Ten years ago today, Amanda Lynn Ferri posted this video on Vimeo, launching the budding “lip dub” meme into the mainstream, and inadvertently creating the best recruiting video in startup history.
I vividly remember watching this video from my cubicle at Yahoo, desperately wanting to drop everything and go work with this bunch of young, goofy kids making shit in New York. Judging from the comments, I wasn’t the only one.
Five months earlier, Jakob Lodwick coined the term “lip dub” in a video he posted on Vimeo, the company he co-founded in 2004.
“I walked around with a song playing in my headphones, and recorded myself singing. When I got home I opened it in iMovie and added an MP3 of the actual song, and synchronized it with my video. Is there a name for this? If not, I suggest ‘lip dubbing’.”
Jake posted dozens of lip dubs in the following few months, and the meme spread to other Vimeo employees, and then to everyone at parent company Connected Ventures (and their subsidiaries College Humor and Busted Tees), and then to friends and fans of everyone working there.
At first, the lip dub was a solo activity.
People have lip-synched to music for decades, but the lip dub was something different: it was a performance in public, where only you heard the music. Start a song on your iPod, record yourself lip synching the song, preferably in a public place, and then post a video dubbed the original MP3. It blurred the lines between public and private.
The Flagpole Sitta lip dub subverted the conventions of the meme.
When the video starts, Amanda Lynn Ferri mimes pushing “play” on her iPod, earbuds in place, and it seems she’s the only one in the office that hears the song.
Until the chorus, when Chris Collins and future Muxtape creator Justin Ouellette turn around in their office chairs and sing the background vocals, and it keeps escalating, until the entire office is dancing in a frenzy and collapses into a pile, and you realized you were watching something totally new.
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Flagpole Sitta lip dub, Jon Feldman posted a “making of” video, showing behind-the-scenes footage of Jakob Lodwick directing everyone in the office.
Watching the original lip dub video again ten years later, it’s striking just how similar everyone looks. The team looks almost uniformly white and in their mid-20s. I’d like to think that diversity efforts have reshaped tech startups a decade later, especially in New York City, but I’m not too sure. This is the default of a group of young college students hiring all their friends.
One other interesting footnote: After the explosion of the lip dub meme, a consortium of record labels tried to sue Vimeo for copyright infringement, complicated by the Flagpole Sitta video and others like it created by Vimeo employees on company time. Vimeo ended up prevailing under the safe harbor provision of the DMCA.
After that, the lip dub wasn’t something made alone—it was done in groups, the bigger the better.
Startups competed to make the biggest and strangest office lip dubs, and soon high schools and universities followed with hundreds or thousands of students following cameras in endless tracking shots spanning whole campuses in the university lib dub. Eventually, city tourism boards allocated marketing budgets—the current world record is 9,300 in a video for Lindsay, Ontario.
New lip dubs are uploaded to YouTube every day, a truly global meme. They seem particularly popular for Indian wedding videos, at the moment.
If there’s one thing all lip dubs seem to share, it’s a sense of infectious enthusiasm—the intersection of collaboration, an exhibitionist love of music, and the feeling like you’re participating in something bigger than yourself.
For years, Nick Bertke aka Pogo was one of my favorite remix artists, deftly cutting and splicing classic children’s films like Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, and Willy Wonka into ambient aural landscapes.
Collectively, the Perth-based producer’s videos have over 160 million views on YouTube and over 600,000 subscribers.
His viral success led to a thriving career: Pixar hired him to make authorized remixes for Up and Toy Story, he made Catchatronic for the Pokemon Company, and was commissioned to make remixes for Dexter and SpongeBob Squarepants, among others.
More than anything, a sense of joy, sweetness, and innocence pervaded his work.
So, like many other fans, I was shocked to see his series of blog posts two years ago about the evils of feminism, how it “raises a breed of self victimizing gold diggers,” a “camouflaged push for gender supremacy,” and “self-entitling social status posing as a humanitarian ideology.”
A second post, “Why We Should Envy Women,” argued that women get preferential treatment in society without accountability. “You have a lot more privileges than men, and you have a pass through life that us gents can only dream of.”
An accompanying video, “Why I Don’t Take Feminism Seriously,” is a four-minute elaboration on his post, opening with this salvo:
“I’ve always found that the more I treat a woman like a child, the stronger the relationship, the better the sex, and the more often it happens. Discipline, reprimand, and complete indifference. I think the feminine woman craves the attributes of a firm father in the man she enters a relationship with. The more I realize that women want to be manned around, the more I see modern feminism in a different light – it could well be little more than the collective feminine cry for drama and childlike retaliation.”
“Women crave drama. It comes with being an emotionally-driven creature. They need to stretch their emotions, to release and resolve. I look at feminism with all of its illogical arguments, self-defeating philosophies, and double-standards, and I’m hard-pressed to view it as anything more than a tantrum.”
It goes on like that for three more minutes.
Unsurprisingly, this led to a swift backlash from disappointed fans on social media, covered in depth by writer David Futrelle.
Bertke quickly deleted the blog post and video, and claimed it was all a social experiment gone wrong. “I mashed together the most radical views I could find about women and feminism on the internet, doing my best to present it as my humble opinion and honest observations.”
His post, now deleted, was far from convincing.
“I recently conducted somewhat of an experiment for myself that went with a much bigger bang than I expected. I’m awe struck by the enormous breed of hyenas out there taking gender equality and feminism hostage, and bending it into a social status to validate their feeling that the world owes them everything because of their gender.”
He deleted his Twitter “for good,” and promised to disable comments and ratings on his videos.
Four months later, he was back on Twitter, but I stopped following his work. After that series of tirades, like many others, I was no longer comfortable supporting or evangelizing him or his work.
But people grow and change, and when the subject of Pogo came up yesterday in the XOXO Slack, I was curious to see if his positions evolved at all in the last two years.
Well, no. The only thing that apparently changed is that he’s grown more careful about expressing his views on his own social media channels, though strictly for financial reasons.
In February, Nick Bertke appeared on Tommy Sotomayor’s call-in show.
If you’re not familiar with his work, Tommy Sotomayor is a controversial Atlanta radio host, Trump supporter, men’s rights activist, and prolific YouTuber, with his accounts repeatedly banned from YouTube, GoFundMe, Instagram, Twitter, and Patreon for hate speech. Black women are a frequent target of his videos, as are transgender women, gay men, and feminists. (Take a quick look through his most popular videos to get an idea.)
This hour and forty minutes of Nick Bertke and Tommy Sotomayor covers a lot of ground, focused on the evils of feminism, women’s rights, Islam, transgender rights, and Black Lives Matter. They talk about the greatness of Trump and Milo, and argue that hate speech, hate crimes, and the wage gap don’t exist.
Choice quotes from Bertke:
“I don’t think feminists ever do what they preach. I think it’s always an ulterior motive. I think it’s a divisive cult that doesn’t achieve much more than a flock of self-entitled narcissists at the end of the day. I’ve never liked them. I’ve always thought that driving a wedge between the genders seems like a funny way to achieve equality.”
“I think the left is bringing about the destruction of Western civilization, personally.”
“I don’t want to make massive generalization or anything, but I think female accountability is a myth. I think under the banner of feminism, females will never be held accountable for anything. You should not critique a woman unless you are prepared for the consequences.”
So, whatever. I’m diametrically opposed to his red pill MRA nonsense, and it’s disappointing to hear from someone whose work I love. He’s free to talk about his views, and fans who disagree are free to no longer support his work once they’re aware of them.
The nature of independent art online means that we know more about the people who make the work we enjoy than ever. We’re following and interacting with them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, reading their blog posts, YouTube, and SoundCloud comments, following appearances on podcasts and streaming videos.
Publishers, publicists, and agents could create a wall around an artist and their personal lives, so they could focus on their art instead of managing their fans. Personal interaction was limited to autograph signings or fan club letters.
The internet opened up the floodgates for a massive new class of independent artist to make a living, with some tradeoffs. Many new artists could sustain themselves directly from fans without traditional gatekeepers like a record label or movie studio, but it required engaging with them, building relationships over time.
Being more approachable and more available also makes independent artists more vulnerable—to harassment and abuse, to complaints from entitled fans, or simply the weight of expectations from those who love their work the most.
Or, in the case of Nick Bertke, the consequences of expressing your unpopular opinions to a large group of people who don’t share them.
To his credit, Bertke seems very aware of how his views are received and its implications on his career as Pogo.
In a followup appearance with Tommy Sotomayor in February, Bertke talked about the backlash to his initial posts in 2015.
“I’ve got no patience for political correctness, no patience at all. I’ve mouthed off on Twitter before, I’ve mouthed off on Facebook before, way back when. And then I kind of realized, this was paying my bills, I’m getting a lot of work here. I guess I have to clean up my shit and I have to be careful of what I say. Because, who knows, I might say that the Ghostbusters movie sucked, with the all-female Ghostbusters movie, and then the next thing I know, I’m moving back in with my parents.”
He went on with a story about how it impacted his client work:
“I’m at a point where I don’t speak out about my political views anymore… I’ve used Twitter for voicing my political views in the past, and most of the time, it hasn’t worked out. Most of the time, the reaction has been very, very negative.
I was lining up a job with a university here, a massive job. I would’ve done five or six videos for them. When they found out I was anti-feminism—anti-modern third/fourth-wave feminism—they gave me a call and said the deal’s off. We can’t have you.”
Those two appearances on Sotomayor’s show led to an invite to appear on Louder with Crowder three weeks later, a talk show hosted by Steven Crowder, a conservative standup comedian and former Fox News commentator.
Again, Bertke talks about why he tries to keep his personal opinions out of his work and the financial implications, commenting on the Trump remix he released before the election.
“I tried to keep the Trumpular piece as neutral as I could, because I didn’t know if he was going to win or not, and I really didn’t want to lose any followers. Pogo does pay my bills. I want to be careful.
“I have to kind of walk a tightrope. One of the things I have found recently is that there’s a line between your art and your self, as a person. If you go on to my SoundCloud and like my stuff, retweet or post or comment on it, it’s got nothing to do with me really.”
“I’m actually very different from my music. If you listen to Alice and Wishery, you think of someone who’s light and fluffy and bubbly and optimistic. I’m actually kind of the opposite, in a lot of ways. At least, I have been since my balls dropped.”
If you’re a right-wing conservative who believes political correctness is killing social discourse, then this may seem like a tragedy to you. The words you say and the beliefs you have can have an impact on your career. But that’s not censorship, political correctness, and it’s not a violation of the right to free speech.
It’s just the inevitable reaction to an audience hearing someone whose work they admire say things they find personally repulsive.
“I love Brent Spiner, he played Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I put up my Data and Picard video a few months ago, where I played him and got all the makeup he used in the series and did my best to look and act like him. And then, that week, he’s putting up tweets about how stupid Trump is and how wrong he is. And then, I was like, well, I kind of liked you for a while there, Brent. *sighs*
I still love Brent Spiner as an actor. And it’s interesting, because a lot of the time, I get tweets like, ‘Wow, never meet your heroes. Nick’s a total misogynist, Nick’s a total racist and fascist. He says this about Trump and Hillary Clinton. Never meet your heroes, guys.’
And, look, I guess that hurts, to some extent. But I can understand it, as well.”
I probably feel similarly about Pogo as he now does about Brent Spiner.
For me, the luster is gone. It’s hard to truly enjoy art made by someone you can’t respect.