What Benjamin Might Say About Youtube

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In Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production,” he raises two main points.  He starts by arguing that all works of art can be reproduced.  Benjamin goes on to say that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in its production in time and space” (p.29).  In other words, Benjamin is stating that reproduction of art causes the original work to lose its aura.

But a reproduction platform like Youtube is something that Benjamin could not foresee. In his time, films were made exclusively by large studios, but today, individuals have the technology to create videos of their own, outside corporate control.  By our estimation, Benjamin would agree that there are two fundamental types of videos on Youtube: Spontaneous (authentic) and Reproduced (inauthentic).  The first, spontaneous category would include things like: Video bloggers, candid events, on-site reporting, UFO sightings, and reaction videos.  For example, reaction videos filmed for the purpose of self-expression would be considered authentic, original works.  These “authentic” videos capture a specific moment or event that would not have been accessible to the public without YouTube.  The second, inauthentic category would include: Films uploaded to Youtube, clips of TV shows, and music videos – all examples of artistic works that have been previously exhibited in other forms.  That is to say, these “inauthentic” YouTube videos are not original creations, rather they are the type of mechanical reproduction Benjamin warns against.

Overall, Benjamin would likely have negative views on Youtube.

He would suggest that Youtube encourages the kind of capitalistic mechanical reproduction by his definition. While all videos are reproducible–and reproduced and consumed with views, Youtube further encourages reproducibility with view counts and thumbs-up systems. Also, according to his second major point, anything and everything that has been copied and uploaded to YouTube, even the original has depreciated in authenticity.  He also argues that stats like view count shrink auras.  We disagree. We think that in today’s time, the original still retains some authenticity because the content is unchanged and the quality of the original is still better. When you watch a reaction video on youtube, you’re still experiencing that same story, the same content. This is a form of reproduction that also qualifies as original content, something that Benjamin could not possibly have foreseen.

References

Benjamin, W. (1986). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In J. Handhart (Ed.), Video culture: A critical investigation (pp. 27-51). Rochester: Visual Workshop Press.

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