Goodbye, Vine

I want to talk about Vine by talking about something else, first.

The primary benefit of technology is how it democratizes certain skills and industries. Before, if you wanted to be a musician, you had to take an arduous path; you might play for years and years before getting any noise, if you ever do. If you wanted to be a comedian, you had to go play at clubs, over and over again, and hope, again, that you get a little noise. None of this was guaranteed; a lot of brilliant comedians never came to the public consciousness, and a lot bomb-ass musicians never got on the radio.

But now?

If you want to be a comedian, you can do like Bo Burnham; make goofy videos and post them, for a few years, and suddenly you’re selling out venues all over the country, and having Netflix-released comedy specials. If you want to be a musician, you can be like Justin Bieber, going from a few grainy videos of a precocious piano-playing youth into a genuine global megastar.

There are so many places you can go. YouTube, starting in 2005, became a platform for all sorts of talents. Video game LPs, (Let’s Plays), became a gigantic industry. Thousands upon millions of people play video games and record themselves doing so, squeezing that content into 10-45 minute blocks, and sending it out for people to watch. Who the hell would’ve guessed that would take off? Regardless of what you think about him, PewDiePie is making a bazillion dollars a year, with a bazillion and one views; he was just a guy with a camera and a willingness to forge ahead.

And for every star, there are a few who have made content that, while not taking them to the top of the Billboard charts or selling out Madison Square Garden, has left an impact. Alyssa Bernal, a woman who made YouTube videos in her bathroom of her singing, has released an album and was at one point signed to Pharell’s label Star Trak. Or Todd Kuffner, an assistant professor in the Mathematics department at St. Louis University, having gotten his Ph.D from Imperial College London, releasing a full-throated album? How about Hat Films, a British YouTube trio that makes those aforementioned LPs and other comedy videos, or the Yogscast, or Guude Boulderfist, or Mark Crossfield, or Alt Shift X?

Musicians, comedians, video gamers, golfers and explainer video makers; all of this can be found online, a lot of it on YouTube, and any other place online. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter; genius people, making funny, engaging content. There’s good stuff, and bad, but the point is that all of these people never would’ve been able to express their abilities and show off their talents and find an audience to go along with those things without the democratization of technology.

* * *

Vine announced today that it would be shutting it’s doors in the upcoming months.

I’ve been a daily user of the app since around September 2013. I never really made Vines; had a few attempts here or there, but I found that I enjoyed the content that others made so much more. I was there before the “pop viners” became pop viners, and was here after they left; I say that not as a brag, or a statement of authenticity, but as a testament to the breadth of the app itself.

When the people most known for Vine—the Nash Griers, the Shawn Mendes, the King Bachs—had long since came and went, Vine persisted. There has always been a lot of sniggering and mocking of Vine and the people who use it—many of those same users reflexively used the same kind of language to mock themselves, preemptively, as a way to puncture their own balloon and to fend off criticism down the road—but the criticisms always missed the point.

The dumbass boys and girls who lip-synched their way to some sort of “Vine Fame” never really lasted on the app itself. They gathered relevance from brands desperate to grab ahold of Millennial attention for advertising, but they never got to the heart of the app itself. They missed out on the Aaron Chewnings, or the Victor Pope JRs,; I’ll stop naming names, because Christ knows my knowledge of Vine, for as much time as I’ve spent on it, is incomplete, but the point remains.

The backbone of the app—the brilliant sketch comedy shows packed into six seconds—was always there. It was held up by an ever-growing, ever-rotating cast of characters. Brilliant men and women, especially and often men and women of color, perfected quick-hit comedy. So many internet phenomenons came out of Vine. It’s worth noting, too, that the internet phenomena and the memes that they would become, often came from men and women of color. Many of the funny things from Vine, in that vein, came from men and women of color. Some people I’ve talked to about this, both today and over the years, have postulated that part of the reason that Vine gets so little respect is because people of color tend to to dominate the comedy conversation; I tend to agree.

What made Vine strong was often counterintuitive; the short time frame made it feel impossible to get any sort of idea across. But, of course, it turned out to be the thing that supercharged it. Limitations are great for creativity; obstacles sharpen creative work, cut out the fat and excess, and bring out a more focused product. Allowing creativity to sprawl out, like Las Vegas in the Nevada desert, results in something large and loud and luminous, but it’s trying to point something out with a floodlight; sure, the area is illuminated, but you don’t know which thing you’re supposed to look at. Twitter’s strength lies in this, too; brevity of expression makes for honest expression, (most of the time), and the idea of expanding their character limit strips away that forced clarity.

So many people have been able to express their talents and abilities through places like Vine. That never would’ve happened twenty years ago. It’s not that all of these people are literal genius, but they all have good ideas, funny ideas, that now get to live on. Instead of being an in-joke between friends, it gets shared to the world. There are some awful Vines, sure, and some deeply untalented, unskilled people (myself included), but everyone got their moment, and we got to experience it with one another. That was something worthwhile.

* * *

I’m sad that Twitter is so bad at running their own company that they can’t figure out how to keep Vine running. I read an Twitter thread from @alexandraerin on this today, which is where I got this idea from: they’re shuttering Vine because they can’t find a person to sell the company to, and are going to tighten their belts. It’s a failure of their company to police harassment, and nobody wants the hassle of Twitter’s disgusting troll problem. Vine took the hit so that Twitter could continue to be run by total idiots for a little while longer.

There’s not really a point to this; I’m kind of embarrassed to write it, honestly. I’ve always been a big fan of Vine and the community it created, but I didn’t realize that I cared so much. It’s just an app, and life will go, and eventually I’ll find some other dumb shit to gawk at while I try to fall asleep, but it is sad. I am sad a that platform for artists is going away. I’m sad that I won’t get to enjoy sports vines right after a big game.

The thing that I come away most is impressed. So many people with so many funny, engaging ideas. Some awful, boring ideas, too, but that comes with it. But it’s been fun. It’s been meaningful.

We’ll find something else; we always do.

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