Category Archives: The Tyee

Idea #1: Tax Ads to Fund Public Art

On Dec. 7, Toronto’s city council delivered the rarest of political creatures — a new tax with broad public support. The tax on billboards was proposed to help enforce the bylaws governing signs, and also fund public art to offset the blight of outdoor advertising.

Even as it was passed, the reform package is a victory for the public space activists, community groups and artists who pushed it through council. Toronto’s 13 separate sets of bylaws have been harmonized, and for once may be enforced, thanks to new fines. Changes to the zoning variance process will make approving new signs more difficult. The tax will generate an estimated $10.4 million each year.

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Filed under Features, The Tyee

Raining Polar Bears

From a distance, I assume the limp figures falling from the sky are people. Then the camera draws closer, and I see that they are polar bears, hurtling towards a generic metropolis, bouncing off buildings and leaving behind stomach-turning splashes of blood. They land, by the dozen, and lie still.

“An average European flight produces over 400kg of greenhouse gases for every passenger,” I read. “That’s the weight of an adult polar bear.”

Only then do I realize that I’ve been watching an ad about climate change, from U.K. anti-aviation campaigners¬†Plane Stupid. The spot has been developed for cinemas. But in the slick streets of the Internet, it’s hard to say whether the gore will land where it is supposed to.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

Tap Water Burning

Partway through this clip, a Colorado man lights his tap water on fire. The source of his water’s unusual behaviour is apparently a natural gas leak, which has contaminated the local aquifer.

These days, a spectacle invites viral video. The Internet has an insatiable appetite for the shiny, rare or surprising, and fire rates pretty high on all three scales. Flammable water, then, is a ready-made viral video hit.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

Why ‘Being Erica’ Deserves to Be

When she was introduced to Canadian television audiences last January, Erica Strange of the CBC comedy/drama¬†Being Erica was being pretty unhappy. Thirty-something, single, and recently fired from her subsistence customer service job, she met Dr. Tom, a supernatural therapist who promised to send her back in time to correct past mistakes.¬†Being Erica‘s second season is now in full swing — the sixth episode airs tonight at 9 p.m. — and while most of the time it is fluffy rather than groundbreaking, it might just be the most realistic portrayal of a woman in her thirties on television today. Unfortunately, that could also be its downfall.

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Filed under The Tyee

‘High with a Little Help from My Friends’

In the perpetual election campaign that is federal minority politics, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a pretty good weekend.

At Saturday’s National Arts Centre gala, he joined Yo-Yo Ma on stage to sing The Beatles’ “With A Little Help from My Friends,” accompanying himself on the piano. Harper’s moment of glory went viral thanks to conservative blogger Stephen Taylor, though a different clip was posted first by Joel Quarrington, a double bass player standing off stage.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

The Value of Online Anonymity

The courts unmasked a nasty blogger and people cheered. But is secrecy the problem, or incivility?

Want to see a 747 landing into a wicked crosswind? Interested in behavioural biology? Can’t figure out how to do your eye makeup? For all these things, you need not leave your desk, because YouTube is human society in miniature. Just about every facet of modern culture is there, if you look hard enough. So we should not be surprised to hear that the anthropologists have arrived.

Kansas State University’s Digital Ethnography project is the brainchild of Michael Wesch, who won a U.S. Professor of the Year Award in 2008. Each year, with a team of students, he sets out to study digital culture, including YouTube. Wesch and his students use participant observation, which means that, like researchers in Papua New Guinea living with hunter-gatherers, they post their own videos and integrate into the YouTube community.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

Videos that Play with Numbers, Dangerously

Topping the week’s Viral Video Chart is the trailer for a new book on social media marketing, arguing that social media is not a fad. It closely mirrors XPLANE’s viral hit, also about the importance of new technology. Say what you will about social media, but this sort of video, combining surprising statistics with flashy graphics and electronic music, is emerging as a fad in its own right on YouTube.

The video is rife with the arm-waving hyperbole and confusion of trends favoured by so-called social media experts — at one point, it seems to define books on the Kindle as a kind of social media — but it does grab your attention. That is the strength of stats videos — while most of us would never read a list of unconnected facts about social media, a video can keep our attention with some bright colours and catchy tunes. There is something authoritative about statistics rendered in slick animation. But YouTube is actually a terrible vehicle for stats, because it does away with the web’s greatest strength: easy, plentiful links to sources, survey methodology, and study sponsors.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

The Rise of the Lego Video

You are never too old for Lego — at least, not if you live on YouTube.

All over the web, adults are playing with the colourful bricks, and posting their cinematic creations. The vids, sometimes called “brickfilms,” feature Lego or similar toys, sometimes brought to life with computer animation software, but more often featured in tiny and meticulous stop-motion animations.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

Some Videos Aren’t This Good

Over the last year and a bit, I’ve spent plenty of time browsing for column topics. Some days, I stumble across a video that’s just cool, and then struggle to come up with something to add to your viewing experience. This is one of those videos. I just love it.

But as I watch the vid for the fifth time, I’m thinking about what it’s like to be educated online. You see, this is a school project by Bang-yao Liu, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and it isn’t the first viral hit to emerge from the classroom. Social media distribution has opened up tech classes. Students who 10 years ago would have worked in a vacuum can now enter the public sphere as a creator almost immediately.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column

Throw Another Vlog on the Internet Fire

YouTube is home to two parallel worlds. While most visitors drop in to watch the latest viral clip or tune into their favourite channel, a minority of users are part of a community of video bloggers, or vloggers. They spend much more time on the site, commenting, messaging each other, posting response videos and building their subscriber base.

Imagine your most active and annoying Facebook friend fidgeting, stuttering and rambling into a low-res camera, and you’ve got a good picture of most vloggers. Like personal bloggers, the majority of vloggers don’t specialize in any topic other than themselves. I find them almost uniformly unwatchable.

Natalie Tran, or communitychannel, is the singular exception. The 20-something Australian university student is one of the most celebrated vloggers on YouTube. In her videos, Tran chats to the camera between short skits in which she plays every character. Tran has a huge following, with more than 10 million channel views.

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Filed under The Tyee, Video Column