Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Star Wars Kid

The “Star Wars Kid” in one form or other has been probably viewed over 1,000,000,000 times. Not to mention all the spoofs, mentions in popular media (South Park, American Dad, Arrested Development, etc) and its fair to say that perhaps more people have viewed the Star Wars Kid than have actually viewed Star Wars.

The video brings up two issues:

1. Why?
2. The first instance of widespread cyberbullying and the effects it can have on one’s life.

Here’s the video:

The video was first released by the schoolmates of Ghyslain R. (who never intended the video to be seen) on Kazaa in April, 2003. Within weeks it had already been viewed millions of times. An interesting anecdote by Andy Baio at provides some background on how Andy renamed the video (originally named “ghyslain_razaa.wmv”) “the Star Wars Kid”, thus giving birth to the name its been known by for the past 1bb views.

Apparently Ghyslain was so traumatized by the non-stop teasing he began receiving that he had to temporarily drop out of lawschool and his parents filed a lawsuit against the families of the teens who had posted the original video. They settled out of court for an estimated CA$350,000. According to the lawsuit, "Ghyslain had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large." He "will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time."

Why did it get so popular so quickly? It doesn’t really have the talent or skill exhibited in the previous viral videos I’ve discussed. I think from the beginning people were more or less aware that this was not a video put up by an aspiring viral video producer but a video put up surreptitiously by teens in the hopes of humiliating one of their own. The reason it was watched was not because of the awe-inspiring skill exhibited but because its like watching a train wreck in slow motion. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been humiliated, or made to feel small in some way (and we’ve all probably been humiliators as well) and here was a chance to sit back and watch it done in a semi-humorous fashion without having to feel guilty or harassed.

The fact that it was Star Wars made it all the easier for it to spread. One aspect of almost every viral video is that there are natural remixes that can be done. For instance, here is the South Park remix:

Here’s a funny version of “Star wars kid Clone wars” which had me cracking up:

Clearly there is nothing more horrible for a 15 year old awkward kid who loves Star Wars to be laughed at worldwide. I can’t even imagine and I probably would’ve been suicidal if the same thing had happened to me. That said, one can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t (and still isn’t) a better way for him to recoup his “losses” now that he’s the most popular internet video ever. Think about it. For the written word, we have The Bible. Nothing will probably ever replace it. For internet video, we have “The Star Wars Kid” and it, too, will probably never be replaced. He can probably squeeze a million dollars, plus an ad split, even out of doing a sequel. Or even appearing on tv shows, etc for the next couple of years.

Here’s Stephen Colbert vs The Star Wars Kid. Colbert stood in front of a greenscreen and challenged viewers to come up with their own Star Wars Kids versions of the resulting video.

On my favorite sitcom, Arrested Development, my favorite actor, Michael Cera, did his own version of “The Star Wars Kid”. Here’s a recent interview where Cera describes his thoughts on it:

Let's talk about the Star Wars kid. What did you think when you first read that?
I knew what it was. I had seen the video. I felt bad immediately that I was going to have to do this.
Yeah, he actually had to drop out of school and go to a different school.
His friends got a hold of it and showed it to everyone right?

I don't think they were his friends. My understanding is that he recorded it and returned the video to the school and then they got it and showed it to people. It was like in the episode how it was recorded over something.
Oh god, that's so brutal.
Do you feel any guilt over having done those scenes?

I did, but then it was fun to do. I'm sure he's heard it all by now. I'm really hoping that I never have to come into contact with him and have to explain my actions.

Next post I'll look at the number two most popular viral video. It almost took a similar turn as this one but then went a different path.

-James Altucher

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chocolate Rain

You can’t help but say, “What the…” as soon this video starts to play. It starts off with Shock elements: is that the real voice of the singer? Also, there’s this text explaining why he’s occasionally moving away from the mic: “**I move away from the mic so I can breathe in”. And the way he comes into view in the beginning of the song. Its just odd. The video has its moments of Awe: its actually an enjoyable song. These two aspects combined have created 25,000,000 pageviews so far and rising as well as numerous spoofs. But, more interestingly, the Tay Zonday phenomenon underlines the disconnect between people’s expectations of viral videos (they should be forever non-commercial) and the reality (artists like to make money. Good art is often rewarded with a lot of money). First off, here's the original:

Supposedly the song is about racism but I can’t even remember any of the lyrics other than the words “Chocolate Rain”. And if I go more than a month without listening to it, I always laugh within the first few seconds of hearing it. Like “Little Superstar” below there’s this dissonance between the perception and the actual. His voice is so deep and unusual it doesn’t seem real. Tay Zonday, the creator, was a graduate student when he made it. A “singer/composer/songwriter”. Now, 25,000,000 views later he’s selling ringtones, doing commercials, appearing on TV, mentioned on shows like “30 Rock”, etc. Although his other videos featuring original music have had up to several million views, none have come close to the popularity of “Chocolate Rain”. [Interesting note: when reading an interview with Zonday he mentioned the site was where this video first became popular. I had never heard of the site before and Zonday mentions that many viral videos have their beginnings by being posted on this message board. Worth checking out.]

My favorite spoof of “Chocolate Rain” is the Chad Vader version (Chad Vader will certainly be the subject of a future post).

An interesting question rose when Tay Zonday decided to do a Dr. Pepper commercial using the Chocolate Rain song, “Cherry Chocolate Rain”:

I actually think it’s a funnier than the original version. For one thing, a rapper makes fun of the text Zonday put in the original version about why he moves away from the mic. There’s definitely some awkward moments that seem corporate scripted (a line that goes, “this is the web and its going to murder your TV” – is this 1995?) But according to Zonday a lot of people were upset that he “sold out”. Zonday’s response was that he’s still making original music and not resting on his laurels. My feeling is, why did he have to explain anything at all? Aren’t people allowed to make money?

There’s a disconnect between “viralness” and money. The people who want to make the most money seem incapable of creating a viral video (few Fortune 500 companies are creators of viral videos despite thousands of attempts and I’m sure tens of thousands of “creative” meetings). Most of the videos that have become viral have a real authenticity to them. Someone who has an extreme passion, combined with unusual skill, comes up with that one video that evokes the feeling, “Did he really just do that?” combined with a sense of beauty (or humor) that rivals/exceeds the feeling created by $100mm+ budgets.

Its fine with me if these same people are then shuttled directly into the industrial-entertainment complex to hopefully take the work being done there to a higher level. And if they never produce anything creative again then no problem, we still have the next viral videos to look forward to.

One more video:

A heavy metal cover of “Chocolate Rain” (although I wish they had a singer in it):

Monday, June 30, 2008


What impressed me most about the simply labeled “guitar” video was how totally unpromotional it was.
A) The title of the video was “guitar”. Not, “best guitar ever!!” or even “Canon Rock” which was the song that is being played.
B) The guitarist has a hat pulled over his head so you can’t see who he is. The entire video becomes about his technical virtuousity and the beauty of the song rather than his performance ability.
C) He put the video up anonymously under an account called “funtwo”. In fact, after the video came out and started getting millions of views, there were several attempts from people who claimed to be funtwo but weren’t.
45,000,000 pagev iews later, here’s “guitar”:

A couple of comments:
When I first saw the video I thought that the guitarist came up with the composition. But its actually a composer (on YouTube, “JerryC”) from Taiwan who did the original version of “Canon Rock”.

Here’s the JerryC version of the song:

Of course, JerryC., who was largely unknown before the “guitar” cover came out of his song, has now signed with a record label, HIM, and his website, has tens of thousands of posts on his forum including the latest post I saw which was from some girl in France asking if he has “emotional nice character”.
So who did “guitar”? A South Korean guitarist (he learned how to play in 2000) named Jeong-Hyun Lim. When the New York Times asked him why he covered his head he said,
““I think play is more significant than appearance. Therefore I want the others to focus on my fingering and sound. Furthermore I know I’m not that handsome.””

Furthermore, his anti-showmanship approach is exemplified by this quote (despite the 10s of millions of fans who clearly enjoy his guitar playing), “I am always thinking that I’m not that good player and must improve more than now.”

Racking up 5.4mm pageviews is “the new canon rock” which is arguably a step up from the prior two performances, however, its funny to me that about half the comments has to do with the guitarist’s appearance since he doesn’t choose to hide himself:

Finally, with all the renewed interest in Pachelbel’s Canon, comedian Rob Paravonian did a pretty funny rant on the piece:. The video below is past 5,000,000 pageviews and I have to think its because its related to the “guitar” video, even if distantly.

And, (more finally), here’s funtwo playing Vivaldi’s “summer” from the Four Seasons

-James Altucher

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Little Superstar

“Little Superstar” is a primal viral video. I say “primal” because it almost seems like the younger brother of what was probably the first viral video on the Internet: the “Dancing Baby”:

First off, here is Little Superstar:

What makes this video interesting enough to spread like wildfire is the shock and awe characteristics:


  1. Is that a child or an adult or some kind of animation?
  2. Does a professionally made movie really have a child smoking a cigarette?


- the dancing is kind of cool.

The actor, Thavakalai, from Chennai (otherwise known as Kollywood) was in many movies but its this clip that became a world-of-mouth sensation (16 years after the fact, since the original movie, Adhisaya Piravi, came out in 1990) .

As an example, this clip of Little Superstar:

only became popular after the first clip had reached its first 10,000,000 views.

Like any good viral video, the original inspired some spoofs like this Ron Jeremy version:

And I kind of like this spoof of Little Superstar all grown up:

There are many decent videos of people dancing on YouTube. Obviously what sets this apart is the question: is this a child or an adult. The answer is he’s an adult suffering from dwarfism. But it’s the fact that he might be a child who moves and acts like an adult that creates enough shock value for us to send this around in an email to our friends saying, “you have to see this”. Much like the original “what the hell is that baby doing?” video, the “Dancing Baby”. This was popular, pre-YouTube in 1996 when it was released in conjunction with an AutoDesk product that was used to make presentations. Here’s the YouTube clip of the Dancing Baby

And finally, the original Little Superstar clip, despite being popular in 2006, actually comes from 1990. So what is Little Superstar up to now?

Recently he choreographed this Doritos commercial:

And to see what Little Superstar looks like now, here’s a Behind the Scenes of that commercial:

-James Altucher

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Chris Bliss juggling meme

One of the pleasures of viewing a viral video is to see all the spinoff videas that play upon the same concepts as the original video. Not only does the video spread like a disease (the "viral" aspect) but the idea itself spreads through people's creativity. A great example stems from Chris Bliss's video where he's juggling to a Beatles song. The song is "Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/The End" which is the last song on their last album (known for its last lyric "the love you take is equal to the love you make". The video first popped up in 2006 and within 40 days had 20,000,000 views. I first saw this video yesterday and had never heard of it it before.

Apparently when the video came out it caused quite a stir among jugglers who weren't impressed by Bliss's use of just three balls and no fancy technical tricks. So, for instance, there's this "Chris Bliss Diss" video by juggler Jason Garfinkel which uses five balls and a variety of tricks.

This video also immediately went viral, racking up a few million views. I appreciate the technical virtuousity but I prefer (slightly) the Chris Bliss video only because he makes it more like a dance rather than just a technical feat. I like how his hands move throughout the song. Its like romance versus pornography. One thing I like in the Diss video is that he directly lifts the song from the Bliss video so you get all the audience reaction, which is funny considering Garfinkel is in an empty gym.

Interesting to note that Garfinkel is also quite possibly a better juggling trainer than performer. Here's a video of nine year old Vova Galchenko (note also his sister doing cartwheels). The video was originally shot in 1997 and Vova didn't begin training with Garfield until 2004.

Now here's a video of Vova and sister, Olga, 10 years later. I like Olga's quote, "we are genetically engineered to be the best jugglers in the world."

So to bring it full circle, rapper Fatboy Slim then challenged the internet to do a juggling video "like that chris bliss one" to his song "that old pair of jeans". Here's the Vova Galchenko version:

-James Altucher