One the surface, Weezer's quirky new "Pork and Beans" video, which has helped create a wave of buzz for the band's new album, is just another example of how to make a good viral video. You take an idea that people are going to talk about, mix in some famous faces, throw in an embarassing moment or two, and watch as your firework climbs, explodes, and inevitably fades out.
But "Pork and Beans" is more than just another drop in the viral bucket. In a way that no work of culture has previously done, the video weaves a masterful tapestry of Internet "memes," bringing together the oddball shorthands of web culture with many of the oddballs who created them. Director Mathew Cullen managed to wrangle a dozen of YouTube's most recognizable viral stars and bring them all onto one surreal soundstage. The result -- a chorus of voices singing about how they refuse to be ridiculed, judged or labeled -- is unexpectedly compelling, and even literary.
In the video, Weezer shares the spotlight with Tay Zonday ("Chocolate Rain"), Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 ("some people out there in our nation don't have maps") and Judson Laipply of YouTube's No. 1 all-time video, "The Evolution of Dance" and many others. The video is so rife with YouTube allusions, in fact, that even a seasoned Internet reporter couldn't identify them all. "Pork and Beans" has struck a loud chord with the online audience, too, with its nearly 6 million views enough to make it one of the most-watched videos of the month (and remember, YouTube alone adds hundreds of thousands of new videos every day).
"I wanted it to be a celebration of the creativity and individuality that's being expressed" by online performers and artists, said director Cullen, a co-founder of the Motion Theory production studio, which also made the recent viral video of Kobe Bryant dunking over a pool of snakes. "And on the opposite side, I wanted it to be redemption for those that had been unintentionally embarrassed."
That would be people like Lauren Caitlin Upton, whose hapless map answer on Miss Teen USA won her a life- time's worth of ridicule packed into three days. But in this video, Upton gets to own her unhappy moment -- wearing her gown and sash, she proceeds to blend that nasty maps question in a high-speed blender. (That scene is also an allusion to Blendtec's "Will it Blend" series, where the host demonstrates the blender's power by doing things like turning an iPhone into a pile of smooth metal dust.) One-time laughingstocks like Chris Crocker of "Leave Britney Alone," and Gary Brolsma of the Numa Numa dance appear, lip-syncing the words to "Pork and Beans": "I'm gonna do the things that I wanna do / I ain't got a thing to prove to you."
In the last couple of years, YouTube has become a volcano of cultural effluvia, spewing out great plumes of artless footage, little of which appeals to anyone except its creator.
But, this video seems to say, who cares? There are no rules about who should be able to make movies, or sing, or pretend to be a ninja. The "Don't quit your day job" mentality has no place online.
"Pork and Beans" finds the harmony in all the YouTubian discord. Taken together, all the strange, silly, lame and embarassing voices make for a powerful choir, and the message of Weezer's lyrics and of Cullen's video become one: Judge us all you want, but we're not going anywhere -- and we're definitely not going to stop making videos!
The result is a subtle anthem for the YouTube generation. All creativity is created equal.
Plus, the video is just fun. Cullen and Weezer spun off a series of other "Pork and Beans" extras, including a duet between Zonday and Weezer guitarist Brian Bell, and a backstage conversation between Liam "Kelly" Sullivan -- the shoes-obsessed drag queen -- and a Rubik's cube champion. (Kelly solves the cube for him in less than 10 seconds.)
Though music videos make up a significant part of YouTube's most popular fare, many of them were created for late-night MTV, then dumped onto the Web almost as an afterthought. "Pork and Beans" bucks that trend and shows that Weezer is prac- ticing what it preaches when it comes to taking creative risks online.