Exposing the Idiocy of Videocy: Case Study # 3

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Stan Murmur & Evan Emory

The new idiot, as mentioned in the introductory material, is a participatory one. In participatory culture, viewers seem ready to engage with the new idiot in their own terms, regardless of how stupid or idiotic both the events and the responses may seem to others. As Avital Ronell points out in, during her European Graduate School lecture featured at the start of the video, in her retelling of a Kafka parable, who are we to say for whom the call was intended? And we extend her idea in this case study to ask, who are we to judge this fearlessness of YouTube viewers to answer a call, any call? Theirs is a fearlessness of participation and exposure that more and more frequently seems to win them, as Ronell calls it, “a prize.”

As demonstrated by the Wallace example, often students fearlessly record, upload and respond to videos on YouTube in very fluid, lateral ways, and with little regard for consequence. Moreover, it also doesn’t seem to bother them when their teachers and role-models do, too. Stan Murmur, an art teacher during the day and artist in his own time, filmed a demonstration of his “butt-print” process that was uploaded to YouTube. Students who found the video on YouTube were delighted, and this collapsing of boundaries between student and teacher exemplifies the lateral, rhizomatic paradigm in which we now mostly live. Participatory culture seems able to embrace vulnerability on both sides of a given boundary.

In another example, Evan Emory spliced together a video of his harmless performance for a group of children with some explicit lyrics recorded later. In this case, too, it wasn’t the students who were perturbed.  Rather, it was the parents, the administration, the “old guard” as the “old idiot,” a notion still invested in the traditional hierarchy of student/teacher relationships, that objected to not only the idiocy, but perhaps also the vulnerability and exposure that the men in these videos began to represent.

In our introduction, we claim that the fallout of cases such as these presents an ethical challenge to educators. For both Murmur and Emory, the videos led to catastrophe: they lost their jobs and went to court. In Murmur’s case, he sued the school district and lost. In Emory’s case, he was criminally prosecuted and sentenced to two months in jail. One might argue that their catastrophes were essential to maintaining the fallacy that teachers are in positions of authority.  As Slavoj Žižek says in a video lecture, “It’s the catastrophe itself which keeps the dream alive.” Perhaps the viewers make events such as these become catastrophic so that the disappearance of the idealized notion of student/teacher relationships can be more easily ignored. One finds oneself protesting the violation of something that has already disappeared.

The events of Murmur and Emory were opportunities to answer the call. These teachers were engaged in vulnerable, exposed, creative acts. It doesn’t matter that the event wasn’t specifically a call to students or to teachers. Murmur and Emory deserve applause for their performances, and so too do the viewers who, in answering the calls, unwittingly created catastrophes for the performers.