It took a while, but I get Vine now. The thing that tipped me over the edge was this clip of a woman getting pranged in the face by a basketball, which is without argument the greatest Vine of all time. There's no room for disagreement here: it just is.
Unpackage: the moment of sheer tedium writ large on her face in the warm, slow second before the basketball hits; the movement of her skull as it shifts backwards and away from her face; the beautiful pause of emotionless shock, a moment of peace before the pain hits. So many colours and emotions on display: her nose blooms purple absolutely fucking immediately; the man in the orange T-shirt makes a half-hearted grab at thin air in the second before impact; the bloke behind her trying to catch her head. So much pain, flashed so quickly in front of us. There she is, clearly being bored by some anodyne chat about her granddaughter's reading age, and then: boomf, oblivion, her skull thumping through her head like a shuddering crossbar.
To date, the Vine has been played 15 million times, and I would guess a good million of those were me. It is 2015, and this is our art.
But let's take a trip lightyears in the opposite direction to the opposite side of the Vine spectrum, shall we? Because: What is Vine? It's the medium that gave us Dapper Laughs and Curtis Lepore, and makes minor celebrities out of men who drive vans for a living and shout at traffic, and that magician one who I'm pretty sure is an actual wizard. It's a .gif and a video and a Snapchat selfie all rolled into one, and it's a pretty good way of seeing the goals over the weekend if you're not watching the match. Vine is everything and nothing: a rolling news channel, a celebrity maker, a garbage medium for idiots to talk to the camera as though people care, something Pepsi Max use to make stop-motions.
BUT VINE IS ALSO HOME TO PARCEL PETE, THE MOST HAUNTINGLY MUTE CORPORATE MASCOT OF ALL HUMAN TIME.
Who is Parcel Pete? On the face of things, he is just an angular, cheery Postman Pat. But Parcel Pete's Vine account is something else entirely: a dystopian and uniquely British peek into a future where social media is so ubiquitous nobody can be fucked to do it and instead the Vine account is handed over to the one woman in HR who puts her hand up to volunteer. "My son likes this, this Vine thing," Sheila from HR is saying. "Can you get Vine on a Samsung?" Nobody can figure out how to get Vine on her five-year-old Samsung. "Can we do it with my iPad, instead?" The lock screen is a photo of her three dogs; the only app she has is Facebook. But yes, they figure, 30 minutes later: yes, you can get Vine on your iPad.
Consider Parcel Pete's tribute to St Patrick's Day, a Vine I have watched with the same complex intensity and troubling repetition as I have that woman getting spanged in the face with a basketball for the past week, now. Here you fucking go, Ireland, this one's for you:
I like to consider the logistics of these things. For example: nobody just has Irish dancing music lying around, do they? They booted up YouTube on a laptop and had to take it down to the lobby out by the lifts. Was there enough battery power on the laptop? Did someone have to bring a chord? Again: someone had to send an all-office to get enough volunteers, and then again an hour later when only two people responded. "Come on, guys," the all-office would have said. "We only need five more people and it will be fun." Radio silence; another email. "Guys I will bake rice krispie cakes for Friday if five people just come downstairs and film this Vine."
And I really don't want to go on about it – I know I am overthinking this, but I can't help it – but someone had to print those masks out. Someone at Parcel Pete HQ had this thought: 'The A4 isn't big enough, and we don't have any A3 in the printer. I'll just print half masks that they can hold up to their faces with their hands.'
Also – and again: I know I have a problem – seven people had to learn that dire choreography and keep it vaguely in time, while someone shouted, "Come on, it's a day of celebration!" There was almost certainly one practice run, maybe two.
We have not even begun to consider where they got the costume from, how much it cost to manufacture, and who is trapped inside of this figure who always looks like he is screaming. The Vine has, to date, clocked up three likes.
Logistics, always logistics. Logistics tell the stories that six seconds cannot capture. Consider this six-second clip of Parcel Pete being hoisted up by two Rugby Lions to catch a ball: someone had to carry that Parcel Pete outfit from the car onto the rugby pitch to avoid getting mud on it. An actual Rugby Lions training session had to be interrupted. Two Rugby Lions had to teach a Parcel Pete Coventry HQ employee how to play the lead in a line-out without landing badly on their leg. And for what? For a man the exact size and dimensions of a tank to roll lazily into shot for half a second at the end? For a complete lack of audio quality? "Thanks for lifting me up on your shoulders, two members of the Rugby Lions," someone had to say. "Look good on Vine, that will. Welp: 45-minute drive back to the office, now. See ya."
This one, uploaded yesterday: someone had to run out especially and buy eggs. He cannot cook the eggs! Crack them first, Pete!
They all had to get in a van for this one. Someone had to buy a cake. "How long do we have to squat in this van? Why am I still waiting in this van?" [muted] "She forgot to charge her battery. Had to go back in for a spare."
Why am I getting so hung up on this? I don't know. But there is something about shit social media that is as heartbreaking as it is embarrassing. The subtext to Parcel Pete is: we couldn't be bothered getting a real marketing firm in to do this, but someone higher up said we needed a 'Vine presence' so we gave the password to a perky volunteer. A great sigh of futility. What does it matter if the sound doesn't sync on a six-second clip of Parcel Pete doing lunges up some stairs, the Parcel Pete Vine account is saying. Who the fuck is going to watch it anyway? Are pity loops as legitimate as any other form of social engagement? Because chalk them up, Parcel Pete. My existential tailspin cannot look away from your Vines.
There is, of course, among conspiracy theorists and Parcel Pete truthers, the idea that these Vines are deliberately bad: an anti-viral attempt to go viral, calculated shoddiness. To them I say: Picasso and Matisse. Picasso and Matisse weren't the only artists to try to emulate the fresh-eyed and innocent lens of childhood, but at various points throughout their careers they tried to draw and paint as children do – all stickman-handwriting and splodges of sun and clouds – but they couldn't. Two of the greatest artists of all time could not, through practice or otherwise, emulate a child's drawing of a house. An untranscribable naivety.
And with that, a question: Could Picasso have really made this six-second clip of Parcel Pete shutting the door of a car parked inexplicably outside a country house before twerking, silently, on crunchy gravel, one entire second after the music stops? He could not. You cannot synthesise such ineptitude.
Could any deliberately-shit-for-views social media manager in the world have held his thumb on the "record" button for just a half-second too long on every single posed pout in this pre-Valentine's Parcel Pete Vine? Look how rigid and open his mouth is. An infinite yawn. A chasm of despair. His eyes are black and they don't blink. His skull is crumpled and smudged in a way that suggests he is stored in a cupboard next to the stationery. I cannot stop looking at his face. Project this Parcel Pete being pouted at in silence largely on a blank wall at the Tate Modern and I will queue up and pay £16 to see it. Art without artfulness.
"Jeez, VICE," a comment, that really spoke to me, once said. "At least put some hope in these articles, fucking hell." Do I see hope in Parcel Pete? I do not. His very existence haunts me. His large, eerie, speechless face; his unblinking stare; his clumsy, thumb-less hands. How does he deliver parcels like this? A harrowing thought: it is grey and it is rainy and it is early morning – the early morning is still, despite the storm – and you are expecting a parcel from Amazon that is slightly too large for your letterbox. A knock, a bell rings. You open the door, fragile in your dressing gown. And the curiously lifeless eyes of Parcel Pete turn to greet you, a rictus grin, an eerie silence. He hands you your entire set of Game of Thrones books, gripped clumsily between his felt hands. "Thank you, Parcel Pete," you whisper. Your throat is dry. Is he going to kill you? He's going to fucking kill you. He leans closer, but no words come out. And then the Vine loops and you are trapped in this moment forever.
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