Joe Cobden

The YouTube


Daniel Kleinman, “Microsoft XBox Commercial” (BBH, 2002)

After high school I stopped playing video games. The girls I liked didn’t like video games or television. So I stopped watching television too. I thought it made me better than other people. Busier and smarter and more attractive. Not one of the suckers. Not enough hours in the day. But then I started clicking around the YouTube.


Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, “In My Lonely Room” (1964)

I don’t like looking at the Internet. It makes me feel sick, sick like you feel after you’ve played video games for too long. Your mouth tastes like it has dirty pennies in it. You turn into dirty laundry. Feels like you took too much Aspirin. Makes me want to want to cry but I’m too foggy to bother. Makes me want to go for a run or take a shower. Buy some vegetables at an over-priced farmer’s market.

I’ve been spending too much time on the YouTube. I call it “the YouTube” because it gives me some distance from it. I’m back to how I was when I was a kid, positioned in front of the damn screen. I have to know exactly what I’m after. If I’m surfing, I’m going to feel sick for sure, in ten minutes or less, with that shopping-mall food-court feeling.

Ray Kurzweil predicts that soon the resolution of the computer screen will equal the printed page. Is that what makes me feel so lousy on this thing? Some strobes rat-a-tat-tatting my subconscious? Some lady from the BBC told me that there’s a memo going around that says “linear television” will be dead in 10 years and everything will be online. We’re all hooked! I’m scared!

Hey, I just gotta show you this YouTube thing. Have you seen “Network”? Oh, it’s amazing, you have to. Look at this. William Holden. Paddy Cheyefsky. You’re going to love it. Just watch this one thing. It’s exactly what we’re talking about. Let me show it you. Now.


Sidney Lumet, “Network” (1976)

My roommate is an outdoorsman. My other roommate is a stonemason. They’re both so attractive. Strong. Healthy. They don’t spend any time on the YouTube. They’re too busy having sex. And laughing. And they’re not up-to-date on the latest “content.” When they want some entertainment they’ll go see a show or listen to some records. If someone like me comes over and says, “I just have to show you this YouTube thing” they are told in no uncertain terms: “No. Sorry. I don’t care.”

I wish I was more like them. I don’t want to hang out on this thing either. All this endless clicking around and voyeuristic horseshit. Not enough hours in the day. If we’re the last generation to grow up without the internet, maybe we can also be the last generation with the opportunity to grow old without it. I bet Kurzweil is a shitty kisser. Bill Gates doesn’t dance. Fuck this. I’m going outside while I still can.

Oh but I come across Nina Simone singing “I Loves You Porgy.” I watch and can’t stop, and then I want my roommates to share my enthusiasm. “I just gotta show you this thing. You will be poorer if you don’t see it.” But they don’t want to see it.


Nina Simone, “I Loves You Porgy” (1962)

For a while I couldn’t walk into someone’s apartment without dialing up this clip. I’d insist on waiting for it to load fully because I didn’t want to risk an interruption. While we were waiting and I pretended to care about whatever we were talking about, I’d realize they’ll never like it as much as I want them to. This would make me angry and I might make some comment about their connection speed. “Wow, it’s really slow, huh?” I might leave the room in hopes that they might feel something deep if forced to be alone with it.

“Maybe it’s just my hype that makes them want to resist it,” I’d think, sitting on the edge of their empty bathtub, waiting. “If they weren’t so pressured, they’d understand”. But it never worked. I watched it so much it became something I owned, my baby. I refined my way of talking about it. I undersold, mumbled about how she must have been a fierce taskmaster, how incredibly cool and laid back the band is. I talked about the parting curtains off the top, “the lost art of restraint,” even the font of the titles. Nobody gave a shit, definitely not my roommates.

Now I don’t show it to anybody. When people whip open a laptop to show a great YouTube that I’m not gonna believe I feel like punching them. “Come support my show.” “Do something at my fundraiser.” “Vote for my short film.” “Watch this trailer.” Fuck you. I’m going outside while I still can.

- Joe Cobden

  • http://ryeberg.com/author/elyse-friedman/ Elyse Friedman

    I know that dirty feeling you speak of. I get it every time I check Facebook when I’m supposed to be working. It’s a nervous tic and I do it far more often than I’d care to admit. O.C.D. But really, we shouldn’t feel so bad about our very ancient and very necessary human impulse to share stories, which is essentially what’s happening when we trade Youtube links. Yes, it’s probably better to leave our hovels and experience something three-dimensional and then tell it to somebody, but I don’t think the alternative is so terrible. And anywhere that Nina Simone can be found can’t be all bad.

    • http://ryeberg.com/author/joe-cobden/ Joe Cobden

      You’re right. It’s not that bad. I’m just scared is all.

  • Meredith Adolph

    I think you’ve nicely encapsulated Gen X’s attraction to (and distaste of) social media, not to mention the driving emotion behind The YouTube, The Twitter and The Facebook: “I just gotta show you this thing. You will be poorer if you don’t see it.”

    And yet, like the roommates who get outside and have a life, most of the time we wouldn’t be poorer for having missed it. But YouTube and its addictive companions aren’t going away, so this leaves me wondering how find to the balance and make them useful. Or, dare I say it, meaningful.

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Joe Cobden is an award-winning actor/performer from Montreal, currently living in Toronto. He was the first anglophone to receive a "Les Masques" award (For Revelation of the Year). He spent more than two years working on "The Eco Show" (with theatre creator Daniel Brooks of Necessary Angel) and "Untitled Faction Project" (with Ame Henderson of Public Recordings). Film credits include "Blindness" (dir. Fernando Mereilles), "I'm Not There" (dir. Todd Haynes), and "Le Piege Americain" (dir. Charles Biname) and he has the lead role in the feature film "Peepers," from Automatic Vaudeville. Joe's recent film directing credits inlcude music videos for Miriam Makeba ("Help") and Fats Waller ("Sigh"). "Sigh" has played at over 20 film festivals worldwide and won the People's Choice award at the Cabbagetown Film Festival. More from Joe Cobden here.