We’re All in This Together

Nov 5th saw the  release of the latest video from MadV – the anonymous producer of the original “collab” hit.  Back in 2006 he was already a star on YouTube –  popular for illusions, which he performed in a Guy Fawkes mask. Then he posted a brief video – showing the words “One World”, written on his hand – and offered “an invitation, to make a stand, to make a statement, to make a difference. Join in. Be part of something. Post your response now.” He received over 2,000 replies – the highest number on YouTube to date. The piece he created from those responses is The Message – a four minute montage of webcam recordings of mostly teens and twenty-somethings, showing their own messages, written on their hands, accompanied by a track by Mugwai. “Respect, Compassion, Integrity, Honor, Altruism, Union…” the messages read. It’s an outpouring of yearning for positive values which culminates in ideas around human connectedness – “Together as one, United as One, We’re all in this Together… One World”.

“The Message” became a major YouTube hit – promoted on the homepage and nominated as “Most Creative Video of 2006”. It’s been much analysed and discussed. There are commentaries about the messages, and intense debates about whether there are contradictions between the statements. “The Message” has also been seen as a breakthrough work of participatory media. In “Wired” magazine Clive Thompson described it as a “curious mongrel form…a new language of video.” In his lucid “Anthropological Introduction to You Tube” Michael Wesch talks about MadV’s piece in the context of “cultural inversion”, a helpful framework for thinking about YouTube content. In everyday life, in our atomised, consumer society, we express individualism, independence, commercialism. We “crave connection, but see that connection as restraint”. YouTube, Wesch argues, offers the possibility of connection without restraint, and a space in which to express treasured alternative values of community, relationships, authenticity. Wesch’s commentary – which I wrote about back in the Summer – makes sense of “The Message”.

MadV’s latest video We’re all in this together returns to “The Message” – in high definition video. The call to action evokes the previous video, using the “One World” slogan again, adding, “This year, say it clearer”. The montage MadV has created is very close to the 2006 piece – though the high definition quality makes the young faces even more vivid, disarming. There’s an environmental theme, which though present before, is foregrounded this time.  The title, “We’re all in this together” – a quote from the 2006 contributions – underlines our inter-dependence. The video builds towards a final sequence that reads,” Hope, For our Future, You can change the world.” There’s a hand with a recycling symbol, a young man holding a globe, spinning slowly, close to the camera, and a last ambiguous message -” Wish You were Here.”

The piece is powerful, but something troubles me about this remake. The format begins to feel a bit like a party trick. MadV puts out a call, and his devoted community – there are 42,00 subscribers to his channel at this point – do as asked. They know what’s required now, and they’re playful with it – but still… MTV called “The Message” a ‘cultural shift in media’, but there’s a familiar dynamic at the heart of this – between star and fanbase. The content may be crowdsourced, but MadV calls the shots.

Postscript – December 10th. MadV commented, positively, on this post, and agreed to a request for an interview. He provides a really interesting account of his work. Here it is.