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Culture

How Cynical, Clumsy 'Morality Viral' Videos Took Over the Internet

'Ten Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman' has spawned a ton of click-hungry copycats.
19 November 2014, 3:00pm

Girl very obviously wearing a fat suit in the 'Fat Girl Tinder Date' video

Just as the dreaded fear of waiting for a train and unwittingly appearing in a T-Mobile flashmob advert has started to subside, there's a new incriminating viral video trend in town. Only this one's bit less jazz hands and more "Why does it feel like someone replaced my heart with a human turd while I was asleep?" When it comes to pointing out the terminal ills of society, YouTubers are currently busy proving they aren't afraid to get serious – especially if there's a healthy wedge of ad cash in it for them once their clumsy morality virals have been unfurled.

Tackling misogyny is a deservedly hot topic right now. Following the glaring media attention and 36 million-plus views clocked up by the recent 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman YouTube video, one thing is clear: the collective outrage of the internet has sent folk clamouring to recreate the same video all over again.

One such guy is Stephen Zhang, creator of the video "Drunk Girl In Public", in which three men attempt to take home a girl who is pretending to be wasted in what appears to be a hidden camera experiment. Zhang was supposedly inspired by the "10 Hours" video, and it's easy to see why: if there's one thing people hate more than sidewalk sexists, it's the threat of rape. Most of the internet, understandably, does not like rapists.

Of course, the video was quickly exposed as complete bullshit. As it turned out this week, the poor buggers featuring in the video had been conned into roles as enthusiastic would-be rapists by Zhang and his co-pilot Seth Leach. They were pretty fucking furious. Yet, despite the fact that the whole thing played out like a weird GCSE drama improvisation, it was watched over 7 million times. Basking in his internet success, Leach slung his stooges a cheeky message on Facebook telling them to "just go with it dude", adding, "we will take care of you". By "it", he seemingly means the whole "being recognised forever as a wannabe rapist" thing.

Taking another tack in a bid to turn over new patriarchal stones and scatter men like the sexist little woodlice that they are is a video sensitively named: "Fat Girl Tinder Date". In a sort of Shallow Hal meets Beadle's About mashup, a fit, saccharine girl and her cheesy directors make a Tinder profile, sets up a bunch of dates and then – TWIST ALERT! – she turns up in a fat suit.

The girl in the fat suit then goads these men into looking at her chubby face by asking them for compliments and posing leading questions like, "Appearances don't matter though, do they?" Most of the guys make their excuses and piss off either a) because they don't want to ask this weird woman why she's clearly wearing a fat suit or b) because they're (arguably, quite reasonably) annoyed she's grossly misled them about her appearance.

At the end, the beautifully thin woman reveals she's not actually a hideous, fat mess and (ohjesusthankgod) informs the only guy who's stayed that she's an undercover babe in a genuinely breathtaking display of smuggery. Omg Guyz r such shallow dicks, aren't they?

Take another example of how these "social experiment" videos have shit up the internet recently – last week's Swedish domestic violence video, which racked up 3.7 million views. The gang of merry men responsible for this video are pranksters called STLHM Panda, whose usual kooky schtick, they say, is "doing social experiments, joking with people and documenting the society we live in".

Last week STLHM Panda went in search of new clicks, moving away from their usual sunbathing close to people lols and Halloween costume japes. In the tape, set to evocatively troubling piano music, an actor screams at and slaps his girlfriend in a lift. The fact that only one woman out of 53 witnesses intervenes in the conflict is pretty bothersome.

Much of the public enthusiasm for these experiments seems to be hinged on a sort of life-affirming moral disgust, which internet psychologist Graham Jones says "is a means of an individual checking that they are 'OK' and that they would or would not behave the same way". Psychologists believe that we receive some kind of vicarious edification from our own aghast reactions to these videos, and our speculations about how we would have totally stepped in had we been there IRL rather than just registering our own disgust while eating pizza hungover in bed.

Pizza itself was the chosen prop for the producers of yet another dubious "experiment" carried out with the intention of exposing something shitty about humanity and then lapping up the hits. Raking in 23 million views for their " Asking Strangers for Food" video, the guys at OCKTV – two sincere looking blokes with studded belt buckles – go round rudely asking strangers eating pizza if they can have some. They then give a whole pizza to a homeless guy and, when they ask him for a slice, he gives them one back. "This video will change the way you think!" promises the blurb. Truly it is a scene of visceral humanity only improved by the heavily branded self-promotional T-shirts worn by the OCKTV at all times.

Clinical Psychologist Tom Baker admits this grim Punk'd sequel "is a bit troubling". He says that, in order to find our place in society, "We tend to seek out other people to compare ourselves with – these 'reference groups' help us decide how to feel and behave." Basking in the moral failure of others "is often moderated in real life, as we know it's wrong to be pleased about other people's difficulties, but perhaps viewing on YouTube releases us from such inhibitions".

This relatively new wave of "morality virals" are united as a standalone genre of film-making by their cynical foregone conclusions. If there's something undeniably compulsive about the moral disgust and ensuing superiority that the videos' makers trade upon, then it's the ease with which it is possible to manipulate the buttons of our soul that is arguably the most depressing element in all this. Even if you're happy to be availed to all the 100 percent authentic arseholes out there, you can't say there isn't something chilling about the thought of a pair of nerds pulling together a cast of fake rapists in pursuit of cold hard YouTube revenue.

I never thought I'd say this, but if flashmobs had to die to make way for this, then for God's sake bring them back. Even if it means personally learning "All You Need Is Love" on the trumpet, I am willing to take one for the team. Because if flash mobs exist to remind us, in their own nauseating, corporate-sponsored way, that lots of people are united in their desire to listen to gospel choirs, then these grim social experiments are the anti-flashmob: here to tell us that people can also be united in their tendency to behave like awful, self-seeking cunts.

@lucyannhancock

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