YouTube Poops: The Innocence of the Internet, by Nick Felaris
Press the button on the time machine. Let’s travel to the past.
Rickroll. Hank Hill. This is Sparta. Mama Luigi. Billy Mays. Mario’s Floating Head. “Im a firin mah lazer!” Pootis. “Double rainbow all the way across the sky!” Peanut Butter Jelly Time. “Mah boi, this peace is what all true warriors strive for!”
It’s the late 2000s, and there’s a faceless kid sitting at his mom’s computer desk. The mystery kid has heard of this “YouTube” website, where thousands of people from across the globe share all of these really weird inside jokes, catchphrases and cat videos. The problem is that this unknown kid is bored — really, really bored. Armed with Windows Movie Maker and an anonymous YouTube profile, this kid downloads one of those random videos and rearranges random snippets of the video into funny sentences.
This mystery kid has just made a YouTube Poop.
A YouTube Poop (YTP) is a mashup that samples videos from pre-existing media to create new videos, often consisting of profane, absurd humor and countless layers of inside jokes. Long before TikTok’s dopamine-fuelled instantaneous clips, YTPs were the Internet’s premier source for entertainment. While YTPs might be remembered as ignorant videos made with a juvenile sense of humor, their legacy should be seen as important to the Internet as a whole. They taught content creators editing skills and allowed inexperienced editors to creatively reinterpret Internet culture.
A 2004 video by the content creator SuperYoshi, "I'D SAY HE'S HOT ON OUR TAIL," is considered to be the earliest known YTP. SuperYoshi sampled the episode “Recycled Koopa” from the 1990 animated television series, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. Using Windows Movie Maker on a cruddy Windows 98 computer, SuperYoshi looped a clip of Luigi exclaiming, “Wow! I’d say he’s hot on our tail!” upon being blasted by the Mario games’ Bullet Bill enemies. The clip was then intercut with seemingly random bits of dialogue from the episode. Luigi’s torment loops haphazardly after almost every piece of random dialogue, creating a Sideshow Bob-eseque fever dream of stepping on rake after rake after rake.
SuperYoshi’s half-baked video was essentially made to kill his own boredom, with no grandiose, plastic artistic statement behind it. And yet, these lazy edits were brimming with possibility.
SuperYoshi’s amateur sense of picking and choosing is an editing technique called “sentence mixing,” an element of craft that is crucial to the YTP. Sentence mixing is the rearrangement of dialogue clips to form a humorous sentence. For example, John Pätsch's 2009 YTP, "Youtube poop: big city family attacker" reinterprets a 2008 Billy Mays advertisement for the Big City Slider Station burger cooker. An innocent line of dialogue from Mays’ original advertisement such as “Hi! Billy Mays here with the Big City Slider Station!” is rearranged to form an absurd sentence: “Hi! Billy Mays here, and I can attack your family!” Much like ground beef being squished into patties, these samples become spliced and stretched to create absurd scenarios. Suddenly, a “loveable” television personality such as Billy Mays is no longer selling you a kitchen tool — Billy Mays is now going to attack your family.
Beyond the art of sentence mixing, YTPs pioneered the act of virtual collaboration as an Internet art form. “YTP tennis” videos are collaborative YTPs in which two or more editors send clips back and forth between each other and post the results in episodes or “rounds.” In a match such as “G-g-ghost!” from 2009 by Pyrstoyska and LeutenantGwo, the two content creators musically chop up a line of dialogue from the Adult Swim series Space Ghost Coast to Coast, remixing the melody of “Mysterious Flying Object” from the 2006 video game, Mother 3.
Their collaboration is an example of a YTPMV: a YTP that “performs” a song by sentence mixing dialogue by pitch, instead of their humorous qualities. These content creators put considerable time and effort into reinventing these easily forgotten video snippets into new compositions. Where a content creator like SuperYoshi might have used a rudimentary video editing tool such as Windows Movie Maker, later generations of YTP creators such as John Pätsch, Pyrstoyska and LeutenantGwo used more advanced editing software such as Sony Vegas and Adobe Premiere.
As these content creators began to understand their editing software, the creative flexibility of later YTPs evolved, and the possibilities became seemingly endless. Machinimas — videos that use video games to create animations — started to have crossover appeal among YTPers. Iconic machinimas such as “Team Fabulous 2” by Colin Wyckoff (also known as kitty0706) were made with their own characters and plotlines. YTP tennis matches such as EmperorLemon’s 2016 compilation, “The Drake and Josh YTP Collaboration,” highlighted different creators reinterpreting the same episode of the Nickelodeon series, Drake and Josh, for nearly a half-hour. YTPs and the genres of Internet videos that followed them have a universal goal of reinterpreting online content for humor. Today, the communities that form around these videos are driven by a passion for art that exists in their own innocent, unique niche, which has remained mostly untouched by the corporate need for “clean” and inoffensive content creation.
In my reflections on YTPs and the earliest Internet sample culture, I can’t help but be reminded of the English writer Mark Fisher and his article for the September 2010 issue of The Wire. Fisher, whose work explored concepts such as hauntology and post-capitalist media, analyzed two pseudonymous musicians who reinterpret the same lyric of the same song: the phrase “there’s nobody here” on Chris de Burgh's 1986 single, The Lady in Red. Fisher’s selected artists were sound artist Leyland James Kirby’s “V/Vm” alias and vaporwave musician Daniel Lopatin’s “Chuck Person” alias. Analyzing V/Vm’s “The Lady in Red (Is Dancing With Meat)” and Chuck Person’s “nobody here,” Fisher writes two interpretations of each artist’s take on the line:
“[Chuck Person’s] lift — a slowed down four-bar sample — lacks any parodic designs … ‘Nobody Here’ only lasts a little over two minutes, but the loop implies an infinity. … Meanwhile, V/Vm’s take on ‘The Lady In Red’ ... actually sounds disturbing ... Suddenly, the words ‘nobody here’ are freighted with menace, but this suggestion of violence also brings with it a harrowing sadness — the pain of the abject outsider tormented by an unattainable beauty.”
In the same way that a sentence-mixed Billy Mays either sells you a burger cooker or plots to attack your family, Fisher illustrates how two completely different meanings can emerge from the phrase “there’s nobody here.” Is Chris De Burgh trying to convey sadness, or is he trying to attack the listener?
YTPs mirror Fisher’s analysis, but instead of recontextualizing songs to bring out a somber meaning, they remix videos to extract the absurd. In a sense, YTPs embody the most “ideal” art form that any creator can ever hope to achieve: a product that isn’t for sale, and which is entirely free for the public to use and consume themselves. A rake, made for infinitely-stepping; a disposable piece of trash, made with no motivation for income; a slab of ground beef, shared among strangers for squishing and remixing.
While these outdated videos are small grains of sand in the vast desert that is our modern-day Internet, they stand as both an important time capsule and as mile-markers of the earliest forms of digital humor that went on to define modern Internet culture.
I dug up my own YTP time capsule this weekend. Laughing at looped Luigis in my tax-deductible apartment, I imagined what all of these anonymous uploaders from the 2000s look like today. I sometimes like to pretend that the usernames that made these classic YTPs were once bored, faceless kids themselves, sitting around without the shackles of adulthood, with nothing to do but to make funny Internet videos for online strangers. Maybe the human beings going under the usernames “Pyrstoyska” or “LeutenantGwo” hardly knew each other in real life, and they just happened to work together after sharing an interest in Mother 3 on some obscure online forum. Whoever made the username “SuperYoshi” has probably changed as a person in the 18 years that have transpired since the original upload of “I’D SAY HE’S HOT ON OUR TAIL.” Regardless, no matter how oddball their methodology — sentence-mixing the detritus of culture — all YTP creators share one common goal: to express an infinite amount of love for the Internet and for the absurd, obscene, utterly ridiculous communities that live in it.
Reset the time machine. Let’s return to the present.
Vibes. Bojack Horseman. 19 dollar Fortnite card. Jake Paul. Rick and Morty. Big Chungus. "Watch me whip!" Keanu Reeves. “I don't care if you broke your elbow." Among Us. "It is Wednesday, my dudes."
Maybe we should go back.