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Illustration by Allison O'Flinn

Illustration by Allison O’Flinn

The first video uploaded to YouTube was posted to the site on April 23, 2005 at 8:27 p.m. Entitled “Me at the zoo,” the 18-second clip depicts user jawed (YouTube cofounder Jawed Karim) standing in front of an elephant exhibit at what we can only assume is a zoo.

He explains, “All right, so here we are in front of the, uh, elephants. Um, the cool thing about these guys is that — is that they have really really really long, um, trunks. And that’s, that’s cool. And that’s pretty much all there is to say.”

Seventeen months later, when Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion, Karim (who had left YouTube to go to graduate school) acquired 137,443 shares of the company’s stock, which was worth approximately $64 million, according to Miguel Helft at the New York Times.

Chad Hurley, another cofounder who was acting as Chief Executive for YouTube, received a package of company shares worth over $345 million.

It’s inarguable that in the nine years since “Me at the zoo” was first released to the Internet, YouTube has become much more sophisticated. Its technology has been refined to allow for the rapid reproduction of videos with considerably higher visual quality and longer length. It has been adopted by corporations and artists alike as a simple platform to reach millions of viewers. It has its own awards show, and it is now plastered on all of Chicago’s public transportation in an unprecedented marketing campaign for popular user-generated content.

And yet, there is something about the spirit of “Me at the zoo” that seems to live on within the YouTube community. The user base of YouTube is so huge and houses so many types of people that it is seemingly possible to find just about any imaginable content — especially unconventional, homemade and noncommercial — along with a like-minded community of fans collectively discussing and disseminating it.

With popularity, however, comes the inevitable issue of oversaturation. With so many videos to wade through on YouTube like some sort of horrible endless dollar-bin basement record store, there has emerged a number of subcommunities consisting of people who have taken on the valiant roles of archivist and historian for the sake of the rest of YouTube’s
user base.

I became familiar with one such YouTube user, HelloImAPizza, in August, when I stumbled upon his video, “TOP 50: SCARIEST PSAs (Public Service Announcements) – USA/CANADA.” The 40-minute compilation contains an eclectic mix of PSAs from the past several decades, and, as HelloImAPizza explains in the video description, it also includes a few special international videos to round out the list. Some of the PSAs are definitely iconic, some are seemingly extremely obscure, and there are lots of videos from the Montana Meth Project. The beginning of the compilation warns, “Some of the ads featured in this countdown are extremely graphic and of a distressing nature. This compilation is not for the weak-hearted. You have been warned.”

 

 

In watching the videos, I was fascinated not only the variety of content, but also by the quality and thoroughness of the presentation. Many of the clips, despite their age, were in high definition, and the countdown manages to exclude just about all of the non-scary advertisements (like the “truth” cigarette PSAs) that I was expecting to see. Still, there were several (such as the infamous “This is your brain on heroin”) that managed to capture bits of nostalgia.

I approached “TOP 50: SCARIEST PSAs” from an admittedly casual standpoint, but by its end, I needed to know more about how exactly one comes to make such compilations. So I asked HelloImAPizza, whose real name is Niall, a few questions about the process.

I was first curious about how HelloImAPizza became introduced to the YouTube countdown community. As of publication, his channel has 8,690 subscribers, and his views total 4.6 million. “I have been making compilation videos since September 2012. I firstly became interested in them when I watched a compilation by YouTube user LateNightLogoTV, ‘Top 50: Scariest Public Information Films,’” HelloImAPizza explains. “I guess I have always been interested in the whole idea of providing an audience with a good countdown -— I just find them fun to make and I love to entertain people.”

Still, the subject of public information films seemed like a very specific niche genre. “I have always been fascinated with public information films and public service announcements since as long as I can remember,” HelloImAPizza says. “I guess I was hooked on the realism and the creative aspect of them … the PSAs from other countries I have found through research — YEARS of research. When I first discovered YouTube back in 2006 I was amazed that I could watch all of these PIFs and PSAs from all around the world all on one website, right at my fingertips. And I haven’t looked back since.”

HelloImAPizza had an affinity for camcorders and video-making from a young age, but despite the advice of those around him, he doesn’t seem to have any current plans to pursue filmmaking on a commercial level. “I never did take their advice,” he says. “[I recently graduated] in my A-levels — Biology, Psychology and English Literature. Absolutely nothing to do with cinematography or anything like that, huh?”

For HelloImAPizza, the desire to make YouTube videos isn’t about personal gain, but is rather to give back to the community that has given so much to him. “It’s great being involved in that community, which is what I love about YouTube. There are thousands of YouTube communities out there … [that] share your interests. You can just join whichever community you want to and connect with similar people, all on one website. It’s something very special.”

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