The Long Tail Of YouTube

September 9, 2011

My dream is that someday, every piece of film, video or photography ever made in the world will be instantly available online. We’re not there yet, but YouTube is a great start.

I’m keenly interested in history and culture, and I love comparing the way things were 20, 50 or 100 years ago to the way we do it today.  The contrast between a Beyonce video and Rosemary Clooney doing “Mambo Italiano” fascinates me. I like watching things from the 1950s, looking at the culture that existed in this country at the time I was born. I like watching things from the 1920s and 1930s, wondering how my parents were shaped by the folkways that were current during their youth. (And wondering some more about how those folkways indirectly shaped me, through them.) Does my dad’s sense of humor have anything to do with the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope “Road” movies that were hugely popular during his teens?

Here’s a 50th reunion of the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. Here’s 17-year-old Mary Tyler Moore as a dancing elf in a TV appliance commercial, her first big break in show biz. Here’s an 1894 Edison film of native American dancers in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. That one was filmed right around the time my great-grandfather arrived in North Dakota from Norway.

I amuse myself by finding obscure items to watch. They can’t simply be obscure for obscurity’s sake — they have to be something I’m legitimately interested in watching. But if fewer than 1,000 — or even 100 — people have watched the clip, then I count it as a weird sort of moral victory.

For every “Dick in A Box” with 30 million views, there’s someone who thought the world would be interested in seeing how they made Chevrolets in 1936. And you know what? I am.