Acronyms not denoting sports organizations rarely appear in the lede of columns here at The Open Man, but I must make an exception after reading Sports Illustrated‘s Greatest YouTube Videos of All-Time: SMH.
The 10 videos, nominated by SI readers on Twitter, show a lack of appreciation for the past greats who paved the way for the medium’s popularity. It’s akin to #NBATwitter in that regard. Part of the issue stems from the nebulous concept of what exactly constitutes a YouTube video.
For example, the YouTube videos I remember watching in 2005 (the year the platform launched) were wrestling matches, old music videos, and Saturday Night Live‘s “Lazy Sunday.” None qualify for the true definition of a YouTube video, since the original sources were DVDs, MTV and NBC.
And yet, I assume we can all agree local news broadcasts qualify as YouTube videos. Moments that would otherwise reach only a regional niche gain national exposure through YouTube. SI spotlighted some worthy honorees with “Leprechaun in Alabama” and “Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wife;” the latter a clip so well-known, it garnered “star” Antoine Dodson a shout-out in 2012’s American Reunion.
Missing from the Greatest YouTube Videos of All-Time countdown are two of the earliest and most important local news broadcasts that helped YouTube gain traction in its formative days. In just one sentence, a young boy in corpse paint became an internet sensation for life in the summer of 2007.
Wanna feel old? Zombie Kid is now a page for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Before Zombie Kid, the first viral news clip I came across featured Bubb Rubb and Lil Sis on the Bay Area’s KRON 4.
Oakland provided another legendary moment in YouTube videos in 2006. Some savvy folks recognized the platform’s capability early on, and used it as an open-source medium for their own content. Some of it was painfully unfunny, like the plethora of response videos to the proto-viral marketing campaign, “LonelyGirl14,” which began with the ultra-cringe “Lazy Dork is Better Than You.”
Around this same time, however, two Athletics fans produced what’s still to this day one of my favorite original YouTube videos: “Ghostride The Volvo” to save the Oakland A’s.
Rewatching this in 2019 is somewhat bewildering, with the Raiders bound of Las Vegas and the A’s ballpark future still in limbo. A part of me is also curious what Ben and Nate are up to now. Their clip’s short, but they demonstrate good comedic timing and delivered on a funny, original premise. It feels in retrospect like the duo could have grown into YouTube stars who make their living with viral videos.
I can’t include any single video for the purpose of a list, but reflecting on the pioneering days of YouTube wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the early James Rolfe videos. He began in 2006 as the Angry Nintendo Nerd, but by 2007 became the Angry Video Game Nerd (presumably coinciding with realizing the character could be monetized once the whole copyright infringement part of the branding was dropped).
His rise coincided with the salad days of the sports blogosphere, in more than just timing. Rolfe’s popularity mirrored that of Drew Magary, who gained a following at the same time under the moniker Big Daddy Drew. Drew’s acerbic, profanity-laced style unintentionally spawned countless Blogspot imitators, much in the same way a swath of early YouTubers attempted to ape Rolfe’s shtick.
Of course, far more viral-content creators are one-hit wonders who fade into obscurity. For those fleeting moments, however, they gain legendary status. Early-stage millenniums almost universally know to what someone’s referring when they say “numa numa” or “Chocolate Rain.”
Revisiting a viral video like Chocolate Rain today also reveals fascinating insight and foreshadowing in our culture today, as Tay Zonday’s interview with BET last spring reveals.