When I look back on my formative years, I thank my luckiest stars that there was no YouTube. I just see so much potential for future embarrassment.
For example, when I was in middle school, a friend of mine wrote a "screenplay." It was mostly made of in-jokes about our fellow students. In addition to short skits, she rewrote the lyrics of popular songs at the time to be about our teachers and classmates. She decided to film it—and surprisingly got most people to play themselves. Including me.
There I am, in the center of the frame. It was the era of grunge, so I'm wearing what would only pass for pajamas these days. My hair sports the kind of brassy streak that Sun-In/Manic Panic junkies had. And I'm saying things that seemed all in good fun at the time, but, looking back, were probably pretty mean.
But I'm safe in the knowledge that no one will see this video. Even at the time, if we wanted to watch it, we had to track down the clunky videocassette, find a mutually agreeable time to gather 'round the television, stick it in the VCR, and watch it. With VCRs becoming relics, I'm pretty sure this video will never surface anywhere.
The same can't be said for kids today. When they film something stupid, it goes up on YouTube, where it has the potential to live forever.
Take Zack's film debut, for instance. Zack made a music video for his upcoming bar mitzvah. I assume he's local, too, because, if you happen to buy his song on iTunes, the proceeds go to Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown. Here is his video:
Now, granted, this video has much higher production values than my middle-school one. (But it also has more adult fingerprints, in my opinion—do current 13-year-olds know enough about Robert Palmer videos to get the reference here?) Zack is also far better dressed than I was.
But part of me worries for Zack. Whereas there were only a limited number of copies of my embarrassing video, anyone—including regional magazine editors who have never met him—can watch Zack's video. And while it's cute and funny and charming as a bar mitzvah video, is he really going to want his dorm-mates to unearth this while he's in college? Is this video going to pop-up and overshadow every other one of his life's milestones?
Apparently, I'm not the only one who had reservations. "[D]ude, you need to get this video removed from the Internet immediately!" writes Joe Mande in Videogum. "Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very cool that your parents are so open-minded and supportive of your eccentricities. But they shouldn’t be allowed to put this on YouTube. It’s borderline child abuse…To be clear, I am not making fun of you, Zachary. Or your fedoras. Or your multi-colored yarmulke. Or your gardening. Or your pottery. Or your cooking. Or your gemology. Or your appreciation for Robert Palmer imagery. Or your refusal to swim in swimming pools with water that’s too cool. But the thing is, I totally could make fun of you about those things if I wanted."
Salon's Drew Grant, on the other hand, thinks it's just fine. "I don't see the harm," he writes. "In fact, Zack here seems to have a lot more self-confidence than most teenagers, and that video is pretty entertaining. I don't imagine that, what, two or three years down the line Zack will have his lunch money stolen because he made a YouTube video that's better than 90 percent of the crap his classmates put online of themselves singing Justin Bieber into a hairbrush or falling off of a skateboard or cursing about Charlie Sheen."
It's even weird that Mande or Grant have any opinion at all, given that they don't know Zack. (And neither does Vulture, CollegeHumor, The Washington Post, nor Time, nor, I assume, any media outlets that have posted the video. There's no getting the toothpaste back in that tube.) But another local, the New York Times' Lisa Belkin, does. "It has been quite the experience to have a front-row seat as the force of the Internet rolls over a child," she writes in her Motherlode column.
"Ahead of the snark comes a wave of assumptions," she continues. "Critics stated as fact, for instance, that Zack’s parents spent a fortune to make their son famous, while, in reality, Scott is a composer for film and television and this video was a fun family project, filled with inside jokes, to celebrate one delightful, march-to-his-own-music kind of kid; no one was paid, and the only reason this was posted online was so friends and family could view it. Yes, Zack is a performer; he takes voice lessons, is at home on the stage, and has starred in more than one school play. But this wasn’t a bid for the opinions of strangers."
I guess that includes me, so I'll shut up about it. But what do you think: should parents keep their children's videos off the Internet, or is it a quick lesson in developing a good, thick skin and a sense of humor? Let me know in the comments.
Articles Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester Magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.