So Zoë, tell me about Vine. When did you first hear about it?
I first started using Vine in 2015 on a whim, long after the social media network had emerged. I don’t remember what prompted me to download the app on my trusty iPhone 5, but it was probably curiosity — I wanted to see what people could do with only seven seconds. To this day, I have never uploaded a single original Vine. I’ve only ever used the app to watch Vines, save my favorite ones to find again later and share a select few. The easiest way for me to decompress after a tough day is to watch Vines for 15 minutes.
What do you like about it so much?
Two things. First of all, Vines can be incredibly funny. I would rather scroll through Vine for an hour than watch most sitcoms, or a extremely popular comedy movie. Here are a few of my favorite Vines that always make me laugh. Everyday people who aren’t necessarily aspiring to be comedians or actors are able to distill deeply funny things into a matter of seconds, and make ideas or experiences universally relatable. There’s an entire meme system within Vine that has dripped into other digital corners, and it’s emerged as a eternal spring of Internet culture. It is also extremely hard to find Vines in the app if you haven’t saved them, since a lot of people don’t hashtag or caption their Vines. This adds to the ephemeral aspect of the medium, and how trends can come and go.
I don’t care for the users who have tried to monetize their content or segue Vine into a career, because 99 percent of their Vines aren’t funny to me — they try way too hard, and the emotions are contrived in a way that screams “commercial.” Here are some good examples. However, these creators are insanely popular with young teenage girls, which has helped catapult events like Vidcon into mainstream interest. This is the second reason why I like Vine as a social media network. Vine is a gold mine for sociological analysis on race, gender and communication, because it tells us a lot about what young audiences are looking for in their media consumption and whose ideas they find entertaining. Millennials would rather hear from themselves than old white people asking what the deal is with some old people aspect of life.*
What have you observed about Vine culture?
One important thing to note about Vine is that there are several types of content creators. There are people who come up with completely original content, whether that’s skits or jokes. There are people who do it to showcase their dance or musical talent, favorite sports team or a particular aesthetic. There are people who post videos that aren’t meant to be funny but are, or catch moments of animals being derpy. There are people who happen to take video of funny things happening in the world, or grab and repost content from elsewhere, and sometimes they make clip compilations of their favorite celebrities or lipsync. And then there are people who layer on music or other memes to add new levels of meaning. These types of Vines and content creators often overlap and intersect in interesting and creative ways. The only way to really understand this is to just download the app and scroll through the Popular Now or On The Rise feeds.
Viners have created their own discourse specific to their app community. Once you spend some time on the app, you’ll pick up on the nuances and how they add to the stories and jokes. For example, a user will often switch their positions on camera to visually say that they’re supposed to be two different people, even if it’s the same person on camera, to make a more complicated story and funnier bit. Sometimes they’ll change their clothes or put something on to heighten the comedy. Viners will also borrow other Viner’s jokes and recycle the audio / credit in the caption with the abbreviation “IB” (Inspired By) and the Viner it came from, to add more layers of humor and meaning and create a sort of in-joke or meme. This also suggests that Viners value giving credit where credit is due, which I think partly stems from the fact that when outsiders use Viner content as marketing concepts the creators, which are often black teenagers, rarely see compensation. To operate within the 7-second limit and the nature of the free app, users come up with highly creative ways to tell jokes within stories. This becomes its own set of social practices. And again, I think there’s a lot for academics to analyze here, especially if they’re interested in documenting the Internet.
Why is that important?
The social constructs of rules and conventions that these Viners have brought in from our own culture and the ones they’ve made themselves help the people within and outside of the community understand how it works. Discourses often overlap in many ways — for example, a user can post both clip compilations of their favorite actress and original skits on their account, and would be operating underneath the general Vine creator-audience relationship expectations and the discourses of these distinct genres.
There’s an ongoing debate about what deserves to be archived from the Internet, and if we didn’t archive Vines, for example, we’d lose a lot of valuable anthropological and sociological information to help us understand how our relationship with the Internet evolved. For example, consider the “What are those?” Vine, which achieved peak meme status. It’s more than just teenagers fooling around on the web.
Tell me about the moment where you noticed that Vines could be longer.
One day earlier this week, I hopped onto Vine after a particularly tough day at work. As I scrolled through, I saw a black bubble in the bottom right hand corner of the Vines that showed a much longer video duration.
At the same time, Vine was premiering Camp Unplug, a collection of skits made by Vine stars under the backdrop of a summer camp. Some of these videos went way past 7 seconds, which allowed for more elaborate storytelling and joke delivery. Later in the week, I found an article that reported on Vine’s move to offer original television episodes. I also noticed that the song in some of the Camp Unplug videos had its official video debut on Vine, in all of its 4-minute glory. This unveiling was obviously very strategic, and Vine decided to do a whole campaign using what their users find funniest to show how cool the new update was.
As someone who doesn’t use Vine, why should I care?
There are a couple of things going on. Television networks who are struggling to compete with services like Netflix are going to start moving in on Vine, and I can imagine that one day they’ll have a channel devoted to full-length television episodes. We’ll have yet another thing competing for our attention. I would rather pay Vine a monthly fee to make sure that the people who are funny and thought-provoking are compensated for their work, but there have been problems with that in other similar situations.
I can also see this going down the road of users having to pay for in-app programming, and I’m not cool with that. Arguably, it could be good for the users who are on there right now — people come for the tv show and stay for the skits. If Vine is dominated by content backed with millions of dollars in production values, people who just have their iPhone will stop using the app, and Vine will just become a shitty repository for millennial-branded content. That would still be an interesting point in the Internet narrative and tell us a lot about our media consumption, but it would be a huge waste of money, time and energy when what people are putting on there now is better. I understand that Vine is a business and it has to be lucrative, but eventually it could push people out: if there’s nothing but big media power plays, why try to compete for attention?
You should care because even if you’re not a Vine user, you’re complicit in this transaction. Our insatiability for content and having it available 24/7 has pushed media outlets and upstarts to go to the Internet and use any avenue possible to make money. This has also sparked a redefinition of what it means to be a social network, or an entertainment network, and how the original purpose will inevitably change. Traditional advertisements don’t work anymore, so production and marketing teams have to think of more insidious options. People are the worst, and we can never have nice things.
You can say that the people who don’t like it can go find somewhere else to post their videos. That’s entirely true. But eventually everything and everyone is going to monetize everything, and that brings up important questions about what we consider art in today’s world. If you ask me, Vines are an art form, and we should be protecting it for all of the best artistic and cultural reasons.
What do you think about Vine and commercialization on the Internet? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
*This is absolutely not a knock on Jerry Seinfeld.