What Bad Does
by James Daniel Elam — Northwestern University
March 20, 2009 – 00:52
From the opening “A Time of Darkness/A Time of Light/The Crusade Begins” to the closing “Love Has Enemies,” it is hard to turn away from this video. It includes innumerable science-fiction/fantasy clichés, a man seemingly imported from 1986, and a very green guitar, all crammed within four minutes. It seems to pay earnest homage to the Michael Bay-meets-Xena-era summer blockbuster trailer – and, as Owens’s website reports, it was put together from various sets and costumes from the Warner Bros’ studios. Between clips of the Celtic-pirate-explosion extravaganza, Chris Dane Owens sings us a catchy love ballad. Both the song and the video seem old, though; I thought I had been sent a previously undiscovered Michael Bolton single.
He’s left popular critics speechless. Sasha Frere-Jones, writing in The New Yorker, suggests that asking if this video is “bad” doesn’t even matter: “What you need to know is…that you are going to watch this video more times than you can imagine. You may dream of this video, but the dream won’t be as good because it won’t be this video.” There’s something to this review. Chris Dane Owens has made Bad work for him. In late 2008, Chris Dane Owens set out to make music with only a sparkling neon green guitar in hand. By January 2009, this video had gained such incredible popularity through email and YouTube viral-ity that he was able to sign a contract for widespread commercial distribution. “Shine On Me” has had commercial success on iTunes and will supposedly hit retail outlets soon.
It may be possible to brush the video aside and say here, “any publicity is good publicity,” but it seems to me there’s something quite impressive in the ability to create a video so “bad” it sparks its own viral distribution. Owens calls the style “fantasy camp.” Indeed, it lives up to almost every point in Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” This video should be in parentheses; everything in it is “too much.” Chris Dane Owens has made a camp film pastiche of bad films. In so doing, he has launched at least fifteen minutes of consumerist fame. What was once a critique of Hollywood consumerist ideology now has its own market. Viral Bad has earned Chris Dane Owens a record deal and a concert tour – and, in case these four minutes weren’t enough for you, a budget to complete a trilogy of bad movie trailers. You may laugh at this video now, but you’ll replay it later today, and buy it on iTunes later this week.
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