When I call YouTube vile, I refer to the comments, not the videos. In truth, though, the videos themselves can be quite disturbing. If a movie critic refers to "the goriest, most disgusting, most obscene film ever made" -- look it up on YouTube: The horrid thing will probably be on display for the edification of eight-year-olds everywhere. Although I've never typed the words "real death" into the YouTube search engine, I can guess what the results would be.
But the true subject of this post is the commentary one finds on YouTube. As everyone knows, any given "conversation" on that site will combine the vapid and the toxic in roughly equal amounts. These relentlessly offensive and ignorant offerings put the First Amendment's elasticity to its most extreme test.
Right now, a lot of people are talking about this Cheerios ad
which ran during the Super Bowl. That commercial may be the most innocuous thing ever placed before human eyes. Nevertheless, this wholesome depiction of a mixed race couple caused much of America to go bonkers
Why do so many obnoxious cranks feel obligated to spew their poison all over YouTube? One can find stupid, insane, bigoted and hideously misspelled commentary all over the internet, but YouTube forces one to confront stupidity, insanity, bigotry and bad spelling in their most concentrated forms.
Of course, most other websites have moderators
. That's a key difference. YouTube has no moderation, no standards, no referees. YouTube transforms everything into sewage precisely because
it is a place of almost-perfect freedom.
Freedom, it seems, is a paradox: The greater the freedom, the greater the chance that we will mire ourselves in muck. We think of regulation
as that which chains us and freedom
as that which snaps the chain. But in truth, both total freedom and total regulation offer manacles.