DANIELS: Going viral is brave

You may have seen a video circulating on Facebook in the past few days featuring Yalies showing some embarrassing dance moves. If you look really closely, I’m in there too — check out the girl in the green fleece flailing awkwardly at the 45-second mark. Though we take pride in our moves, this video wasn’t just another medium for a dance party: It was actually a class assignment.

When the professor of my “Law, Technology and Culture” class posed the question of whether our class would prefer to write periodic blog posts throughout the semester or make a class video, the answer was clear to all of us: working on a project with 80 students easily trumped the solitary task of individual blog posts.

The assignment was this: Make a viral YouTube video as a class. We decided to film a remake of Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” with scenes featuring students doing numerous brave things, getting out of their comfort zones and being bold.

After a few brilliant editors in our class pieced together all of the scenes, our video was done and we began publicizing it — handing out fliers, posting statuses on Facebook, Tweeting and using social media mediums I didn’t even know existed. I sent the video to everybody I knew, and most strategically the one person who will brag about my accomplishments — no matter how small — to all of her friends: my grandmother.

Thus began our attempt to make our video viral. It took off with unexpected speed. Less than 24 hours after we posted it, it was shown on Good Morning America. Four days, later, it has 54,000 views and counting. Our class rejoiced in the fame (and the hope for As on the assignment!).

Amidst all of the excitement, I couldn’t help but question why our video was so successful. I am proud of the video, but I have to believe that part of the reason for the video’s circulation and popularity is due to our affiliation with Yale and not solely its content.

As expected, the video received both positive and negative feedback. But many of these comments criticize — or compliment — Yale as a whole rather than just the students depicted in the video.

I remember when I was a sophomore in high school and the “Why I Chose Yale” video was released. I was intrigued by the video because so much excitement and curiosity buzzed around the Yale reputation. I watched the video and the spoofs of the video, and I watched it again when I was accepted to Yale. I was excited about the opportunity to look through a peephole at what life at one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious universities was like. The flak that the video received wasn’t directed at the students in the video. It was directed at Yale as an institution.

In the “Law, Technology and Culture” class we have discussed Internet fame and our society’s preoccupation with celebrities and their personal lives. We as students may not be celebrities, but our school at times does occupy that status because of Yale’s academic reputation and illustrious history. The school’s reputation was deeply embedded in our video, since we inserted the name in our title (“Yale is Brave”) and filmed it all around the Yale campus. When people saw the video, they responded to its affiliation to the University, in turn giving us the viral result that we had aimed for.

So is this recognition that’s been awarded to us by our association with Yale a positive or negative? The popularity of “Yale is Brave” has shown to us firsthand both pros and cons. The pros are obvious: We succeeded in our goal of having the video go viral and we’ve gotten recognition for our hard work. The cons are the negative comments on the video that, though expected, were still upsetting to view.

On Reddit’s page, the video was posted with the title “Yale students apparently suck at dancing” — and that’s one of the nicer responses my class received. Every YouTube video is subject to negative feedback; just by putting yourself online you are opening yourself to receiving unwarranted criticisms. The “viral” element only amplifies that negative feedback. And I’m sure that the video’s connection to Yale made people all the more eager to criticize. Like all opportunities awarded to us by Yale, we must figure out how to use our publicity and affiliation strategically. Sometimes that might mean promoting awareness for a cause you’re passionate about. At other times, we can use the Yale name to raise money for important charities. But at times, we can just use it to get an A on a class project.

Ally Daniels is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at alexandra. daniels@yale.edu.

Comments