Like most neophiles with access to a smartphone, I downloaded the app Vine early this year, partly in order to see what all the fuss was about, and partly because a friend of mine had migrated entirely to video as opposed to humble Facebook statuses and had declared himself virtually inaccessible to those without it.
According to their own sparse desktop-version website, “Vine is a mobile service that lets you create and share short looping videos”. The homepage declares that you should “Create & share beautiful looping videos”, and then simply offers you directions to download the mobile-only app. This setup is a proud announcement that the era of ‘mobile’ has firmly arrived, rejecting the need for an accompanying website that could offer profiles or ‘staff picks’ like on Vimeo and only offers you the bare legal minimum.
Before Vine had even gone live, the company was acquired by Twitter – probably as it seemed like a good model to use to capture quick video loops of News Events and Current Affairs in the good high-moral tradition of Twitter. However, it has become, I argue, a combination of elitist sketch-show; postmodern You’ve Been Framed (or America’s Funniest Home Videos AFHV for you Americans out there); bedroom open-mic; and a seedy ‘teen’ pornsite.
Now, this does in know way mean that I dislike Vine – I check it nearly every day at least once. However it seems to have quickly taken on a life of its own and it is worth commenting on some of these alternative uses that are outside of the intended uses. When you upload a video (a “vine” of course) then you have the option of categorizing it in one of the following channels:
Comedy, Art & Experimental, Scary (Halloween special), Cats, Dogs, Family, Beauty & Fashion, Food,
Health & Fitness, Nature, Music, News & Politics, Special FX, Sports, Urban and Weird
However if you use the ‘Explore’ feature then you can check out what is Popular Now, which is the feature that I want to talk about here…
If you use the popular now feature then a number of faces pop up over and over again: the people who have the most followers, therefore the people who get the most ‘revines’, ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, therefore the people who have become the most Vine famous. These are the people who have turned Vine into an elitist sketch show – elitist as it is hard to break into it (not that I am trying).
Using examples of users dates this article immediately, yet I’m talking about people such as ‘KingBach’, ‘Curtis LePone’ ‘Brittany Furlong’ ‘BrittleStar’ ‘Randy Mancuso’ ‘Brent Rivera’ ‘Brandon Calvillo’ ‘Dem_White_Boyz’ ‘Josh Kwondike Bar’ ‘Jennette McCurdy’…I could mention about 50 who currently dominate the Popular section (I’m sure they don’t mind being singled out). All of these people have used Vine as a platform to make quick jokes and short scenes and the reason that they have so many fans is because they have developed a style of humour that is familiar and enjoyable and updated daily. Due to their recognition, they can be enjoyed as characters in an ongoing interwoven narrative, each of them fighting for the equivalent of airtime in the hallowed top of the popularity chart.
The fascinating development has been how many of these people now turn up in each others Vines, like an extension of the American show The Real World where they all seem to inhabit some fictional community. And also, how many of them are beginning to advertise products or crossover into real-world (!) advertising. The temptation is to become conspiratorial and consider that this app has just been some insane crowd-sourced experiment to find ‘real’ personalities that can be used to sell products through Twitter… Or that it has all been scripted all along by a shadowy group of Illuminati screenwriters who feel subjugated by the dominance of Hollywood.
The other two genres of video that get a lot of attention are animals and children being adorable (hence the postmodern You’ve Been Framed home-video update) and people singing short vocal lines / raps / guitar (bedroom open-mic). Both of these have been staples of YouTube for years, yet people have started to use the in-built ‘loop’ function to refine the captured ‘adorable’ moment or to highlight the 6-second burst of musical talent…
The final, and most unforeseen use of Vine (and apparently materialised after only a week) is what has become searchable with the hashtag #LNV or #LateNightVine. This is, of course, the inevitable home-made pornography that litters the vinescape. If you combine the seediest users of Chat Roulette with the inate horniness of Grindr, and the innocent immediacy and supposed ephemeral nature of Snapchat you have #LNV: An overabundance of genitalia and promised actions that are worryingly adolescent in nature. Although users have to search to find this material, it is out there and exists in the fine balance between people expressing themselves sexually, and young people being exploited. Without limiting (cheap) free speech, it is hard to know the answer to this.
Anyway, it is no surprise that the medium has been embraced mainly by young people (a huge amount of the jokes are about the inanity and oppression of school), and it is also no surprise that it mainly an outlet for humour and simple slapstick. The fascinating question that remains is where does the application go from here? Does it continue to segregate into the 1% of vine-famous people, who are probably (I have no proof of course) being paid to advertise products and services, and evolve essentially into another form of top-down entertainment? Or does it eventually figure out a way to democratize and include more people into party?
I can only say for sure that I for one will continue tuning in to ‘The Vine Show’ to see where the zany characters go next…