Why is the internet so undramatic?

Is it impossible to create a really good story that hinges on something that happens online? Or is the internet so diverse and such an individual experience that it is fundamentally undramatic?

This chap here seems to have found himself an interesting niche in the world of media and entertainment. He appears to be a multimedia story teller who specialises in delivering semi-apocalyptic stories about the internet, presumably for a peer group of internet-fascinati.

He’s got an interesting approach, and his technique is obviously pretty well practiced. As you see at the beginning, he has to time his patter exactly right, as he is narrating over a video. So well done. Lovely hair too.

The story in a nutshell in case you can’t be bothered to click the link (SPOILER ALERT) goes roughly…girl uploads video of herself singing bad song badly, ex-boyfriend posts her address to get revenge, DJ remixes video to terrible Euro-Beat rhythm, becomes ironicall popular, lots of people turn up at here house, then somehow there’s a riot and lots of people die.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aIyzVAOi7A

Given that he could have constructed absolutely any scenario in which something unexpected and violent happens as a result of the changing nature of the internet, don’t you think he could have come up with a story that was a little bit more interesting?

But in fairness to the storyteller, his choice of narrative seems to reflect roughly where we are in terms of our collective imagination about the narrative potential of the world of social video.

Apparently 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute apparently – but once you get past a few undeniable highlights like the one where a panda sneezes, it does seem like the main thing people upload is, indeed, footage of themselves singing bad songs badly, in the hope of being the new Susan Boyle. In reality, it seems pretty unlikely that any of this material is likely to spawn a fascinating chain of events.

There have been a few attempts to make interaction with the internet a dramatic device (just focusing on movies for a second, there was definitely a bit in Mission Impossible where they googled something, and teen music comedy The Rocker which centres on the overnight fame generated by a drummer practising in the nude) – but overall the internet seems to fail as a dramatic device.

It certainly suffers by comparison to some other seismic media revolutions of the past – say, for example, the advent of the humble letter. Letters going astray is one of Shakespeare’s favourite devices (alongside the prevalence of twins), and you could say that the enture existence of the modern novel is based on the dramatic possibilities of letter-writing, with some of the earliest novels like Clarissa and Les Liasons Dangereuses being entirely epistolary (try saying that after a hard day’s work and a couple of ciders.)

Is the internet just fundamentally undramatic? Is it too democratic, too open, and too personal to really work as a narrative device? Or have we just not thought of any good ideas yet?

I suspect the former – that usage of the internet is just fundamentally undramatic. It suffers, for example, by comparison with the phone. I have already lost count of the number of Eastenders storylines that have hinged on someone leaving their phone in their car and thus failing to receive some important information and as a result end up in an East End back alley having their legs broken due to some ill-deserved aggro. Following in the epistolary tradition, the real life soap opera that is the lives of footballers often seems to hinge on the newly invented medium of the ‘sex text’. And it’s even not too unsuccessful to see James Bond using his trusty Sony Ericsson to avoid danger (though here is a brilliant spoof on how silly it all is really).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQC8BeSjmyQ

So maybe I have answered my own question. Maybe, like many developing countries of the world, storytellers are simple going to have to skip the internet, and go straight to mobile.

And so we’re probably never going to have an action movie in which the hero has to disable a nuclear device on countdown but is held back from accessing the appropriate VideoJug clip by slow buffering from an unreliable wireless broadband connection.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Why is the internet so undramatic?

  1. The Rocker was indeed the first film that jumped to mind when I started reading your post – I particularly enjoyed the device of him living in an overheated Chinese takeaway as a device to get him nuddy.

    I think the internet, considered as a solitary pursuit probably is quite undramatic, but when you start to look into its unifying, morphing, creative capabilities you come up with some really rich territory.

    In film it’s been going on a while WarGames takes the interconnectivity of the early internet as the medium that nearly sparks ‘thermo-globo-nuclear war. Avatar is (amongst other things) about virtual worlds.

    I’ve just finished reading Makers (Cory Doctorow), which uses all kinds of wiki inspired mash ups to create a thorough screwed, yet believable near future – well worth a read. And I was on a course a while go with Donovan (of 60’s infamy) who was penning a short story on loss of identity in the digital age.

    Maybe its the sheer diversity of uses that the internet presents that makes it tricky to find narrative examples immediately.

    The other thing it got me thinking about was Japanese horror, it’s odd narative structure and use of objects (normally communication apertures) to drag characters from the ‘normal’ to the ‘fantasy’ world… I’ve seen cameras, video’s, books and tape recordings used (and worked for a while on a short story about a baby monitor before it scared the willies out of me and I had to stop), but weirdly I’ve never seen the internet used.

  2. You’re surely forgetting the unstoppable thrill ride of ‘You’ve Got Mail’

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