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Viral Video 101 for Educators

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"Without an understanding of media grammars, we cannot hope to achieve a contemporary awareness of the world in which we live." -Marshall McLuhan


Viral Video refers to video clip content which gains widespread popularity through the process of Internet sharing, typically through email or IM messages, blogs and other media sharing websites. Viral videos are often humorous in nature and may range from televised comedy sketches from television shows to unintentionally released amateur video clips.

One example on YouTube is The Zimmers:

How Does Media Literacy Fit Into This?

We will be reviewing a number of different viral videos in order to examine three central ideas.

  1. Emotions
  2. Examining The Details
  3. The Power of Text, Sound and Images

We will also be using Cary Bazalgette's Framework For Approaching Media Texts and Signpost Questions to guide are study of these media texts.

Cary Bazalgette's Signpost Questions:

  • WHO is communicating with whom?-AGENCIES
  • WHAT type of text is it?-CATEGORIES
  • HOW is it produced?-TECHNOLOGIES
  • HOW do we know what it means?-LANGUAGES
  • WHO receives it and what sense do the make of it?-AUDIENCES
  • HOW does it present its subject?-REPRESENTATIONS

(Primary Media Education: A Curriculum Statement London: BFI Bazalgette, C. Bevort, E. and Savino, J. 1989, pg.8)

Cary Bazalgette's Framework For Approaching Media Texts:

Media languages - What does this text say? - How does it say it? - What sort of text is it?

Producers and audiences - How was the text produced? - By whom, and why was it produced? - For whom was it produced? - How did it reach its audiences?

Representation - What judgements do you make about the truth/authenticity/accuracy/realism/effectivity of this text? - What judgements might other people/groups make? -What can it be said to represent?

(Cary Bazalgette (1991): Media Education. Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, p.18)

Deconstructing A Viral Video: A Few Questions

  • Examine the symbols and images that are portrayed in the video - what attracts you to the video, what emotions do you feel?
  • What are the scenes like in the video - does it look user generated or professional?
  • Were there any computer generated effects used in the making of the video?
  • How does the music fit into the video?
  • Is there any images, sound, or text that stands out?
  • What questions would you like to ask the creator of the video?
  • Is the video telling a story?
  • What is the message that the video is sending?
  • Who is the target audience of this video?
  • Is this video part of a marketing strategy?

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that may or may not come from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs. More precisely, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where "cognition" is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.

1. Try viewing the video below with the sound off and answer the following questions. Is this character a hero or villain? Is there music in the background? If so, what type of music is in the background and what is the pace of that music? Are there words, if there is music?

2. Now turn the sound on. Was the sound/music what you expected? How does the sound fit with the imagery?

Discordant Imagery

When you see images, sound or text that seems out of harmony. This imagery stands out, the contrast forces your attention.

1. Take a look at the images in the short video below. When is your attention piqued? Why?

Feelings of Amusement

A humorous video that appeals to you, can be a very effective way to grab your attention. These video clips let you relax and laugh along with the clip, putting you in a positive frame of mind.

1. Who would find this video particularly humorous?

2. Who would not find this video funny?





Hobbs, R. (2006). Reconceptualizing media literacy for the digital age. In A Martin and D. Madigan (Eds). Literacies for learning in the digital age. London: Facets Press (pp. 99 – 109).

Hobbs, R. (2006) Multiple visions of multimedia literacy: Emerging areas of synthesis. In Handbook of Literacy and Technology, Volume II. International Reading Association. Michael McKenna, Linda Labbo, Ron Kieffer and David Reinking, Editors. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (pp. 15 -28).

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