YouTube is probably the greatest anthropological project ever launched. It has managed to expose the multitudes of the human condition more than any other medium ever created, and allowed people to express themselves in more diverse ways than at any point in history. This weekly column is an outlet for me to share with you some undiscovered gems, as well some very well-trodden gems, and discuss just what it is that makes the chosen accounts so intriguing.
WHO: Jay Cooper
WHAT: Archive of old adverts and TV moments.
HOW MANY SUBSCRIBERS AT TIME OF WRITING: 822
WHY SHOULD I CARE: A couple of weeks ago we talked about SilverDrizzle and Qadoshezkaton, two channels that have taken it upon themselves to document and share two very different types of music (grime and what I can only really describe as "agony metal"). This week's edition looks at another kind of archival channel, the difference being it's based around things that are found and, more to the point, visual.
Jay Cooper is an American man who uploads ripped VHS tape to his channel, which is also called Jay Cooper. The clips are mostly newscasts, advertisements and, strangely, footage of the funerals of British monarchy. But we'll get back to those later.
Let's start with the newscasts. Jay Cooper has uploaded – among others, of course – a news report from 1989 on WHO, a local news station in Des Moines, Iowa. The report features a non-fatal double stabbing, a potential accidental arson from a two-year-old who burnt their sibling and the rush for Thanksgiving groceries. They also talk about President Bush (senior) urging Gorbachev to "work with him" at a summit in Malta; the death of the Lebanese President in a bomb attack; and a cover story about career women.
The larger, international stories are par for the course, but there's something eerie about the dark local news. A woman found in her front garden, throat slashed, stabbed multiple times. A clearly shaken police chief giving an interview, his strange, low-definition head looming sadly in the pitch black darkness. There is an odd, broken hum about it, the grimness captured the way it will always remain for the people involved.
Jay Cooper sadly hasn't got any really old-school ads on his channel, but he does have these promo compilations from HBO. These days, HBO is seen as the most progressive, modern TV network going, having been home to some incredibly groundbreaking shows, like Oz and The Sopranos. But even a station as sleek and "cool" as HBO clearly isn't exempt from the chintzy-ness of the early-90s, in the form of a growling, whisky-soaked purr of a sleazebag advertising the 1992 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
By far the strangest and most compelling thing on Jay Cooper's channel, though, are the multiple-hour-long videos of funerals and depositions. If you were so inclined, you could go to his channel and watch all five and a half hours of CNN's coverage of the funeral of Princess Diana. The horse-drawn procession of her coffin, ambling by as thousands of people look on, on a sunny September day. Her children having to walk behind the casket holding their dead mother in front of millions of people. The clop of the horses only interrupted by the solemn commentary of the news anchor. A speech and a poem reading by Tony Blair. And, of course, the performance of "Candle in the Wind", the only time it has ever been performed, by Elton John, to a throng of weeping onlookers. A furiously bizarre time captured in its entirety, viewed over 300,000 times by people who comment bemoaning her passing, calling her a beautiful angel.
On the other side of the coin is the full four-hour deposition of former President of the United States Bill Clinton. A man in the most powerful seat of governance in the world, sat in a room, being questioned about his alleged inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The camera focused completely on his face for almost the entirety of the video, every concerned expression he musters, every time he plays with his glasses, the blank stare of trying not to appear guilty. The president on view for all to see, being asked questions about vaginal intercourse.
These were two examples of figureheads in our society being seen in ways we never expected to see them. It is important we have these to watch. It's good to learn from them. In the future, should we make a dead princess's children walk down the middle of a road behind her, flanked by soldiers while people with Boyzone haircuts take photos? I'm not so sure.
As pleasant as it is to remember what TV was like back in the day, we should remember that the darker side of it – the hysteria of tragedy – is probably best kept under wraps.
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