The side of my face is smushed against the carpet in a room in the Tyler Haynes Commons. A group of my girlfriends is sprawled around me, and we are all in rest-mode after an endless day of classes, homework and sorority rush. We are killing time before a meeting and the sounds from a YouTube segment bubble out of my friend's laptop.
Here on the floor, I am finally exposed to the Jenna Marbles phenomenon. I start spitting up laughter when my friend clicks on a string of links to the newly popular segments starring Jenna Mourey, a quirky blonde who spoofs herself, stereotypes and common situations in videos.
She covers a variety of topics, with titles ranging from "How to trick people into thinking you're good looking," "What girls do in the car" and "How to avoid talking to people you don't want to talk to."
Before I read her bio on her blog, I vaguely suspected that Mourey was some bored girl with symptoms of multiple personality disorder who got a kick out of unleashing her psychosis on the Internet.
In reality, she is a New Yorker who graduated from Boston University with a degree in psychology, and made a couple of videos for fun while working odd jobs before the responses of her friends encouraged her to continue.
I can see why her friends were enthusiastic. Her stream-of-consciousness rants and spastic drivel put me into a fit of hysterics, along with most of the other girls. But one friend was offended by the crass content of the clips and declined to watch. So I questioned my reaction.
With the Internet, possibly the most expansive and universally accessible public forum in contemporary media, there is constantly the question of ethical standards. Mourey flirts with the risk of offending audiences with often sexualized humor and vulgar phrases.
But her segments are rampantly viewed: "How to trick people into thinking you're good looking" has more than 34 million viewers and is rated with one "dislike" for every 20 "likes." In the room I was in, most of us laughed.
Is laughing enough? Through the lens of rhetoric -- the study of how messages influence audiences -- Mourey's videos are a form of speech intended to present a message to her viewers.
Some of the satirical clips are meant to mock social faux pas and other YouTube videos that give advice about nearly everything, said Blake Abbott, a Richmond rhetoric and communication studies professor. "Interestingly, I'd say that the purpose of these videos is as much to inform as it is to entertain," Abbott said.
"Sure, they're meant to be funny in a way, but the idea behind them is that Jenna is giving some advice presumably to help her viewers handle odd situations and everyday pressures."
But such videos are empty critiques, Abbott said. "It's mostly an opportunity for people to laugh at themselves or other people they know like this without asking anyone to rethink," he said.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
So videos like Jenna Mourey's craft a lighthearted atmosphere. This atmosphere of entertainment is perpetuated by more than three billion YouTube views per day, according to the YouTube website. They take many of us out of context for a few minutes, out of our classroom stress and out of our job responsibilities.
"YouTube itself is an important part of the 21st century public forum," Abbott said, "at least so far in the century. The interesting thing about sites like YouTube is that they can take discussions in many different places to many different ends."
The January/February 2012 issue of Health Magazine even encourages readers to watch a YouTube video during the day as an energy booster. "A good laugh raises your blood pressure and boosts heart rate, too, which can pump you up when you're feeling sluggish," said Robert R. Provine, author of "Laughter: A Scientific Investigation."
But are we perpetuating superficial standards of beauty and behavior by watching these videos? Would we be better off leaving them unseen? I watch them sometimes; many friends watch them often. Either way, we all laugh at them and move on with our days unchanged.
Maybe we need to see something loopy to keep us sane. Maybe we don't need to analyze the value of entertainment and can just enjoy it for what it is. Laughing is always enough.
Support independent student media
You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.Donate Now