August 20, 2012

The Thin Line Between Beauty and Sadness

I just watched the documentary Butterflies.

The film documents the lives of 6 youtubers who have found community, fame and vocation on youtube. Although the film is 3  years old, it captures the current state of social networks and online communities quite well. As I watched I had this weird ebb and flow of emotions. When they discussed how they've found others who shared common interests, developed some lasting relationships and have found a place to spark creativity, it made me smile. I resonated with much of what they had experienced. I've advocated for these same types of environments and opportunities for others. At the same time as they discussed spending 6 hours a day on youtube, being obsessed with subscribers and views and wanting to be recognized by strangers, I felt sadness. 

While I wanted to like the experience of these folks and point to their journeys as models for students to consider, I just couldn't get past their intent and motive. A few of them began as genuinely and innocently creating content out of personal interest and creativity, it seemed to quickly move towards a desire to be famous and a focus on themselves. Yes, they had some connections with others and perhaps I'm not articulating my angst well but their pursuit of numbers and celebrity seemed unhealthy. I wanted to see the beauty that this new platform provides but it seems like such a fine line between healthy and empowering and unhealthy and narcissistic. 

I'll be honest, I've had my share of ego strokes both explicitly and implicitly through views and comments.  I like those things. They've become a nice by product of sharing online. At times I feel guilty for liking those things. I constantly question whether I'm sharing or posting for recognition and feedback or because I think it's valuable and useful. One of the reasons we share is for recognition. It's not the only reason and for some it's more important than other reasons but at some level, we all desire it.  That's what I wanted these kids to say. I wanted to tell them that it's okay to be acknowledged but it's more important that they do it for others and their own need to be creative and create things that are useful and beautiful.  I wanted them to talk about their art and their craft and how youtube is a wonderful place to share. It was eluded to with a specific example in the film but it wasn't the overall message.  I suppose it may not matter and that it's up to me the viewer to decide but I fear that too many will watch this and either use it to confirm how messed up our world is or celebrate new media creators as something to aspire to. This film for me, whether intended or not shows both but I'm not sure that was the intent. The tenuous line between beauty and sadness is a challenging one that I'm not sure most people consider. 

‚ÄčMaybe you don't see it that way. If you watch the video and come up with a different take, let me know.