Viewpoint: Viral Videos Reflect an Instant Gratification Society

During Gangnam Style’s rise in U.S. pop culture, my Korean professor spent time in class going through the lyrics to help us understand the cultural references in the song. When I shared with others the meaning of Gangnam Style, it seemed as if most didn’t particularly care. And in the months after we learned about the true meaning of Gangnam Style, the popularity of the video pretty much faded away. The trend quickly became ancient history, and people began catching onto the next big thing — the Harlem Shake.

The popularity of viral video clips – such as Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” and the modified version of the Harlem Shake (the original Harlem Shake came from the 1980s) – have made me wonder: Why do these videos become so widely spread throughout the world amongst millions of clips available online? And what does the popularity of a video reflect about culture and society?

The quick rise and fade of Gangnam Style, after the entrance of the Harlem Shake fad, in itself, reveals the nature of viral videos – to merely draw forth entertainment without the need for further analysis. Viral videos come and go – one day it’s in, the next day it’s out. One moment it’s widely shared, the next moment it’s forgotten and a thought of yesterday.

Why does this matter? How does one connect viral videos to culture and society? Viral clips, with their immediate popularity and changing natures, reflect society’s instant gratification mindset.

The videos’ purposes are to get quick responses and reactions from the public without further contemplation. Rather than further questioning the purposes of a viral clip or the meaning of a particular dance move, song, or video, most people merely leave the clips the way they viewed them –as temporary entertainment that evoke an emotional response like laughter.

The wide viewing of viral clips indicates that increasing amounts of people are seeking and sending out quick entertainment. Although I do enjoy films, videos and amusing Youtube clips, what concerns me about viral videos is their short durations and the lack of deeper reflection people have with them. Rather than becoming active creators that bring forth lasting change through films that provoke and challenge the mind, individuals who ride the viral video wave may be attempting to earn their five-minutes (or in some cases, five seconds) of fame.

The danger of allowing viral videos to set the tone for entertainment is that we become passive citizens who live off of others’ moments of glory. People may cease to actively engage in what the media is portraying with the rising popularity of viral videos. In a sense, we may become consumers of funny-but-temporary moments, rather than producers of long-lasting change.

I’m not here to condemn the creativity or the unique spins in viral videos. Instead, I’m hoping for people—students in particular—to look deeper into what a society that seeks after instant gratification and the next entertaining hit may lead to. In a world that increasingly desires immediate success in a short amount of time, I wonder what the concept of instant gratification will mean for careers and fields that actually take time, diligence and perseverance to bring forth meaningful change.

Jaja Chen is a sophomore social work major from Norman, Okla. She is a guest columnist for the Lariat.