For at least a century, nearly two, the chin-strokers of the world have been obsessed with the idea of “high” and “low” culture: poetry versus pop, ballet versus B movies, opera versus a reality TV show in which people are forced to marry other people that they’ve only just met. The dichotomies are endless, and while there’s been a (much needed) pushback against such snobbish delineations in recent years, there is also a case for a third category—one that doesn’t exist on the continuum between high and low: “overflow” culture.
It is impossible to overestimate the volume of stuff that is being produced, edited, and put online today. The content cup runneth over, and much of what’s in it is baffling and bizarre: a woman pouring oil all over herself and using a swing to launch her body into a wedding dress, a man sawing his silhouette into a mattress for a prank. Despite the fact that these videos have more than 100 million views each (and at least one required a substantial amount of money and time), no one talks about them—why would we? What is there to say? We ignore the sheer insanity and inanity of the content machine because it mostly manifests as a one-second flash in front of our eyeballs before our finger flicks on.
Culture writing, by definition, must analyze some form of culture, and these videos aren’t culture, not really—they’re content. While journalists across the world now cover digital creativity, and while occasionally some overlooked aspect of the content machine becomes weird enough or big enough to provoke mainstream coverage (think Elsagate, or 5-Minute Crafts’ “bigger than before” egg), we mostly ignore overflow culture; we have become accustomed to the churn. But sometimes we need to stop and take stock. For the benefit of future historians, here’s a look back at some of the stuff that captured eyeballs, if not attention, in the year 2021.
Since the birth of pizza, and the subsequent birth of pizza-cutting implements, people have been asking one gnawing, burning, overwhelming question: Who cuts pizza better, boys or girls? In this stolen 35-second TikTok uploaded to the YouTube channel VS (regrettably, somehow, the original TikToker is not credited), two videos of a “girl” and a “boy” slicing a Margherita pizza are placed side by side. The slicing techniques on display are almost identical; there is no punchline; the video simply ends.
Though the YouTube clip has over 50 million views (7 million more than the latest music video uploaded to Justin Bieber’s channel), the question of which gender is a better pizza slicer remains, alas, unanswered. Or perhaps this was a piece of performance art, designed to demonstrate the pointlessness of gender stereotypes. At the end of the day, do man and woman not slice alike?
It’s not that a YouTube video of a man hiding inside a human-shaped hole in a mattress, covering himself with bedding, and surprising his (likely-in-on-the-joke) girlfriend isn’t entertaining—how could it not be, when we all have so much day and empty void to fill? It’s the logistics of this video that fascinate: Was a new mattress purchased especially for the 58-second clip? How did the owners of the Woody & Kleiny YouTube channel cut into the mattress so neatly? Was someone hired to do the job?
The questions continue. How was the mattress discarded afterwards? How does the prankster in question justify such wanton waste? Was it worth it? Was it worth it? Was it worth it, in the end?
Despite the increasing homogenization of the internet, Facebook content remains remarkably unique. To wit: This July the social network was home to a video in which someone named Adley bent down in front of the camera and poured oil down her neck while saying, “This is my last resort, because I can’t return that” about a wedding dress being held in front of her by two unidentified accomplices. After Pam nonstick cooking spray is applied liberally to the lacy material, our heroine propels herself forward on a swing set and jumps into a dress that she could very clearly have fit inside without lubrication or a children’s playground.
The fake CCTV footage genre is huge on Facebook, as are videos which purport to show husbands walking in on their cheating wives. This video, uploaded by the Facebook page Sarcasm, under its logo of a cartoon Chandler Bing, is soundtracked with tense music and overlaid with big red circles and bright yellow letters. While the video has a mind-boggling 410 million views, no one in the comment section seems particularly convinced by its authenticity—likely because the man the “wife” is cheating with chooses to hide by lying down beside the couple’s double bed (why did he not think to hide himself inside the mattress?). Facebook pages like this now regularly come with disclaimers, and Sarcasm’s reads: “Notice: All videos on this page are for entertainment purpose only. All characters, events, and ideas are fictional. They are parodies and not to be tried in real life.” You have been warned.
Combining the tingling pleasures of ASMR with the traditional pleasures of a cooking clip is nothing new, but this 4-minute, 20-second video is disturbing in its emphasis on the squelching and squishing of raw chicken. Unlike the deliberately provocative food videos of the internet, this recipe is fairly standard and inoffensive (and the ingredients list is actually included in the video description!). Still, the squelching isn’t something you can imagine being okayed by the execs at a TV cooking channel, even if it flies on the YouTube account Lieblingsrezepte (“favorite recipes”). Things only get worse in the more recently uploaded video, “If you cook chicken this way you will be amazed by the result!” (Spoiler: a hairdryer is involved.)
A woman and a girl sit at a table, each with a bowl in front of them filled with sliced hot dogs and pasta; the woman asks the girl to fetch her a drink, and when the child departs, the woman steals the hot dog slices from the girl’s bowl. You—and 224 million other viewers—might think you’ve got a handle on her greedy motivations, but wait! The woman then swaps the bowls so the girl has more hot dog than her—altruism at its finest. But wait again! The woman now digs around in the pasta bowl in front of her to reveal two full-sized, non-chopped hot dogs hiding within. It is impossible to write a concluding sentence, for there is no conclusion to be made. The content simply ends. Another video follows.
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