Being unemployed, single and several hundred miles from the place I call ‘home’ with no friends to see nearby and without a place I can call my own life is VERY dull. I do what I can to amuse myself like trying to read 50 books in a year and all the writing I’m doing which you all know about (RIGHT?!), but along with the job applications that still leaves a considerable amount of time in the day with nothing to do. Also writing or reading for 16 hours a day gets dull after a few days in succession so I’ve been looking for more transient things to arrest my attention. Most people look to television or movies. I am, alas, living with my mother who has her TV routine set and also, I hate TV. I love films but having no money which means no DVDs to rent or buy. I stream the odd film occasionally but that either means watching a laptop or sitting in Mum’s office. This also does not detract from the main problem that is driving me stir crazy: Isolation.
As such, I have been spending a considerable amount of free time going through Twitter with a fine toothed comb and reading all the articles, watching all the videos and looking at all the pictures people post. Now, I LOVE Twitter, I still don’t think its potential has been tapped yet but I frequently forget I have a general contempt for mankind which social media often reminds me of when people act like massive hooting dick holes. Therefore I was after something different. Then I remembered I had Vine. If you don’t know, Vine is a video App for smartphones that allows you to take 6 second videos but crucially not in a continual stream and operates by touch so you can essentially edit a sequence together. This has engendered a fascinating growth of productivity and creativity amongst users: Stop motion, mini movies, character comedy, sketches and so on. But what is most amazing and what I had not realised was the community that had grown around it.
I got the app around Christmas time when it was announced for iPhone and everyone was suddenly talking about it. I immediately loved the idea and made my first post which was a 6 second version of Rosemary’s Baby which I hashtagged #6secondmovies. TV comedy writer, genius and Twitter lord Graham Linehan picked up on it and RTed it which gained me a few followers. Despite this initial success and interest I largely forgot about it for a long time. I would occasionally use it for family video snapshots for when a single instagram wasn’t enough but little more than that. A few developments made me take a closer look. A few updates happened between January and June that clearly developed its popularity and a few Vine videos went viral. The one I picked up on was the Ryan Gosling/Cereal hilarity. Also following Will Sasso (who I still think laid a lot of the ground work) who began reposting the likes of Marlo Meekins et al. Slowly I noticed people were “ReVining”, doing collaborations and tagging all and sundry so I spent a day trawling the feeds and trending topics. What I discovered amazed me.
Over here in the UK Vine has never taken hold in quite the way the States took to it. After following my nose for a day I found there were Vine “Celebs”, career “Viners” who were now sponsored, Comedy Viners who collaborated with other Viners, Hashtag parties and “Vine Hacks” to name a few of the wild mass of tropes now inherent in such a small, cheap little app. What is truly amazing though and the thing that got me interested was its sense of community. We have a vaguely similar thing here in Britain with the proliferation of YouTubers. These crew of early twenties video bloggers are becoming something of the new popstars over here through making 5 minute videos on youtube. For a good, well made and insightful introduction to this burgeoning phenomenon, take a look at Benjamin Cooks BBC worthy epic youtube series Becoming Youtube. They tend to star in each other’s videos and are self generating their own traffic through creating or joining social trends and a community has developed. One of them, Alex Day, has even climbed the charts numerous times thanks to youtube and his social networking skills. It is very incestuous once you scratch the surface however. Occasionally once a youtuber has gained a certain amount of subscribers they are picked up by the more notable ones but this is rare. Normally people make their name by being related to someone famous or another youtuber, being friends with a noted youtuber already, or simply just being quite wealthy. Put it this way, most of the famous British youtubers are white, middle-class and male. There are a a lot of women but don’t “rake it in” the way the boys do (the furore around the Girls on YouTube video of Becoming Youtube for saying just that was an interesting thing to behold) but (as usual) its the girls who tend to make the most interesting and inventive stuff. Two of them are actually my favourites. Hannah Witton does intelligent and fun videos on sex education, a responsible, thankless and much needed task here in the UK, and Ophelia Dagger who is 1 part stand up to 2 parts critical analyst whose insightful debate and deconstructions of modern culture are balanced with genuinely funny delivery and keen wit. These seem to be when youtubers are at their best, when they are not merely being self indulgent.
With Vine, its inherent brevity detracts from the typical ‘LOOK AT ME’ approach. Whilst this is very much still there it is easily buried by much more interesting fare. To be a successful Viner requires the same knowledge of cultural touchstones as youtube and Twitter but importantly this is not the ONLY method and equally not why you use it. My way into Vine was through a young lady called Christiana, she posted a video response to the Ryan Gosling trend which counteracted the expectation and really made me laugh. So I followed her. From there I discovered many other of her Vine Friends, many of whom refer to them as their ‘Vine Family’. Whilst initially nauseating to the British sensibility of not showing any emotion whatsoever, what you discover is communities all over the place. Real friendships have sprung up through Vine and not just because you want followers. In the 6 seconds you are given, you need to tell your story/joke/picture with no frills. If you want followers you just have to ask. If you want people to think you’re funny, you’ve got to be REALLY funny and so on. The lengths people go to is astonishing. From props, make up, lighting and storyboards you will see some of the most incredible homemade videos ever. All for no money. Most have day jobs and Vine, like Twitter, is struggling to find ways to make a profit despite its insane stateside success and the wild celebrity some Viners have accrued.
The Viners themselves are a great bunch and (again, as usual) most of the best and most interesting are women. Looking at the “Vine Famous” (a phrase even those who are described as such acknowledge as not being actually famous) Viners to begin with; Marlo Meekins is an unashamedly blunt Viner who never relies on her immediately apparent physical attractiveness and in many ways actively undermines it. Her flaming red hair and pale skin make her look like a film star of a bygone era which is in contrast with her potty mouth, truly frightening costumes and her frequently bizarre videos that are almost always original or certainly subversive. Even her collaborations with other Viners tend to produce weird results (the “I Took A Dump” series gets funnier each loop). Jessi Smiles on the other hand is a flatteningly hilarious young woman who also bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence (guess how I found HER folks!). But similar to Meekins, Smiles does exactly the reverse of what it says on the tin. Playing on her immediately apparent genuine beauty she continually makes fun of what is expected of her and counteracts certain prejudices. She farts, swears, scratches herself, calls out the morons and generally is just plain funny. Yet the reason for her fame was a ‘twerk’ video she did and people clearly weren’t expecting intelligence and humour from such a young, beautiful woman. Similarly, the equally delightful Christiana, with the look of a Mad Men model and the voice of ripped silk, lures you in with frank and sincere videos that bely her masterful comic timing, beautiful singing voice, lack of pretension and just being plain hilarious. Paulette Griswold, another gorgeous young woman (looks is not a prerequisite for me liking them I might add, I think something about being an attractive yet talented woman makes them want to try harder to impress. Or maybe it is just the male gaze at work. Whatever, they are funny and talented), takes great delight in subverting peoples expectations of her appearance with clown wigs, pirate hats, swearing, dog-shitting and again, being pretty damn funny. Ex-Pat Elanor is a welcome dash of dry Mancunian wit and occasionally brilliant satire, Your Friend Grace is a ray of musical sunshine, Lizzie Pops and Donna Armitage are the “oh-my-God-she’s-responsible-for-a-child” carefree, willfully silly smiles of joy walking around as humans and Holly Go Lightly is the butter-wouldn’t-melt foul mouthed pixie whose hilarious insanity and leftfield songs never fail to shock and amuse. Notable props to the fellas too: Killroy Czop is the dry and baby-faced champion of understated humour, Ian Sweeney is startlingly adept with the editing function and also a good laugh, the giddy, childish humour of Vine superstar Brandon Calvillo, the Jim-Carrey-as-a-mop high-energy wackiness of Megalis and the still-top-of-his-game Will Sasso are all worth a look too.
Being bored and looking for something to do I resolved to make funnier Vines and be more inventive. I immediately latched onto a few of the stock things to get followers: hastagging, remakes and mentions. In 24 hours I had a whole new clutch of honestly enthusiastic and welcoming cohorts who all encouraged me for more videos and made responses to mine. Like a lot of social media and the validation it brings, this kicked in like a drug. Going from essential social isolation to being able to talk to and see new people was a hit of pure cheer for me and I’ve barely gone an hour without checking the app. The amazing thing? Its actually worth doing that, you get mentions and comments or just a new and funny/inventive/bizarre/beautiful 6 seconds to enjoy.
Like all new things this is the honeymoon period. Already Instagram has done its best to cripple Vine by nicking their structure for videos. Sadly they missed the point by making it 15 seconds. Vine’s strength is its need for immediacy and Instagram got dull pretty quick (ironically). But this does mean Vine will be in for a rough period over the next year. It’ll either move with the times and succeed (like facebook/Twitter) or stay still and fail (like MySpace). At the moment there are only a few larger companies recognising the potential of some Viners and a few of the larger ones trying to cash in on it. This is the litmus test, if it survives corporate interference and maintains its genuinely heartening community spirit and its creativity then I look forward to what the App and its users can accomplish. So much has been done with it already. I look forward to its next step. Not bad for a free App that’s only 8 months old.
Keep on Twerkin’
P.S. The Vine app is available for Mac and Android and its free. I have not been paid by Vine, iTunes or any of the above listed people for this shameless and glowing publicity/praise. I just really think its great. Get it. Anyone above I name in person, I recommend following/subscribing to. I sincerely hope the UK will cotton on to the same extent soon, I want some friends to LNPP with.