Friday, April 04, 2014
BOB GARFIELD: YouTube is infamous for hosting one of the worst comment sections on the internet, and there’s no reason ever to read a YouTube comment, unless you’re writer and filmmaker Mark Slutsky. Mark spends hours scouring the comment section on YouTube and sometimes, scattered in the dross, he finds small poignant stories. OTM producer PJ Vogt, who co-hosts our weird internet spinoff podcast, TLDR, tracked Mark down to learn about his quest to find beauty in one of the internet's ugliest places.
PJ VOGT: Mark’s a writer and a filmmaker in Montreal. A while ago, he was procrastinating and he found himself just clicking through pages and pages of the YouTube comments on pop songs. The reason he kept coming back was because occasionally, scattered in the dross, he’d fine these tiny poignant stories that really surprised him.
MARK SLUTSKY: They just seemed so ephemeral, you know. It seemed like they, they could disappear at any moment. They could sort of be buried under a hundred or a thousand stupid new comments, or the video could be deleted. And I – and I thought, that somebody had to sort of save them.
PJ VOGT: So that’s what Mark does. He’s created this blog called Sad YouTube where he collects the stories that he finds. In some cases, he’s actually tracked down the people who posted the comments and then interviewed them about their lives. The result is really surprising. It's a document that proves that there's truth and humanity in YouTube comments, the internet's [LAUGHS] bleakest corner, the place that all of us have learned to just walk past.
MARK SLUTSKY: People go, they’re fooling around. They’re like checking out old songs and, all of a sudden, an unexpected memory will just sort of ambush them. And, and the YouTube comment box is right there for them.
PJ VOGT: What were some that you liked?
MARK SLUTSKY: So, there’s this old disco song by a Frenchman called Voyage, and the song is called “Souvenirs” -
[“SOUVENIRS”/UP & UNDER]
- which means memories in French, which is, you know, just appropriate. And I found this comment on it. “I would like to send you a memory. I was 13, walked to the projects across the street Manhattan. This song was played from an apartment on the 8th floor so loudly and clearly. I grabbed a kid and danced the hustle with her for maybe an hour. It felt so great to be alive and feel free to dance in the streets, parks or a cafeteria during lunch. The boom boxes played this on the subway platform, we broke out dancing the hustle waiting for train. The hustle was sexy and graceful. Never got tired."
PJ VOGT: There’s a Portuguese word, “saudade” which doesn’t really translate to English. But it means nostalgia and melancholy, just longing for this place that you've lost. Mark is a bloodhound for that feeling. Listen to this comment he found, which was posted on the song, “Telephone Lines” by ELO:
How are you?
Have you been all right, through all those lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely…
[SONG UP & UNDER]
MARK SLUTSKY: “I remember the first time I heard this song. It was late night, early July, ‘77. I was in the Navy and home on leave after graduating ‘A’ school with orders to a destroyer in the Western Pacific. The next morning I was to fly from my home in Boston to CA, and then from Travis AFB to the Philippines. Half way around the world to where I didn’t know a single soul. I thought of girls I knew in high school and wondered what they were doing. This song really resonated with me that night."
MARK SLUTSKY: You know what’s interesting? That’s the second mention of Travis Air Force Base in a Sad YouTube Comment.
PJ VOGT: Really?
MARK SLUTSKY: Yeah.
PJ VOGT: What was the first one?
MARK SLUTSKY: The other one is one of my favorites of all time. It’s on the video for “Downtown” by Petula Clark.
PJ VOGT: Wait. Is that like the “Downtown” that I’m thinking of?
MARK SLUTSKY: Yeah. “When you’re alone and life is….
[PETULA CLARK SINGING]:
…and life is making you lonely, you can always go
PJ VOGT: That “Downtown.”
MARK SLUTSKY: Yeah. I’ll read the comment to you, if you want.
PJ VOGT: Yeah, please.
[“DOWNTOWN” PLAYING, UP & UNDER]
MARK SLUTSKY: “High school. After lunch, some of the girls would dance on the gym floor, before classes. Beth, JoEllen, Nina, to name a few. This song had come out, and they just danced to it. I remember sitting and waiting for my favorite girl to come out. When she did, my heartbeat sped up till I thought I would pass out.
[PETULA CLARK SINGING]
She knew I was there. I heard it at Travis AFB, before going to Nam. I just cried, while waiting to board the plane."
[PETULA CLARK SINGING]:
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown…
MARK SLUTSKY: What I love about that one is it’s a sort of double memory. He remembers these girls dancing on the gym floor, and then it’s sort of this, this almost like cinematic cut where all of a sudden he’s at Travis AFB waiting to get on a plane to Vietnam, remembering that earlier memory.
PJ VOGT: Mark’s spent hundreds of hours just staring at these YouTube threads. He says at some point he developed this sixth sense, where he can just skim down a page and the good comments will jump out to him.
But YouTube’s making it a lot harder. In November, they instituted this change which very strongly encourages commenters to use their real names. It’s good for everybody who wants a last vitriol on the site, but it’s bad for Mark because it means that some stories just aren’t gonna get shared.
MARK SLUTSKY: Because some of it is just too personal. There’s this really, really poignant comment on an old Herb Alpert song. Okay, so the song is called “This Guy’s In Love With You.”
[HERB ALPERT SINGING]:
You see this guy, this guy's in love with you…
MARK SLUTSKY: ”Last year of high school for me. 1967. My best friend and his girlfriend who we were both in love with though he never knew. Haven’t seen her in 35+ years. You always remember the ones who got away. Never told anybody. Their song."
[HERB ALPERT SINGING/UP & UNDER]:
When you smile, I can tell we know each other very well
MARK SLUTSKY: It’s really sort of like precious memory, and the commenter’s name is wanker4761.
PJ VOGT: [LAUGHS] That’s, I think, everything I love about the internet is in that.
MARK SLUTSKY: You know, I think 90 percent of the comments I found have been on bootleg uploads, you know, technically illegal uploads of old songs. And they’re all kind of doomed. [LAUGHS] Eventually, a lawyer or, you know, some sort of copyright practice will, will flag them and they’ll get taken down, and, and the comments just disappear with them.
PJ VOGT: I don’t know – I am so on the side of [LAUGHS] saving things and saving ephemera, I feel like in your piece there’s like a real sense of like loss and sadness that these things are, are going away faster than you can save them. But like I also understand that this is just mountains of crap, also.
MARK SLUTSKY: Well, you know, when, when an archeologist wants to learn about a civilization and wants to learn about how people lived day to day in that civilization, they go - through the garbage. And that’s what I feel like I’m doing.
BOB GARFIELD: Writer and filmmaker Mark Slutsky, with our very own PJ Vogt. For more TLDR podcasts, subscribe to our feed on iTunes and go to onthemedia.org for TLDR, the blog.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary, Laura Mayer, Meera Sharma and Kimmie Regler. We had more help from Cameron Lindsey, and our show was edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Greg Rippin.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.