YouTube culture: The greatest thing since sliced bread

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Whenever something truly great comes along, you have to wonder: Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread? Sliced bread is pretty awesome. You can toast it, you can make a sandwich out of it, and you can spread things on it: peanut butter, jelly, jam, and even Nutella (if you’re weird). But YouTube, I argue, offers just as much flexibility — and fewer calories.


Now, justice-related footage is nothing new (we all remember O.J.’s epic police chase in 1994), but YouTube makes the information more accessible — especially for us children of the ’80s and ’90s, known for our apathy. And there’s nothing like widespread bad publicity to encourage organizations to clean up their acts.

YouTube has hosted countless videos of police brutality, uploaded from bystanders’ cameras or even camera phones. Supported by video footage, suspects can legitimize their complaints against officers, evolving their disputes past the realm of he-said, she-said.

In November of 2006, the FBI started an investigation into the Los Angeles Police Department in response to a YouTube video that showed two officers punching a suspect, an alleged gang member. That same month, another video emerged with footage of UCLA campus officers stunning a student with a Taser because he didn’t have an ID. Several weeks ago, the student filed a suit against UCLA, the campus police, and the two offending officers.

And video-inspired justice has even made it to the Pittsburgh area. As recently as last Wednesday, a WTAE-TV cameraman shot footage of a Braddock police officer punching a suspected burglar. Braddock officials are currently probing the incident, and the video has already made its way to YouTube.


This summer’s CNN-YouTube debate pinned Democratic candidates against each other on issues such as health care, education, and the environment, and the successes were twofold.

First, the candidates fielded real questions from real people, as submitted on YouTube, which helped to cut through the bullshit standard in political debates. It might be easy to tell Anderson Cooper, who hosted the show, your plans for health care in the U.S., but try telling the same to a real-life breast cancer survivor.

Second, the YouTube-infused format was entertaining and dynamic enough to appeal to young people, as many questioners used songs, puppets, props, and animals to emphasize their points. More debates like this one and — who knows — college students might even start voting. Look forward to the Republican debate, coming to CNN Nov. 28.


A lot of people rolled their eyes when they first heard about Pitzer College’s course titled Learning From YouTube. In the class, students spend most of their time online, commenting on YouTube videos and occasionally posting their own. According to an article from the Associated Press, media studies professor Alexandra Juhasz created the course to study the site’s impact on our culture.

Juhasz’s class is nothing if not progress, and those naysayers are probably the same people who think the Internet is a “fad” that will soon go out of style. Ideally, students will learn about the different facets of YouTube, who they affect, and why. Worst case scenario, the class turns out a joke, which isn’t exactly unheard of in the world of academia — Interpretation and Argument, anyone?


And now we come to perhaps the most famous part of YouTube: the entertainment factor. YouTube is a haven for homemade tours de force, both live-action and animated. These are risqué, subversive, absurd, or even pointless — way past what you’re likely to find on TV. To be sure, these are the Nutella of YouTube.

Additionally, YouTube videos often catch celebrities and other icons at their worst. Not only are these entertaining, they also dispel what remains of the myth that celebrities are somehow flawless, incapable of error. From YouTube, we learned that Beyoncé can fall, Ashlee Simpson can get drunk at a McDonald’s, and Stephen Colbert can slip up and say “fuck” during his Report. And as for lower-profile flubs, we also saw that even runway models can trip in heels, newscasters can laugh on the air, and Miss Teen South Carolina can be completely ignorant of international affairs.

YouTube really has it all, from the serious to the not so serious, from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and probably greater, for it extends into the worlds of justice, politics, education, and entertainment.

So, next time you catch police brutality or see Britney Spears stumbling toward her limousine, you’ll know where to upload the footage. And as for you fans of sliced bread, try bagels.