YouTube has changed a great deal over the five years or so in which I’ve had an account with it. These days, every time I post a new video, I anticipate ‘Third Party Matching Content’ being slapped upon it within seconds of it appearing. At one time, using a soundtrack from a video you ‘sampled’ could land you in hot water, so I’d mute the original audio and overdub my own; then even the visuals began to be subject to copyright infringement. It begs the question what is YT for? Is it still supposed to be a platform for the powerless and unknown to make themselves heard or is it merely another corporate tool that serves the rich and famous?
Over the past five years, I’ve produced several series on YouTube. First up was a parody of a 1970s ITV regional company magazine show, ‘Cumberland at Six’; this was followed by (among others) the spoof documentary ‘Exposure’, the weekly ’25 Hour News’ bulletins, various ‘Top of the Pops’ spoofs, and what has undoubtedly been my most popular saga (in terms of views and audience response), ‘Buggernation Street’, an ongoing soap opera in which any resemblance to another ongoing soap opera is purely intentional.
‘Buggernation Street’ is not for the faint-hearted; the humour is bawdy and near-the-knuckle, but is a graduate of the same Great British academy of licentious satire as James Gillray, George Cruickshank and the Earl of Rochester – even Derek and Clive. Every resident of this grubby terraced street is engaged in some illicit sexual practice, and a good deal of the humour arises from descriptions of these activities being discussed in broad Lancashire accents by the most unlikeliest practitioners of them imaginable. The footage is drawn from early 70s ‘Coronation Street’ episodes, invoking instant nostalgia if you’re old enough to have been watching back then; for those who remember long-gone characters such as Jerry Booth or Alan Howard, it’s a twisted trip down Memory Lane; for those who don’t, it doesn’t really matter. The parody takes on a life of its own and can be enjoyed by anyone not easily offended. Albert Tatlock, for example, was always a grumpy old git; but in my take on the character, he becomes a foul-mouthed bullshitter who calls a spade a f***ing spade. The utter ridiculousness of the likes of him or Ena Sharples or Minnie Caldwell talking about intimate personal (and invariably sexual) subjects is partly what makes it funny.
Putting together each episode was no straightforward re-dubbing exercise. Simply placing rude words into the mouths of the characters wasn’t enough; there had to be a storyline to follow as well. And because I had certain favourite characters, I would try to ensure they appeared each time, something that necessitated upwards of six or seven different old ‘Corrie’ episodes being recut into one ‘Buggernation’. Working without a script, I’d improvise dialogue once I’d worked out how each sampled clip could be segued into the next. There would usually be a central plot with a couple of subplots underneath it; and there was continuity too. Dipping into one episode randomly, the viewer could be confronted by references to events that had occurred several episodes previously, so it paid to follow the saga from the beginning. As an avid viewer pointed out, the emphasis on ‘Dad’s Army’-style catchphrases and the anticipation of them appearing also played its part.
‘Buggernation Street’ survived intact online for a good three years, spanning 28 episodes, until recently. ‘ITV plc’ has begun cracking down on the show, forcing me to remove the all-important pilot episode that introduces the cast because it was ‘blocked worldwide’. There was supposed to have been an EU ruling that allowed the use of copyrighted footage for purposes of satire, but I’ve yet to see this ruling prevent the censorious (not to say humourless) intervention of ‘The Man’. I monetise my videos, making a miniscule amount of money from each one if it acquires a sizeable amount of views; but if there is any copyright infringement, this stops. Fair enough; I can accept that as long as the video can still be seen. When even this isn’t enough to satisfy the claimant, the said video then receives the ‘blocked worldwide’ tag and I’ve no option but to take it down.
For me, the YouTube video is an outlet for a certain type of ‘artistic expression’ (for want of a less poncy word) that is supposed to represent the democracy of the internet. At the moment, this democracy feels more like it’s based on the Chinese model, with a glut of ‘official’ videos from the likes of Vevo and others clogging up the system and pushing the amateur to the periphery. A recent video of mine was blocked due to the BBC claiming copyright infringement simply because I used about ten seconds of the BBC4 logo at the beginning of something that ran for over 20 minutes; for the first time, I disputed the copyright claim and the video has been restored until the dispute is resolved. I’d put a lot of work into the video and it had been an instant success, not even gaining one single notorious ‘thumbs down’ on the way past 1000 views. It seemed a petty objection to me and I wasn’t prepared to concede defeat.
The way things are going, YT could end up as bland and predictable as MTV within five years, completely negating its initial intent. It wasn’t supposed to be one more promotional juggernaut for record companies or movie studios, but that’s what it’s on the road to becoming. Enjoy while you can…
© The Editor