Saturday, 9 February 2008

LIFE IMITATING ART ON YOUTUBE





There is a scene in Shawshank Redemption, where Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, plays classical music to the whole prison, and for one moment makes them feel free again. It's one of my favourite films, and one of the film's best scenes. It seems the scene also influenced somebody else: Byron Garcia, the prison supervisor of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, Philippines. Garcia was the one who initiated the 'Thriller Dance' and uploaded it to YouTube and claims he was inspired by this scene.

Garcia is the brother of the Cebu State Governor, an Iron Lady, who sought to pacify a violent and unruly jail, populated with the state's most dangerous criminals. Her brother's strategy was to simply get them dancing. On YouTube it now has 11,545,725 views, and has become a viral sensation. Garcia has already uploaded 21 videos to his YouTube channel, and plans more.

Bizarre juxtaposition seems to play a role here. Murderers participating in choreographed dance is bound to get people talking. It is an intrinsically viral idea, done on a spectacular scale, funny, but insanely stupid at the same time. It is another example of convergence culture, where ideas from mainstream media are being remixed by consumers, and distributed using viral platforms, which then takes them back to mainstream media attention.

In this story, life imitates art on more than one level. A recent UK TV documentary accused Garcia of pretty much forcing the prisoners to participate in the dances, and he also forces a strict schedule of work and other activities from dawn to lights-out. Garcia is much more smiley and avuncular, but the behavioural resemblance with Shawshank's prison governor cannot be overlooked. Shawshank Redemption, The Musical. This is more than life imitating art, it's more a case of life parodying art.