It’s been almost five years since video blogger Chris Crocker uploaded a video to YouTube in which he histrionically beseeched the media and the public to “Leave Britney Alone!” - a phrase that would become a shibboleth (yeah, nbij is aware how got pretentious he just got) of a new, emerging online pop culture.
Crocker’s tearful jeremiad and his seemingly deep emotional investment in Spears’ welfare provoked such strong reactions the video attracted millions of viewers in less than four days. As nbij writes, the number of hits stands at almost 44,000,000.
Crocker’s caterwauling had been prompted by the media coverage of Britney Spears’ 'comeback' performance at the 2007 VMAs. In it, Spears listlessly heaved her spent body hither and thither across the stage in nothing but underwhelming underwear – her awkward posturing like a cruel parody of her once trademark combination of earnest teenage athleticism and undulating, jailbaity lasciviousness. To be blunt, it was like watching a stripper with sciatica.
Poor Brit, eh? (Never mind: in fact, this performance marks the start of my favourite period in the Spears oeuvre, in which the vast majority of her lyrics became about our need to admit how desperate we are to have sex with her, occasionally through the use of amusing homophones). Nevertheless, in the audience you can spot an adolescent Rihanna in the audience, poised like a dog on heat to take Britney’s place as queen of the semi-nude pelvic thrust.
It would be easy to dismiss the video as a piece of Internet ephemera but nbij believes it highlights a number of cultural shifts which, in the densely packed history of the internet (where 5 years is like an aeon), are identifiable as the primitive, fossilised ancestors to our current cultural trends and memes.
Put simply, Chris Crocker – whether he knew it or not - was the screeching-yet-prophetic voice of a generation and here’s why:
1.The internet celebrity
The ‘Youtube star’ who can build a global fanbase from make-up tutorials, starring in a pop video produced or simply making a cat jump is now a familiar, almost tired figure, but Crocker was one of the first to realise that the internet provided an audience for almost anything – boasting that he could get hundreds of thousands of hits on a video of him blinking.
2. False empathy with the rich and famous
Crocker’s expressions of solidarity with Spears (he uses her first name in a gesture of non-existent familiarity) and his admonishment of Perez Hilton (a blogger whose career trajectory simply involved treating celebrities as if they were already his friends, then letting it become so) both prefigure the “R.I.P Whitney/Fly on heavens wings Amy/I’m puttin my paws up @ladygaga” generation who use twitter and instagram to realise what previous generations could only fantasise about – a true connection with their celebrity icons. Of course when I say ‘realise’ I don’t refer to 'real' reality, I refer to:
3. 'Structured' reality
Is Chris Crocker actually crying or is this performance? He always said it was real for him “in that moment” but nbij struggles to see any actual tears after watching the video muted and inordinate amount of times (nbij had been taking very strong painkillers for a separate issue, not to worry). By 2012, nbij realises the question of emotional sincerity doesn’t matter after years of Laguna Beach, The Hills, Jersey Shore, The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea – which taught us that to ask if something is “real’ is the mark of a naïve ingénue who believes such distinctions exist.