Allow me to channel Newcoma here for a second when I ask you to ponder this.

The kids watch this kid on Youtube who performs as this character, Fred.  I’m not going to link to it, because I assume most, if not all, of you are over 18 and so you probably just aren’t going to get the appeal of it.  And I believe the further away from 18 you get, the more likely you are to go into convulsions watching him.  And I don’t want to be sued.

Oh, okay, fine.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Here he is.

For the purposes of our discussion today, though, I’m not asking you to watch the videos.  I’m asking you to look at how many times the videos have been watched–three to five million times.  And then think on this.  According to Neilsen, the only two cable programs that had more viewers this week were The Closer (just over seven million people watched it) and NASCAR (just under seven million people watched it).  Everything else in the top ten?

Saving Grace had about five million.  Monk had about five million.  Some Hannah Montana bullshit had about five million.  Burn Notice, Law & Order: CI, and RAW, too.  Then at around four million were Red Sox v. Yankees, In Plain Sight, Psych, and the Food Network Star finale.

I just now read this story in the LA Times about him (so don’t ever say I don’t do any research for these posts.  Clearly, I’m working here, America!  Hard.) and this is a 14 year old kid, with one camera, making videos that get watched by as many people as watch the most popular shows on cable.

From the LA Times article:

That an act with millions of fans could escape the popular attention is more evidence of the digital fissuring of our culture. As we ensconce ourselves ever further in our respective demographics, personal and professional, we continue to drift apart from the people right next to us, until even an iceberg holding 4 million tweens can float by unnoticed.

And my first reaction was a little like that–like, holy shit, we’re drifting apart from the people right next to us.

But you know, that’s kind of bullshit.  Kids are always looking for something their parents won’t get.  Something they can call their own.  More power to them that now they find it among themselves.

The thing that sucked when we were coming of age was that there had been a shift too far in the other direction.  Our parents–the baby boomers–were used to dictating what received popular attention, what was cool, and were/are masters at how to co-opt it and turn it around and sell it to you.

How do you rebel against a generation that makes rebellion a marketing ploy?  I mean, people, by the time the Sellers got done with grunge, there were people paying $100 for a flannel shirt, thinking that made it “authentic.”  (See here for more details.)

No, the only thing you can do in the face of a System designed to ingest every cool thing you come up with, chew it up, bland it out, and barf it back onto you while you pay for the privilege of wearing the same vomit as your peers, is to get outside the system, to make something inscrutible to the system, and to have it off the system’s radar.

That, my friends, is what I love about the internet.  That there’s everyone out here doing everything and finding an audience for it in ways that the System cannot yet figure out how to monetize.

I don’t know what my hopes are for how long that can continue, but it seems to me that it will matter that a whole generation of kids is growing up thinking “I can do this myself.  I can tell my own stories, find my own audience, and not have to compromise my art.”

It kind of pleases me to see our cultural production put back in the hands of people who delight in it.


It occurs to me, too, that there are for sure at least two separate strands of babyboomers in regard to this–because, of course, my generation could not have even known to long for something that wasn’t commercialized to call our own, if we hadn’t seen that modeled for us by our elders.  I just want to be clear on that.

6 thoughts on “Fred

  1. For the last 3 years, I’ve been without cable — I mean, I have the big 3 networks (plus Fox) and then I’m punished with the religious & home shopping channels for not ponying up the money for the real deal package. So, my TV viewing is limited.

    But, when I’ve watched TV lately, the predominant thought is “the network powers that be must be completely devoid of new ideas” – the summer programming is absolutely appalling: Celebrity Circus, Wipe-Out, Greatest American Dog… and my personal favorite on the stupid-o-meter, I Survived A Japanese Game Show — Really, I’m convinced the people at the networks just threw their hands in the air and just quit giving a shit. And/or they’ve decided that we truly are idiots, will watch anything and keep the reality show ball rolling.

    And Fall holds little promise for improvement — I mean, NBC is re-vamping Knight Rider for heaven’s sakes!

    So, the fact that some 14 year old kid, with a camera, is getting more people to seek out his videos —- wow, that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever watched online — on a consistent basis totally appeals to the inner punk rock side of me that enjoys seeing the finger raised at gate-keeper types.

  2. One of the reasons I no longer watch television (even with cable) is that there is nothing of interest to me on there. I’d rather play games on my computer or read books than watch TV. Being one of the babyboomers, that could be exactly why I don’t watch, I’m so frakking cynical about this “find it, co-opt it, glamorize it, sell it” crap, that I don’t believe most ads/commercials when they try to sell me something (can we say been there done that for the last 40+ of my 54 years?). Even as a kid, I was cynical when it came to commercials, and back when I was a kid, commercials were at least sorta kinda maybe entertaining and had memorable jingles to go with them.

  3. ZOMG, I kinda loved that. I mean it’s stupid as all heck and I’m 43 so I don’t even know what he’s talking about, but the voice was hilarious. It doesn’t surprise me that kids would like it.
    And I bet the kid is making a fortune, at least I hope so.

    Good for him.

  4. Okay, I watched his whole series. The kid is hysterical. It’s totally silly and camp and actually quite sophisticated in a weird way.

  5. I reread what you’d written. I think what might be operating here is a tendency for kids to watch things repeatedly, and to show their friends what they’ve been watching. I seriously doubt that he’s received that many individual watchers. That doesn’t make his numbers any less amazing, but they probably aren’t actually higher than the top rated shows, and he didn’t have to get them all in one night.
    That being said what he’s doing is funny, is gathering a great deal of attention and is probably important. But he’s still not gonna hit the all important demographic that will spend the most money, so I don’t know Kira Sedgewick has to worry yet.

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