Epilogue: YouTube: Where Cultural Memory
and Copyright Converge
Let’s begin this epilogue with a clip: William Shatner’s infamous Saturday
Night Live sketch in 1986 when he told a convention of Trekkies to “get a
life.” This scene signaled a defining moment in media reflexivity and public
awareness of fan cultures, as well as inspired the opening of Henry Jenkins’s
book Textual Poachers (1992). The first time I presented some of the material
that follows as a talk, I used a clip of the Shatner sketch as an illustration of
content uploaded to YouTube that reflects and replays pop-cultural memory.
But by the time I reworked my presentation for a conference about a month
later, the clip had disappeared. Periodically I search for this clip again; some-
times it has been reposted by different users, and sometimes there aren’t any
hits. Perhaps something like this has happened to you, too.
YouTube has become the go-to website for finding topical and obscure
streaming video clips, but everyday experiences also indicate how fleeting
such access can be. Both casual viewers and academics have quickly come to
treat the site as an informal archive of television texts. Even though YouTube
and sites like it expand access to a rich spectrum of such material and sug-
gest the potential for democratization of media memories and flows, they
also introduce new ways to regulate and deny access to content under the
guise of enforcing copyright protection. YouTube presents a model of digital
bootlegging that reiterates many of the issues I’ve been discussing for analog
media—except on a scale millions of times more popular. This new form of
self-syndication raises major problems of technology, intellectual property,
and postbroadcast networking. Amateur, grassroots, and timely clips have
been important to YouTube’s appeal. This epilogue, however, focuses on its
controversial uses to access unauthorized content.
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