go on for another ten. Assuming the government or big corporations don't screw everything up by breaking the pipes coming into our homes, things will be very good for both producers and consumers.
Books, music, videos, games; none of these require any permission to make or distribute anymore. Nothing prevents anyone from making just about any creative work they want and get that work in front of a potential two billion people.
And it gets easier every day.
In Lawrence Lessig's review of The Social Network, he states:
What's important here is that Zuckerberg's genius could be embraced by half-a-billion people within six years of its first being launched, without (and here is the critical bit) asking permission of anyone. The real story is not the invention. It is the platform that makes the invention sing. Zuckerberg didn't invent that platform. He was a hacker (a term of praise) who built for it. And as much as Zuckerberg deserves endless respect from every decent soul for his success, the real hero in this story doesn't even get a credit.
What's funny about that is how times have changed in the past seven years. I don't need to buy servers anymore to build an app or post content. I can stick content up on Amazon S3 and pay pennies per gigabit to transfer digital books to anyone in the net-connected world. I can build applications using a hundred cloud services. I can run an entire corporate IT infrastructure without buying a single computer. Zuckerberg needed venture capitalists to buy computing hardware. Now all we need is a credit card.
This scares the shit out of big media, and they should be scared. We're watching and laughing as mainstream publications continually struggle to figure out where they fit in the world. Mostly they don't - at least not anywhere near what they look like now. Movie and television production companies complain about piracy but it's not piracy they need to fear. It's shows like Dr. Horrible and The Guild that they need to be scared of. It's happening even faster with music. Rolling Stones reported that Amos Lee broke the record for the lowest selling number one album. Guess what, no one wants CDs anymore. Jonathan Coulton's model is the new way to make music.
Probably my only problem with the video is that it really isn't the creative work of a 13 year old. She didn't write the song. She barely even sung the song. The video was all put together by a vanity producer paid by Rebecca's rich parents. That's not creative work, that's a machine hammering out widgets. That doesn't detract from the power of the medium, however. $2,000 can potentially get a music video in the hands of fifty million viewers. That's impressive even if the content isn't.
What cracked me up about the whole Rebecca Black thing is just how old people sounded. Guess what, unless you're a 13 year old girl, you're not the target audience for "Friday". Neither am I and I don't really care. When you write some rant on Mashable about how Rebecca Black's video is the poster for mediocrity on the internet, you sound exactly like I'd expect someone with the job title of "top social media consultant". I'm not even going to state an opinion of "Friday", it wasn't made for me. The only thing I can criticize is that she didn't have the guts to write her own song and shoot it herself with her friends and a hand-held cam. She had to have a vanity producer make it for her. But the fact that, for $2,000, she got a video in the top 15 songs on iTunes and got 600,000 comments on Youtube - that's something I'll comment on.
I think it's fucking great.