“Oh it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you. Oh such a perfect day, you just keep me hanging on. You just keep me hanging on…” Lebanese Forces husband and wife Samir and Strida Geagea serenade one another in one of Lebanon’s beautiful pine groves, with adversaries and allies Emile Lahoud, Sleiman Franjieh, Fouad Siniora, Nabih Berri, Walid Jumblatt, Nayla Moawad and others joining in to croon out the rest of their Lebanese rendition of Lou Reed’s much-celebrated, 1972 “Perfect Day.” The musical masterpiece, along with over 100,000 other Lebanon related viral videos, is available on YouTube.
Nearly 100 Lebanon-related videos are uploaded to You Tube each day, though most are not worth the time it takes to download them over Lebanon’s internet connection. Over 66,000 viewers to date, nevertheless, have visited the site to see “A Perfect Day in Lebanon.” Most of the other uploaded Lebanon videos, however, are bites from the evening news, recent speeches by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, or slideshows of Lebanese scenery set to Fairuz ballads.
“The global scope of YouTube is staggering,” Steve Grove, head of news and politics at You Tube told NOW Lebanon. “In fact, the majority of our traffic comes from outside the U.S. From a political perspective, YouTube is quite literally the ‘world's largest town hall,’ a destination where everyone – from world leaders to everyday people – can engage in open dialogue.”
But by far the most popular Lebanese videos come from a list of titles like “Sexy Lebanese Girls” or “Dancing Lebanese Girls,” though most are no more risqué than a slideshow of Nancy Ajram and Haifa Wehbe posters or shots of bikini-clad women on one of Lebanon’s many beaches. One video of nothing more scandalous than a Lebanese weather girl in a tube top had some 200,000 views – and a comment board to make even a sailor blush.
For the internet user willing to sift through the rubbish, though, there are a few humorous gems out there and some otherwise unusual historical footage worth downloading. The YouTube phenomenon – one paralleled in Lebanon by the soaring popularity of other Web 2.0 technology like the social networking site Facebook – has caught the attention of academics, too, a few of whom have gleaned some valuable insights.
Kristin Shamas, one such scholar, an information and communication technology (ICT) ethnographer doing her research in Lebanon on a Fulbright grant, spoke to NOW Lebanon about YouTube usage in the country. It is not all so juvenile, she argued. Videos like “A Perfect Day in Lebanon,” she said, were examples of how YouTube sometimes functions “as a site of alternative, ironic political activity.” Through humor, the video creator does not have to side with one side or another of the political divide and can, therefore, lash out against the entire system. Shamas called it an “anti-establishment message by young people in their own vernacular.”
YouTube is in a definite relationship with mainstream media. As such, the way in which it is used fluctuates in conjunction with the political situation. By way of example, Shamas pointed out that a recent surge in videos critical of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea coincided with the leader’s recent visit to the US, surmising that relatively positive coverage of Geagea in the US and international press might have provoked his political opponents to respond, or retaliate, on You Tube.
With little to contextualize them, some of these videos show the commander with his troops in the civil war, reminding viewers of his contentious past. Other videos of him are just silly or mocking. One shows Geagea being “naughty,” snapping and grinning during a live performance of Wehbe’s song “Naughty,” another shows the tall man zooming around on a little motor scooter, and a third is of him in a bright pink shirt with Strida at the head of a dabkeh line.
“The News & Politics categories on YouTube are organic, responding to the pulse of politics worldwide,” said Grove. “Politics on YouTube is still a very nascent realm. At this stage, it's too early to predict the impact YouTube – and in particular political humor – will have on politics in the long run.”
In the end, the boggling number of silly camera-phone and want-to-be erotic slideshows can make Lebanese You Tube viewing a tedious and unrewarding way to spend an hour on the internet. The fact that everything historical is polemical, as well, is oftentimes vexing. The positives, though, do outweigh the negatives, and the uninitiated browser should definitely give YouTube a go, to see what he or she might be able to dig up. Heard about the Bass Mat al-Watan fiasco of June 2006 but missed the episode? Well, it is available on You Tube 24/7. Got a favorite Bachir Gemayel or Michel Aoun speech? It’s probably there, too.
But, for those easily ruffled by some foul language, be warned: the YouTube censors most definitely do not speak Arabic. In fact, said Grove, even if they did, they would still not censor users, as “one of our guiding philosophies here at YouTube is a belief in the wisdom of the crowds. We do have terms of service… As a company, however, we do not censor our site.”