Viral part II: The kids are all right

Tay Zonday and others weigh in on how technology and viral videos even the playing field.

by Bradford Paik

After selling out and using Rebecca Black to increase my readership, I received some interesting feedback. It included a death threat, astonishment that I dislike kids (I was joking, sorry) and a poignant comment that Disney Channel wouldnâÄôt be for me âÄî touché.
There was also some unintentional insight offered to me recently. In my weekly Friday night open-mic performance, I crossed paths with two well-known out of town comics who were doing sets. And with a fan-like avidness I chatted them up.
Ben Kronberg âÄî a New York City comic who would put Uptown hipsters to shame âÄî indulged me. What followed was an astute conversation on how the stand-up comics of today get noticed. The Internet âÄî obviously âÄî is one of the biggest tools.
Kronberg pointed out that the Internet has leveled the media playing field for everyone. There are now many access points for people to pursue their dreams. ItâÄôs no longer Hollywood or bust âÄî you could sit in your basement and potentially become a star.
IâÄôm not conceding that my original opinion was wrong âÄî the Internet will still squash childrenâÄôs creativity. But sure, thereâÄôs a flip side I didnâÄôt explore.
Echoing KronbergâÄôs opinion on the power of the Internet is a true pioneer of reaching a viral status, Adam Bahner. You know him as Tay Zonday âÄî a former graduate student from the University of Minnesota. He answered some questions for me, and heâÄôs worth listening to: Zonday went viral before viral was really viral.
âÄúWhen âÄòChocolate RainâÄô blew up [in July 2007], I at first had no expectation âĦ There were no other examples at the time of viral successes,âÄù explained Zonday.
The infamous song was originally crafted to speak out against racism. But now itâÄôs a lasting Internet meme, with more than 65 million views on YouTube.
Zonday quickly became a household name âÄî or at least a big name in the nerd-dom community. And since he, in his own words, was âÄúa better hobbyist-musician than graduate student,âÄù he completed his masterâÄôs degree in American studies in 2008 and began to pursue his hobby full force.
WhatâÄôs admirable about ZondayâÄôs success is how unintentional it was. His story documents what the every-man or -woman can do on his or her own.
âÄúâÄòChocolate RainâÄô had longer legs,âÄù explained Zonday. âÄúI inadvertently became a marketable icon who established how YouTube could become more successful than MySpace or Facebook.âÄù
And I think thatâÄôs the key; his celebrity was really inadvertent âÄî it hinged upon the audienceâÄôs response and reaction.
Zonday admits that his success came at the expense of his work initially being considered a joke. But thatâÄôs where Zonday finds the power of the Internet âÄî he says it âÄúallows the public to self-define what they consider unique or arresting.âÄù
The most surprising part of the interview was how the discussion evolved into a sociological one. These memes and viral videos âÄî from the Old Spice guy to Souljaboy âÄî are reallocating power to âÄúordinaryâÄù people.
âÄúIn general, the Internet has served to empower people,âÄù explained Zonday. âÄúViral video success will become more common âĦ ItâÄôs a great redistribution of power.âÄù
I find comfort in that. The Internet has exposed me to many talented people âÄî Kronberg as well as lesser-known comics âÄî who I might never have seen if not for their routines placed on YouTube.
The Internet ultimately evened the playing field so you donâÄôt have to fit the mold of some agency, have connections or pay lots of money to get your face out to the world. It serves as a virtual art gallery where the world can display their work.
Therefore, I must apologize to Rebecca Black. SheâÄôs not an Internet harlot. As Zonday points out, she didnâÄôt make herself famous, the public did.
You did this America. And while I canâÄôt stand your decision, I completely respect and cherish this almighty Internet power that has been bestowed upon us.
I urge you to use it wisely.