The Best YouTube Video is an occasional series where Motherboard searches for the best YouTube video ever made, usually on Friday afternoons right before the margarita alarm rings. Previously The Best YouTube Video: Bad Start.
Let's just get this out of the way: "2 Cool Llamas" is a horrific name for a band, even if it was an Argentinean kitsch cover group of 3rd Bass, and "llama" is a really weird-looking word when in title case. Okay, so can we talk about sunglasses now?
Even as both a fan of sunglasses and an avowed believer in their ability to make even the most absurd of objects look objectively "cool," I'm still unsure from exactly where their chill vibes emanate. A history of sunglasses by Sunglass Warehouse (and who would know better?) pegs the rise of cool shades at sometime in the 1950s, which normally "brings to mind thoughts of the Cold War, conservatism, suburban neighborhoods, Betty Homemaker and consumerism."
But according to Sunglass Warehouse, it wasn't just America's love of shopping and fear of nuclear winter that brought sunglasses to the fore. Instead, sunglasses became cool because of who wore them. "A rebel without a cause, James Dean was known to wear browline sunglasses," the history reads. "And activist Malcolm X was rarely seen without browline glasses."
Now you, like me, may have just raised an eyebrow at combining a movie star and a radical political icon to promote the sunglasses agenda, so let's dive back a bit deeper.
A #TrendAlert article in a 1938 issue of Life magazine (thanks Wikipedia) opens by explaining that "for years Hollywood stars have worn dark glasses to protect their eyes from the harmful glare of klieg lights, and to conceal their identity from curious fans. Now dark glasses have become a favorite affectation of thousands of women all over the US."
(Next time you see a celebrity sitting courtside at a Lakers game and wearing sunglasses to hide the black bags of despair under their eyes, ask them about klieg lights, they'll think you're part of the biz.)
The future of cool, according to 1938. Image: Life magazine
The article also states that, in 1937, more than 20 million pairs of shades were sold in the US, of which 95 percent used pressed glass—and apparently pressed glass "frequently has flaws in it that are bad for the eyes." Life also notes than only 25 percent of people need sunglasses, a not-at-all made-up statistic that seems pretty snarky considering the country was barely clawing itself out of the Great Depression, was gearing up for World War II, and average citizens finally could afford to spend money on things that weren't the month's rations of desiccated potatoes.
Anyway, it appears Sunglass Warehouse's hypothesis is valid: People dig sunglasses because famous people wear them, and famous people wear them because they're tired of normal people looking at them, and that's not particularly explanatory at all. Basically, the genesis of sunglasses and coolness was most probably drawn up by M.C. Escher, where things make sense any way you look at it but nothing makes sense at all, which is surely why the Wikipedia article on the topic needs "additional citations for verification."
My own thoughts on the topic are fairly simple, but I'm more than willing to expound upon them at length. As a kid, when I wanted those ovoid Oakley sunglasses—copies of which have since flooded every truck stop in America, where they will remain until the end of time—I was convinced that sunglasses were cool because they made you look like an alien. (I was not what you'd call a cool kid.) Combine that with the X-Files, which my dear old dad used to watch a lot while I peeked from behind the couch, and I had a pretty good theory going about sunglasses being cool because they spark an innate response deep within our ancient alien DNA.
That's most likely not correct. Recently, I've instead focused my chill shades theorizing on the allure of mystery. Just as showing up on a first date without pants is less sexy than the mystique of a well-worn pair of corduroy cargo shorts, hiding your peepers behind sunglasses makes people wonder what the hell you're staring at—and that's cool.
I'll hold myself up for example. If you've not seen me outside of the internet, I generally look like soggy particle board all the time, mostly because I'm really bad at sleeping. But throw on a pair of shades, and I look nearly average!
It's not just me, either; the coolness and power that a pair of shades projects is unrivaled by all accessories short of a yacht, a simple fact utilized to great effect by heads of state the world over. Whether or not we've got alien genes, sunglasses as a representation of wealth and power is part of our cultural DNA.
In that sense, sunglasses are an aspirational good. We see the rich and famous cruising around the world in private planes, wearing fancy clothes and eating food we can't pronounce, none of which we can actually afford. But we can buy sunglasses, and unlike an eBay Rolex, even cheap shades can look chill. Sunglasses are the fashion accessory of the people, and one percenters aside, that's cool in its own right.
But how does that apply to animals? If there's anything I've learned on this here internet, it's that people lose their damn minds when it comes to critters wearing sunglasses. Google returns more than 91 million pages for "dog sunglasses" alone. I mean, look at this:
Why are all those dogs so cool? (And they are.) I suppose it comes down to our general anthropomorphism of everything we care about, combined with a liberal dose of "Look, he thinks he's people!" Oddly enough, our own amusement of animals acting like humans by wearing sunglasses is reflective of our own attempts to look like richer, fancier people by wearing shades.
Such interspecies coolness-forwarding works for all animals, including insects. Or take the llamas above. The video is just 24 seconds long, and yet that's all it takes for you to fully understand that those are some seriously bitchin' camelids.
(A note regarding the length, from Motherboard's Dan Stuckey: "Everyone overdoes YouTube now, that's all you need for each documentary, just 25 seconds and saxophone," he said earlier today. "25 seconds and saxophone is all I have time for these days.")
So yeah, the llamas have "exquisite ponchos," in the words of Ben Makuch, and their hat game is through the roof. The aesthetics of the video itself are all pretty fantastic, what with the nearly-"Yakity Sax" soundtrack and the "a ClaMs Production" text overlay at the end that hearkens back to the gloriously-DIY early days of YouTube and viral video in general. (You probably already guessed this piece was from 2007.)
All of those facts make this a great YouTube video, one that deserves far more than its 44,000 views. But what makes it the best YouTube video is simply how goddamn COOL those llamas are.