YouTube: What constitutes a video blog?
We all know what YouTube is great for: sharing videos on the largest video-sharing website out there right now. It’s a portal for various kinds of content, but one particularly interesting for historians is the video blog: a form that allows the everyday person to make his or her private thoughts public.
The search for “video blog” on YouTube leads to “about 21,600,000 results,” and that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there are music video blogs, celebrity video blogs, international video blogs, even video blogs about how to video blog. But what kinds of videos would be considered the most unconventional video blogs uploaded to YouTube?
On YouTube, there’s a channel called “The 5Ninth Avenue Project,” a compilation of edited videos recorded by downtown artist and filmmaker Nelson Sullivan. Sullivan moved to New York City in the 1970s, and throughout the 1980s, he recorded hours of material on his handheld video camera, documenting everyday life, the art scene, shows, and happenings in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the Lower East Side. Sullivan captured passing moments in the inner lives of various downtown characters including RuPaul, Michael Musto, John Sex, Keith Haring, and Michael Alig. In essence, Sullivan was invested in capturing life in New York City in the 1980s in a video blog form before the form really even existed
Nelson Sullivan’s recordings, in their pure, unedited form, are hours longs, documenting everything from the mundane tasks of his day to the exciting nightlife he pursued. While watching the videos in their entirety, the viewer gets a sense of the performative aspect of Sullivan’s videos: the dry humor, the unaffected tone of his voice, the way he captures the sharp contrast between ordinary routines and alternative, unorthodox lifestyles.
YouTube’s “The 5 Ninth Avenue Project” has clearly picked up on the potential of Sullivan’s videos for interested researchers and historians alike. However, the editing and curation of his videos has significantly changed the focus in content, taken them out of context, and provided the viewer with what could be called Sullivan’s “highlights,” the most interesting or eventful clips from his larger video. These clips range from about 1-10 minutes long each, and focus on a particular performance or person.
The channel’s goals are perhaps to lead interested parties to videos that are easy to identify by a key word or name. However, it also takes away from the integrity of the video as a whole. Though blogging before video blogging’s boundaries were being explored, Sullivan’s videos strive to do more than document the exciting bits of Greenwich Village history in the 1980s. He strove to capture it as he saw it, and to turn it into a hybrid that is part-performance, part-reality. But by de-contextualizing his methods and M.O., the channel on YouTube has effectively taken a lot of valuable analytical content away for the sake of convenience.