"that gargoyle or whatever it was": YouTube Comments Meet Television Content

Curator's Note


In TLC's Four Weddings, four brides agree to attend the three other contestant's weddings and judge the wedding for a chance to win a honeymoon prize. Online viewers of the clips of the full episodes shown on TLC negotiate their relationship with marriage in the context of the competitive aspects of the television show. This clip, where the three brides respond to Gollum's appearance at one bride's wedding, elicits a variety of responses from YouTube users.

Comments on Four Weddings clips judge the quality of the dresses in each episode, discuss the behavior of the brides when they are guests at other weddings and other material aspects of the marriage celebrations. Responses to this specific clip vary. Uncoolnerd comments, “Would any guy here want to marry those bitchy bridesmades? Not fuck, but marry.” Critical comments are often critical of one or more of the women portrayed in the clip. Other comments, such as bibi5767's “Wedding is for brides and not for a groom's fantasy,” demonstrate a familiarity with the events of the episode not included in the clip. Comments like these examples fit into an overall framework controlled by the YouTube's standardized formant. The comments reflect viewer's concerns with the portions of the television episodes shown in this structured environment for expression.

Obviously YouTube has become a driving force in user's interpretations of popular culture, but how do we understand the practice of commenting beyond the textual remnants of what is sometimes thought of momentary actions of expression? What kind of mechanisms are being activated when users comment on these videos and what are the implications in this specific context, where the media being commented on was originally created for television? The depth of the technologies and cultural practices structuring the media that intersect in this context are broad. We must consider them in order to get a better understanding of how users are engaging the practice of marriage through this forum.



A few years back I looked at the uploads of Germany's Next Top Model on YouTube (they had subtitling, were edited to eliminate only specific ads, and commented on by viewers from at least 17 countries at the time) and asked myself similar questions. Who uploaded the clip, who left it on YouTube, especially when edited? Those concerns and investigations concerning the commenters's individual backgrounds, the level at which we can place such "reactions" and "comments" are all just the beginning of what can, is, and should further be interrogated. I think your piece is interesting because through the idea that most comments refer to a femal participant of the episodes in question you create a clearer pathway to ask questions and analyze what is there. In this case, I think beginning with a narrow line of questioning will allow for needed focus; the necessary questions follow and expand naturally. So much communication occurs, on a global level and among people of all locations and walks of life, in comment sections, and not just on youtube, and often for uploads of TV programming. Great contribution.

I agree that a narrow line of questioning does help us figure out some of the comments being made YouTube. It is also possible to notice interactions with users (such as one comment responding to the comment of another user). However, there are also comments that do not engage with any dialogue or ever with the posted material. How do we engage these types of comments? As a folklorist approaching communication online, I am also trying to think about what commenting means for the activity of storytelling and expression in general. Although I am not necessarily arguing we need a structural analysis of YouTube comments, like Propp did for folktales, I do think that looking at some of the structural elements would be helpful. I do think we need to frame this inquiry based on the structure of the platform and the methods YouTube provides for users to add comments to uploaded videos. I agree that starting with this framework might allow other questions to develop and expand from the original line of inquiry.

I have recently finished an article for a journal on the possible re-introduction of a more structuralist approach in narrative analysis in TV, and I have read Jason Mittell's blog on rhythm in TV series and your response too. And what I see is that more and more of us are stating that they are not calling for structuralism, while kind of doing just that.   Yet clearly there seems to be a longing in many academics, especially those concerned with narrative, to bring back a sense of poetics and a more clearly defined academic tool. I, personally, believe that I NEED to call for Propp and Todorov, which I do in my paper on Justified, and join their analysis with QTV and narrative complexity, BECAUSE, as simple as it may sound, the root of story-telling, has not drastically changed, as much as it has evolved for our more complex times. Therefore marrying the structuralist approach that I find still holds true at the base with what our current techonologically advanced society demands of us as listeners, viewers, and spectators not only makes sense, but will reveal, again, how changed is actually processed in the most human way.

Narrative complexity and Propp, Quality TV and Todorov make good partners here, and I believe that equal partners exist for your YouTube analysis. I hope less and less of us will shy away from using as an additional tool what has been dismissed (maybe) to quickly in how we look at an analyze the narrative constructs which surround us. 

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