YouTube vs television

The Finnish school murderer's ‘massacre manifesto’ has caused new panics about the video-sharing site, but it won't finish off humanity – or TV.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture

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‘Humanity is Overrated.’ This was the t-shirt slogan that Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the Finnish school murderer, bore on his YouTube ‘massacre manifesto’ video that he posted only hours before killing eight people and then himself on Wednesday. The reaction to the atrocity has told us three things we already know, or already assume: The Finns are rather gloomy people; teenagers are rather confused; and we live in misanthropic times. But it also poses a question that many people have already been pondering. Is YouTube really that powerful, and will it – as some have prognosticated – kill off television?

First, the Finns. They rival only the Portuguese as Europe’s unhappiest and most melancholy people. This is the country that produced Jean Sibelius, one of the greatest Romantic composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, whose oeuvre mainly consists of dark, brooding and wistful compositions that are widely perceived to correctly portray the Finnish mindset. And when the Finns aren’t trying to kill themselves all the time (they have one of the highest suicide rates in the world), they are normally trying to drink themselves to death. My brother returned from Finland two years ago and remarked how the Finns are bigger drunkards than the English – and even the Scots. What’s worse, they all had mullets.

Then there is teenage angst. ‘I am a cynical existentialist, antihuman humanist, antisocialist social Darwinist, realistic idealist and godlike atheist’, said Pekka-Eric Auvinen on YouTube. ‘This is my war: one man war against humanity, governments and weak-minded masses of the world! HUMANITY IS OVERRATED! It’s time to put SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST back on tracks!’

Now, we’ve all been teenagers at one stage, and I suspect some of us would have empathised with these confused and contradictory ramblings back in our youths, having read a bit of Nietzsche or Camus, or having listened to The Cure. Auvinen is, like myself, an aficionado of thrash metal, so I can see where he’s coming from. Thrash metal is strange in that its message is that it wants to change the world for the better, but simultaneously it sees humanity as a cancer on the planet. The band Napalm Death (who I once met in Brixton; very charming, softly-spoken lads) sung ‘Multinational Corporations/ Genocide of the Starving Nations’ (as if to infer that were there no multinational corporations, humanity’s lot could be improved). Yet their first album, Scum, was an observation directed at humanity in general. Auvinen’s actions suggest how the thrash-metal, teenage mindset has become the norm in today’s Rousseauian liberal-left mindset: ‘I love the ideal of humanity, but I actually hate people in real life.’

And, finally, there is YouTube. There has been much ‘moral panic’ (yet another one of those dreadful phrases bandied around) about YouTube, about how it is degrading our youth, and, among media commentators, how it is threatening the future of television, as young ‘uns are increasingly deserting television in favour of this internet alternative.

But fears about YouTube displacing television are just as misplaced as scare stories about blogs or websites in general displacing print or television journalism. YouTube is largely parasitic on television; without television or cinema, we could not use YouTube to view our favourite Blackadder clips or U2 videos. And the internet is entirely parasitic on the BBC, CNN, Fox, The Times, the Guardian, books, magazines, radio, etc. Without the real world, the blogosphere could not exist. (And I do write this in full knowledge that I am actually writing this on the internet, and am ironically being a parasite myself.) There is so much rubbish written about the death of the print media and television journalism, to be allegedly replaced by cyberspace, but the fact is that until bloggers are themselves prepared to go to Basra, or interview leading politicians or actually attend Barcelona v Glasgow Rangers – in person – there will be no news to report on. A YouTube/blogging generation deprived of its sources will be as impotent as its equivalent Man In The Pub deprived of his copy of the Daily Mail: silenced.

The real question in Britain, regarding downloads, is: Will this kill off the television licence fee? You can watch television programmes on your computer and your mobile phone now, so do you need a television anymore? The licence fee is one of the few remaining socialist anachronisms of the twentieth century – an iniquitous poll tax on the people who watch the most television: the poor. Unbelievably, there used to be a radio licence fee in this country until 1971, and finally it is about time the TV licence fee was abolished. The BBC has tested our patience for too long with its profligacy, and it can no longer be justified, what with dozens of channels on Freeview and hundreds on SkyPlus. Not to mention YouTube.

Pekka-Eric Auvinen’s declaration on this website was symbolic in so many different ways, both profound and prosaic, of a narcissistic, self-destructive society; of how our culture has seemingly embraced anti-humanist, teenage values; of the breakdown between those who make programmes and those who watch them; of the power of the internet, and its simultaneous impotence (no one took heed of Auvinen’s YouTube posting).

In the end, anyone who thinks YouTube will replace television is misguided. Show me grainy coverage of one lame idiot falling into a river on that website and I’ll show you footage from Jackass or Dirty Sanchez that is a hundred times funnier. And where did you think that footage of Filipino prisoners dancing to ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘Thriller’ comes from? Yep, TV. And as for footage of some homicidal loser from Finland? I think I’ll stick to Film 4 re-runs of Reservoir Dogs or Goodfellas.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV reviewer. Visit his blog here.

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