Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jackass Videos, Bernie Madoff and Online Integrity

In a response to my recent blog, "Six Reasons Why Every Film Student Should Have a YouTube Channel," an educator responded with concerns about the integrity of the content that some content creators might choose to produce.  What kind of content has integrity?  What kind of content is worthwhile?  That's a difficult question, and varies depending upon age, culture and interests.  

If a YouTuber creates a Jackass knock-off that earns him tens of thousands of subscribers, does that content possess a specific standard of integrity for his audience?  If another creates an immensely popular channel promoting conspiracy theories and the illusion of journalistic values, can his follower's simple belief in his integrity actually define his integrity?

Art, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder.  Integrity, defined by as "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values," is also distinctly subjective - varying between cultures, societies, neighborhoods - and even small groups of friends. 

At one time, Bernie Madoff was perceived as a man of great integrity:  A trustworthy, honest man with impeccable credentials who might be trusted with one's life savings. He formed and maintained an illusion for decades, stealing billions from investors in the pursuit of personal gain.  Violating the trust of virtually everyone, he proved himself to be a man without integrity of any definition.

Likewise, the YouTuber who creates (willingly or through ignorance) an illusion of journalistic integrity amidst suggestions of dark conspiracies is deceiving his followers with declarations of "evidence" where there is none, or of "experts" who are not whose own integrity would be questionable.  As Bernie Madoff deceived his clients, this content creator may be using and manipulating his audience strictly for personal gain, and has no qualms or even concerns about the accuracy of his content.

On the other hand, if the YouTuber creating a Jackass knockoff promises to entertain his audience with a certain type and quality of entertainment with each episode - and delivers on his promise - he might be said to have more integrity than the conspiracy theorist.  His audience's trust isn't mis-placed - they're obtaining what they seek.

But does the Jackass YouTuber really have integrity?  Isn't he, instead, promoting violence?  Isn't he contributing to the destruction of moral, ethical and artistic values across media by helping to popularize mindless entertainment?  After all, we're talking about thirteen year-olds throwing themselves into walls and jumping into thorny bushes. 

Does every film student - or content creator - need to be a moral crusader, create family friendly content, and ignore shallow celebrity culture?   As diverse individuals, the answer is no.  As prospective media professionals, however - it's imperative to understand and develop a sense of integrity to both content and career. 

THEN make some cool Jackass videos!

What's your opinion?


  1. "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." - Samuel Goldwyn (or was it Jack Warner? Probably Warner, but usually attributed to Goldwyn because it's funnier that way.)

    Does this comment have integrity? Did student films have more integrity before YouTube?

  2. I see similar arguments in the writing circles. In my opinion, the producer's integrity is intact if he carries out what he promised. The makers of Jackass said, "We're going to show you guys doing incredibly stupid stuff that will get normal people killed." If they do it, then they've maintained their integrity. They fulfilled their promise. Now, if they said "This will be the craziest Jackass of all, we're going to put a man on the moon...NAKED!" and it was an hour of cute puppies eating cookies...then their integrity would be called into question.

    Quality of content is subjective in most cases. Way back in my journalism classes, I submitted a piece on...I don't even remember what it was. A humorous take on a situation, I think. We split into groups and critiqued the pieces. All five people in my group thought my piece was great--they laughed at it. I got back a nasty note from the professor listing everything wrong with the article. Clearly, he did not like my content or my writing style, even though my audience did.

    And regarding Jackass...boys (and some girls) have been doing stupid things for the sake of entertainment for thousands of years. Jackass just gets it on tape. If a 13-year-old throws himself into a wall because he saw it in Jackass...well...he's an idiot. I don't see how it's the content provider's fault.

  3. Ken - that reminds me of how irritated my father used to get when people used to complain that the film industry wasn't what it used to be - that it was "all about money." He pointed out that it has ALWAYS been about money (and certainly, I think he would have agreed, about integrity). The only thing it lost after it's golden age was the brilliant studio heads who actually knew how to make truly great movies. The bankers changed everything. Of course, the end of the studio system brought on the age of the independent...but that's another story...

    Suz - good point - Jackass is a centuries old tradition.....who are we to judge? It's a funny thing - "integrity" is one of those ideas that (some of us) strive for - but can never reach. ...

  4. So, would you say that if you show life and human beings for what they are that you do or don't have integrity? If you put something out there for public viewing, is it for entertainment or does it have to be a commentary on the world, or both? Putting something out there (such as the Jackass movie) does not mean this shows your values. Could it be thought provoking? Do you have to endorse that behavior because you showed people doing it? Maybe it is the opposite -- look how stupid we can be!

    Creative expression takes many forms and foremost is to have something to say. Then, one has to find the vehicle to say it. Viewing videos on YouTube of less than academic value is entertainment. At the same time, creating it or viewing it doesn't mean you think this is the way life is or should be. It is a slice of experience that the writer or film maker decides to show. Artistic integrity means being truthful to the purpose and how it is created and not stealing someone else's ideas or copying other's performances. It also means not doing “stuff” for money. But then, what if you need money? How far does that go? I won’t do _____ because I have been trained in this medium and I know better. Really? I have been there done that. One doesn’t want to be a wh*$# , and at the same time, a job is a job. There are videos depicting many horrible human conditions, but that doesn't mean those acts are being promoted or endorsed, just bringing awareness to it.

    I don't like the Jackass stuff and cringe when I see my son laughing at it. At the same time, I understand the need to depict this stuff. It has an audience and could even be a good opportunity for a conversation about making appropriate choices. I don't equate that to Bernie Madoff bilking people out of their life savings full well knowing what he was doing. He may have once had integrity, but greed got in the way. Survival does not equal greed. How much is enough?

    The lines between artistic integrity and personal integrity can be easily blurred. Rationalizing happens. Instead of trying to remove all offensive videos from YouTube, why not have a discussion about what is offensive in them? Or just laugh because it is funny. It doesn’t mean you endorse that behavior. Censorship does not make bad behavior go away.