Friday, July 20, 2012
On Internet Comedians and Internet Irony
(Author's preface. I originally intended this post to be a short space holder that presented a couple links to internet videos. However, the first half went off on a tangent and grew to unwieldy lengths. So I'll just stick the link to qaylIS' Godzilla video series up here instead of burying it at the bottom. Die Geschichte von Godzilla is a rather impressive looking series chronicling the Godzilla films, and is entirely in German. So folks who are not good at understanding spoken German, such as myself, will be pretty lost here. If you do speak German, check it out. Anyway, on with the rest of the post...)
As Dr. Sparkle, I tend to stay clear of all those social media time-wasters. I have enough on my plate without trying to tend to a Chrontendo Facebook account (though I have, God help me, considered opening a Twitter.) Anyway, I haven't added any subscriptions or contacts or anything like that on the Chrontendo Youtube channel. Perhaps someday I will, but there is a lot of good videogame related content out there and I don't want to pick and choose among them. However, I do have a soft spot in my heart for internet drama - as proven by my references to Christian Chandler on this blog - so I decided to point out my love for Mysterious Man's funny and intriguing Youtube videos.
He's often accused of being a troll, though I would classify him more as an "Internet Performance Artist." His shtick is recording awful video reviews in the persona of a Nintendo-hating, XBox/PS3 loving, hardcore gamer dude. Classic retro games such as Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time are given quick, dismissive reviews almost always resulting in a zero out of ten rating. Nintendo fans are described as infantile, brainwashed, etc. All of this is done with an overweening sense of confidence and an almost infuriating Jimmy Stewart-esque drawl. His videos tend to hit-and-miss, but when everything clicks, it works wonderfully. Here, for example, where his disgust at the "Lego world" of Earthbound contrasts with a sort of a hushed awe at Call of Duty Black Ops:
I'll be completely honest and admit that the Chron CD-i video was partially inspired by this guy.
The interesting thing is this: his videos generate a surprising level of anger among the viewers, with a huge number of dislikes and lot of very nasty comments. A few people have even gone so far to create counter-reviews and even point-by-point refutations to his anti-Nintendo rants. I'm not sure if these are folks are playing along with the Mysterious Man character, or if they are sincerely enraged by his videos. I find the latter option extremely difficult to believe, since the parodic nature of the character is soooo transparent. Aside from being obviously very familiar with the old school games he claims to detest (knowing where hidden items are, for example) in one video he clearly shows a Mario-themed piece of artwork on his wall.
We know then, that Mysterious Man is inviting his viewers to see right through him. But it must be very tempting for the viewer who "gets" the joke to also engage in a bit of internet play-acting by posting furious comments on his videos, etc. This allows the viewer to feel they are on the inside of the joke, not the outside; i.e. they are aligned with the perpetrator of the joke rather than the target. Then, of course, some viewers will get the joke, and recognize that others also get the joke, and can then feel a sense of superiority those commentators who do not get that others get the joke. (You and I, dear readers, fall into this second set of viewers.) At this point, I'm not sure how more levels of meta-knowledge we can add to this.
In contemporary American mass culture, the dominant mode of discourse is irony. As Americans, it is often not clear whether we like something, or merely "like" it. So much so that an actual aesthetic movement called the "New Sincerity," purporting to be non-ironic, emerged in the 90s, though it turned out to be mostly just a bit of sincerity with a layer of irony slathered on top. Anything that might be really and truly sincere is suspect; witness the widespread animosity directed towards Emo music in the early 2000s. All those crying teenagers drove us apeshit. Mysterious Man's videos drip with irony, and I can't help being reminded of David Foster Wallace's classic essay, "E. Unibus Pluram" and its discussion, via Mark Crispin Miller, of this successful 1986 Pepsi ad.
The gag here is that the ad takes a blatantly cynical, self-aware look at advertising itself. It foregrounds the manipulation of the sheep-like masses through advertising, in an ironic contrast to Pepsi's slogan, "The Choice of a New Generation." The semi-astute viewer will note this irony, realize that Pepsi is winking at him, and then enter into a sort of collusion with Pepsi. Wallace calls this Pepsi's "unctuous flattery" of the semi-astute viewer. The second layer of irony here is that vast numbers of viewers will be drawn into this same collusion, thus becoming the sheep-like masses they laugh at while watching the ad. All of this was quite ingenious in 1986. Now, most TV ads work on this principal, as far as I can tell. (It's also interesting to note that this ad is so closely associated with DFW, that 3 of the 8 YT comments mention him.)
Going back to Mysterious Man, I wonder who he's really making fun of. While he assumes the role of a smug yet clueless Call of Duty fanatic, that's clearly not who he is trying to provoke with his reviews. Instead he seems to be taking aim at the humorless, thin-skinned retro game enthusiast. But he is so obvious and ridiculousness with his provocation that I can't take that seriously either. And what are we to make of the various "answer" videos like this? Or this? (A response to an MM video that was later deleted by Youtube.) Are these serious or ironic? Why would someone craft a well-reasoned response to an accusation as silly as 'liking Nintendo makes you gay'? Is MM engaging in a form of unctuous flattery that not everyone can perceive?
Whatever the true motives of the person behind the Mysterious Man videos, I find the layers of irony and ambiguity fascinating. That's why I rank MM a step above the usual assortment of internet goof balls and trolls.