Vine and the Historical Context of Short-Form Video

Curator's Note

Viral video is often predicated on a joke, gag or prank which acts as a catalyst for its rapid diffusion. The more vulgar or outrageous the prank, the quicker and wider it spreads across various social media platforms. One of the most infamous examples of the damage and impact of the viral prank video is the case in 2009 of Domino’s Pizza employees who posted a Youtube video of themselves desecrating their customers’ food by treating it in an unseemly, unsanitary and it turns out, illegal manner. The Domino’s Pizza public relations team immediately spun into hyperdrive to counteract the negative impact of the viral video and a classic social media crisis case study for PR professionals was born.

Debuting in 2012, Vine quickly outstripped its viral video competition when Twitter acquired the wildly popular video sharing app. Barely a year old, Vine has become one of the most widely used video sharing apps in the world today. Initially limited to six seconds of recorded video, the app has spawned a new generation of stop motion animations, citizen journalist footage, micro-porn and yes, prank videos. In fact, Vine is the latest in a long history of popular, short form visual media, which dates all the way back to the very invention of film.

Vine is no different than Youtube and other video sharing platforms in that pranks often serve as a primary source for material: witness or This short form visual medium recalls the early days of film, when hundreds of spectators cued up for hours to place their eye in a presumably most unsanitary cup to watch 10-30 second films “loop” in Thomas Edison's and William Dickson’s kinetoscope -- giving new meaning to the term “viral video.”

The video posted with this discussion is the famous short film by the Lumière Brothers, L'Arroseur Arrosé, or The Sprinkler, Sprinkled, as it is known in English. Barely breaking 30 seconds, the film is believed to be the first comedy film ever made, yet displays many of the hallmarks of the prank videos of Vine today -- a simple, straightforward sight gag perpetrated by a trickster character, the inevitable moral vindication and even an undercurrent of homoeroticism at the end. One wonders, what would the Lumière Brothers think of Vine?



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