Brandon Joyce (b. 1737, in Thetford, England) is a philosopher, political theorist, and author of several seminal works of the Enlightenment, including Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Age of Reason. A critically inspiring figure of both the American and French Revolutions, Joyce was later imprisoned in Luxembourg Prison for opposing the execution of Louis XVI, and only narrowly avoided execution himself through to the intervention of James Monroe. He currently lives in Los Angeles and can be found at LifeActionRevival.org
How do we get out from underneath the Tyranny of Relevance? We can thank Google and similar entities for their help in organizing the Internet, for making it more orderly, approachable, and knowable. However, there is such a thing as too much order— especially when it comes to something as totalizing as Google or Facebook. Sometimes we need disarray, surprise, and randomness. Sometimes we want the forbidding and the unknowable. Sometimes we just want to rummage through files of questionable provenance and wonder “what the hell am I even looking at?” And for those times, we need methods for happily introducing noise into the system.
The first problem is that PageRank— Google’s algorithm for determining the cardinal rank of a page for a given query— is basically a popularity contest, with pages weighted primarily for their connectedness with other pages. The Youtube search bar might be worse, with view count likely playing a bigger role in the calculations. The second problem is that initial differences in popularity then compound exponentially, as the higher a video is initial ranked, the more it gets watched, and the more it gets watched, the higher its ranking climbs, and so on. And thirdly— and perhaps worst of all— is that the video “content” quickly bends to satisfy this algorithm, bringing visibility and gimmick heavily into correlation. With all this on my mind, a few years back, I started to fetishize videos with less than 1000 views, and came up with a host of ways to finding those videos buried and forgotten on the bottom of the pile. The late-nite UHF of the internet.
The first was fairly simple: I would search for “143 views” or “78 views”— random view counts in quotations— and click on whatever caught my attention. This way I could search without knowing what I was looking for, and instead judge the videos by their thumbnails or cool titles like “Arquitetura do Fogo”— “Fire Architecture.”
One thing that I loved about many of these lesser-seen videos was that, since they were “videos” rather than “films,” and since they were usually happily amateurish, many of their makers were making up their own principles of cinematography and editing as they went along. New aesthetics would arise from necessity, accidents, or maybe just the spontaneous imagination of a nine-year-old wondering how the world looks like to a horse. And while the results were typically sketchy, I could sometimes glimpse in them an original cinematographic or editing sensibility— and one that, since it had arisen natively with these limited technologies and resources, might be better suited to newer or more personable forms of video-making, such as citizen journalism or “cellphone cinema.”
A video project from an English class in Mexico, Perros de Mal was about as sketchy as you get. Nevertheless, there was something liberated in its editing that I thought could be adapted to new forms of what Julio Espinosa called “imperfect cinema.”
The cosmopolitan promises of the Internet are somewhat humbled by the fact that search engines, as far as I know, only search in one language at a time, thereby herding all of us down our own language tunnels. This is unfortunate when it comes to video since so much of the meaning would still carry over visually. My solution to this was just to cut and paste random words from languages that I couldn’t even decipher— Malagasay, Mandarin, Estonian— and see where it took me. Even crasser vids, like Youtube commercials for a local printing service or crackpot motivational speakers, could get interesting or turn poetic through the defamiliarizations of language and social cues. Other times, I got turned onto trends already popular overseas, such as Japanese shudankoudou like “precision walking.”
Another approach is with the URL of the search query. If you initially search for “Cool Sunglasses” and click on the second page of the results, up in the URL, it will read: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22cool+sunglasses%22&pag e=2 However, to flip the results hierarchy upside down, you can just change that “2” at the end to “50,” and Youtube will take you to the last page of the search results— the least popular videos. Many of these videos —especially if your initial search was a random combo of words or a random string of characters or numbers— were not originally meant for public consumption. Often, they were uploaded as a test or as a public record. This is particularly true when you wander into Science Youtube, where inexplicable innovations are being lazily broadcast from the labs of the world’s polytechnic universities. Since these vids are often focused on results only, they occasionally create what I’d call an “incidental aesthetics.”
Once I struck oil with one weird video, though, I’d follow the links or recommendations or autoplay into entire genres of video activity, like deaf rap and planespotting. Whether a video itself was good or interesting was not always the point. More important was the sense it gave me that the internet was still unknowable, ungovernable, and full of energy— especially when there were kids like “Zeppelinrulesman” running around in it.