This week has been a bit of a game-changer.
Last week, I went off on a tangent (and perhaps the deep end) about the cultural implications of online racism. If you’re still awake and with me, rejoice! This week’s column is both short and to the point.
First, let’s check in with the fan counter:
Woah. Now we’re talking.
If you’re wondering where the sudden spike came from, allow me to explain my latest Yingke discovery:
As it happens, streaming yourself live on Yingke isn’t the app’s only feature. You can also record and/or upload short 15-second videos for the enjoyment of your fans or whoever else might come across them. I’d browsed through a few of these “small videos” before, but they seemed to overwhelmingly consist of one of three things: 1) pretty girls blinking rapidly into a Snapchat-style filter for 15 seconds, 2) big muscly guys picking up big heavy things and setting them down again, or 3) people of either gender using the chipmunk-voice feature for a comical effect that becomes a lot less comical after you’ve seen it a million times. It wasn’t until I started noticing a few magic tricks, comedy bits, and various demonstrations of interesting skills that I had an embarrassingly late realization: Yingke is also Vine.
Vine, in case you’re unfamiliar, was an app that allowed users to post 6-second videos; it was basically the audiovisual version of Twitter until Twitter bought it and shut that shit down. Users were free to publish regular little snippets of what they were up to, and just like Twitter, the content ranged from the utterly mundane to the undeniably brilliant. Sure, you could spend 6 seconds shooting a 6-second selfie video of yourself eating a sandwich – or you could spend hours shooting and editing together some of the best 6-second-segments of humor, camera magic, and creativity the world has ever seen.
And sometimes, just the best kind of dumb fun
Now, I was the kind of super-cool and clairvoyant teenager who thought that Facebook and Twitter were dumb fads that would soon pass by, so it probably comes as no shock that the whole Vine thing kinda passed me by. Nonetheless, it’s never too late to learn (technically for Vine, it is too late, but never mind), so upon realizing that Yingke had a whole *secondary* feature that drove an entire American internet phenomenon for several years, I started doing some homework, i.e. watching “Best Vines of xxxx” compilation videos on YouTube. I used to be really into magic as a kid – again, can’t stress enough how cool I was – so without showering, arranging any lighting, or considering the angle of the shot, I grabbed a hot pepper, a cocktail glass and made the following bit of nonsense in under an hour:
Behold how an adult human chose to spend an hour of his time upon this earth
That’s it. I only did a few takes and didn’t bother to get the cut where the pepper hits the water exactly right because – can’t stress this enough – I was just playing around with a feature I didn’t think was a big deal. After posting the thing and drinking another cup of coffee, I checked my phone and saw that I had 57 notifications from Yingke. Despite only having 3500 followers, the video had already been watched 4,000 times and the comments (and gifts) were pouring in. By the end of the day, the (again, really stupid) video had been watched 20,000 times and I had netted an additional 1,000+ fans. At time of writing, that first video is over 70,000 views and my fanbase (still small) has nearly doubled. Now, of course, none of those numbers are even remotely impressive by Chinese streaming – or even YouTube – standards, but it’s definitely given me a new perspective on what’s possible for me on Yingke.
The thing is – and this is particularly relevant in the wake of the recent uproar about VPNs – I think the way I seem to be coasting my way to streaming success highlights a massively underserved need in China: fun with foreigners. As I mentioned a few weeks back, general social interaction is a big draw for Chinese live streaming; but this is something more powerful and specific. There is a massive divide between what the world of Chinese media portrays – foreigners and their culture thrown at you by every ad, video, school, and movie – and the reality of life in China – foreigners are mostly a strange novelty in daily life, even in big cities like Beijing (let’s leave Shanghai and Hong Kong out of this for now). I’m nothing special – my looks, musical talent, performance chops, and audio/video skills all pale in comparison to the average waiter in NYC – but by living in China, I’ve managed to stumble my way into a world where my particular intersection of abilities and inherent attributes (i.e. blond hair, blue eyes, etc.) allows me to be literally one in a million.
And without wishing to be melodramatic, this is starting to feel both really cool and a bit scary. I’m nowhere near *internet famous*, but the comments and messages have officially started to overwhelm my ability to respond to them in any meaningful way, especially those that are lovely and well-thought out and basically all say “hey, can we be friends so you can teach me English, because I don’t know any foreigners.” The other night, a woman sent me a picture of her 8-year-old daughter and told me that she thought watching my stream would be a good way for her to learn something about foreign culture. Again: cool, but scary.
As dedicated readers will recall from last week, Yingke puts me in the interesting yet uncomfortable position of representing all foreigners and particularly all Americans – at a time when a whole lot of Chinese people want to know why America seems to be so angry and hateful and there’s not an easy answer to give them (especially not one that will allow me to keep running my mouth on the Chinese internet).
I tend to be a fairly snarky and irreverent sort of person, but I also hold the belief that a good relationship between China and America is up there with renewable energy and stuffed-crust pizzas on the list of things the world really, really needs. Besides the obvious language practice and financial incentives, the idea that I could make a small contribution to mutual understanding and humanization between China and America (by way of simply shooting the breeze with tens of thousands of Chinese people on the subway and making them laugh at some silly videos) is reason enough for me to keep putting hours into this bizarre pursuit.
So there you have it. I’m not narcissistically wasting my time taking hour-long selfies, I’m promoting world peace!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shoot a video with a big toy minion, ‘cause you’d best believe that shit is going viral.