Viral :: Confessions of a YouTube Curiosity
Back in the day people used to kill time by going to freak shows and shit to look at fat women with facial hair and kids with birth defects caused by the onset of the industrial revolution and the exciting new of poisons it introduced into our bodies. Or watch some idiot bite the head off a chicken or jam needles under his skin, although technically those guys weren’t freaks in the biological sense; the only thing really wrong with them was a pathological need for attention combined with an obscenely low sense of shame and self-consciousness.
Nowadays, of course, being more civilized, we look back on all this with scorn, shaking our heads and tutting disdainfully at how crass and unenlightened previous generations were.
Because we have the fucking internet.
The first thing I do every morning is sit down in front of my computer, bring up my own web site, and watch my own webcam feed. Seriously, I just sit there and stare at my face on the screen for an hour or so, not doing anything or saying anything, just watching me watch myself. Usually it’s an hour, but it depends on my mood, I’ve gone as little as twenty minutes or as long as three hours. It’s like what Pollock said, how do you know when you’ve finished a painting, how do you know when you’ve finished making love?
The site dashboard says there’s currently nine thousand people logged on and watching me. This is a little more than usual, probably due to the girl-shaped lump in the bed visible over my shoulder. But I’ll get to that in a second.
A message pops up in the chat window in the bottom right corner of the screen. Someone who’s probably new to the site is asking what’s going on, why I’m just sitting there staring at myself.
This question gets asked a lot. I never respond, but the regulars always jump in to give their pet theories. Most assume this daily ritual is my attempt at some kind of performance art, like it’s a statement about our pervasive celebrity culture or internet narcissism. They probably want to turn it into a video installation hanging in some trendy gallery, probably name it “digital ouroboros” or something equally douchey.
But it’s not about art, I’m not making any statement. The truth is that I do it out of necessity. Because I’m at the point now where the mere sight of myself makes me sick. So I have to desensitize myself to my own image first thing when I wake up, otherwise I’d spend the rest of the day avoiding mirrors and retching every time I glimpse my reflection in a window or polished surface.
Today I’ve already put in two solid hours of staring at my putrid mug, and I’m still not ready to face the day. I’ve probably got an unusually high reserve of self-loathing to burn off. And the reason for that brings me right back to the girl passed out in my bed.
Her name’s Karin, or maybe Keren, but probably not Karen, and we were introduced at the party last night by her label’s A&R guy. She’s the singer for some Swedish electro-trash duo who’d recently scored a minor hit with an ironic lo-fi cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”. Her outfit was ridiculous, somewhere between Gaga and Karen O, like if the two of them had a lovechild (you’re welcome for that visual), and that lovechild in turn had a drunker, sluttier best friend with an inferiority complex who overcompensated by “accidentally” flashing the paparazzi a peek at her latest vajazzling.
Still, Karin had the right mix of looks and thinly veiled self-loathing that that lures me in like an idiot to a Russell Brand flick, so I was hooked.
And surprisingly, she seemed to reciprocate. Although I’m pretty sure the only reason was that she assumed I was some kinda heavyweight producer, or at least a label exec’s son. Generally people get into these kinds of parities by being hot, rich, or powerful. So if you’re ugly and no one recognizes you, it’s assumed that you must be rich and/or powerful. And by that measure, she probably figured my fugly ass had to be loaded.
But then it all got ruined when that actor came over and recognized me, that tubby neck-bearded bromance star.
“Hey! U wanna make dance!” he slurred loudly as he came staggering over, a can of Pabst clutched in his hand. “Look, it’s the ‘U Wanna Make Dance’ guy!”
He could hardly stand, clinging desperately to his underaged Thai ladyboy escort, who was the only thing keeping him propped up on his feet. It reminded me of those cartoons where an ant is carrying an apple 400 times its size.
I tried to play it off to Karin like I didn’t know what he was talking about, like maybe he was joking or had me mixed up with someone else. But then the bastard started singing.
“U wanna make dance, u wanna make song, u wanna fun fun fun all night long…”
In one instant Karin’s face filled with recognition, and in the next it collapsed into naked disappointment.
Yes, I am the “U Wanna Make Dance” guy from that stupid fucking YouTube video.
Nevermind that I’ve been playing in bands since I was 12. Nevermind the years I’ve spent trying to break into the music business, the shows I’ve played, the doors I’ve knocked on, the tireless nights spent perfecting demos and the days spent getting them into the right hands. Nope, all it took was one drunken night of ad libbing auto-tuned gibberish over a ridiculous beat that my friend Ramon threw together on his iPad.
One year and 93 million views later, I am and will forever be the “U Wanna Make Dance” guy. Admittedly, at first it was a rush, and I thought I could use it as a platform to launch my real music career. I started blanketing the internet, blogging about my newfound notoriety and my attempts to break into the biz, tweeting every mundane detail of my life, keeping a 24-7 webcam feed of my apartment. Using the money I picked up from a couple sponsorships, I decided to self-finance my own album to show the world what I could do, to prove I was a serious musician. It sold two thousand copies. Three million followers on Twitter and I only managed to sell two thousand fucking copies. I’ve got more people than that at any given time watching me scratch my nuts on my webcam.
So that was when the depression started kicking in. Which led to the drinking and the drugs. Which led to the public outbursts and punching that photographer and that whole regrettable VMA incident with the chinchilla. I don’t need to rehash it here, you know all the stories. Because that’s the fucked-up thing; the more reprehensible my behavior became, the more people flocked to my blog and web cam and tweets to get front row seats.
Anyways, back at the party Karin slipped away as fast as her imitation Manolos would carry her, leaving me behind in the meaty, beer-soaked embrace of the bromance star. He held me captive for a good thirty minutes, tearfully ranting about his desire to be taken seriously as an artist between chronicling in agonizing detail his various sexual conquests and exploding into bitter personal invectives against James Franco.
As he finally stumbled off, it struck me that he was like if John Belushi and Woody Allen hooked up and spawned some overgrown neurotic man-child, and I was so proud of that observation I tweeted it on the spot. Then it occurred to me that I make a lot of those if x and y had a baby jokes, and that was probably because I am totally unfunny and untalented, so I just pluck flaccid clichés out of the zeitgeist and hope no one notices how unfunny and untalented I am.
The party started to wind down, and eventually Karin wandered back my way with that all too familiar look of diffident resignation.
In three weeks time, I’ll find out the thing that tipped the balance in my favor was that she’d mentioned meeting me to her friend, who in turn told her that she’d heard I was hung like a horse who’d been mainlining Enzyte. But really the friend was getting me confused with someone else. Probably that “Chocolate Rain” guy. It happens a lot.
Later, as we were driving back to my apartment and Karin leaned over from the passenger seat to unzip my fly, needless to say she was sorely disappointed.
Luckily, or unluckily, depending on your point of view, three serendipitous factors aligned:
First, she was so stoned and/or self-loathing that she still came up to my place and submitted herself to fifteen minutes of my uniquely sweaty, grunty style of lovemaking.
Second, I always keep the webcam in my room turned on and streaming live to my site.
Third, seeing as she really didn’t have a clear understanding of who I was and obviously did not spend much time trolling the ninth circle of internet celebrity hell, she was not aware of fact number two.
So now here I am, back at my daily ritual of staring at myself the way you’d stare at a really someone with a really funky sore or boil on their face—equal parts revulsion and fascination. I may be a sick man. I may be a spiteful man. But at least I admit it.
In five minutes time, she is going to wake up and see the slew of texts, tweets, and e-mails on her phone that she ignored last night while we hooked up in front of an online audience of thousands.
Undoubtedly there will be repercussions.
But until then, I am just gonna keep sitting here, staring at myself.
My site dashboard says there are 550,000 people logged in right now worldwide, watching me watch myself, undoubtedly waiting to see the epic ass-kicking in store for me when Karin wakes up. In the bottom right had of a screen, in the little IM box, people are still debating the meaning of my bizarre little ritual. I’ve toyed from time to time with telling them the truth, but I dot think I ever will.
Because really they’re asking the wrong question. What matters isn’t why I’m watching myself, but why they are.
I wonder about the people on the other side of the screen. What kind of person would spend their precious free time watching me? Where do they go and what do they do after they log off? Do they go off to jobs, take their kids to the park, make love to their husbands and wives?
Does what they see me do stay with them, do they think about me as they go about their lives, do I have any influence on their behavior? I think so, I think they see the ugliness I create in this world and it implants itself in the back of their subconscious, manifesting itself in subtle ways as they go about the rest of their day. Making them feel entitled to cut off the driver in the next lane, to give the poor kid at Starbucks shit for putting one too many pumps in their foamless non-fat room-temp hazelnut latte. And of course it affects those people too, making their day just a little worse, making them lash out just a little harsh at the next person who crosses their path, and in that way my every single little act of ugliness can spread like a virus across the world through the wonder of modern technology.
And when think about that, I feel a chill in my bones, and it makes me smile.