The Effects of the YouTube Virus

Call Me, Carly Rae

This is the story of a viral video.1

A video to which my Mother’s initial response was: “MICHAEL!!!  What did you do?!

“Uh oh,” I thought, it always being better not to make Mom angry.

…Maybe you’d better take a quick look.

Where did it come from, you ask?  Well apparently, rather than write in others’ yearbooks before departing ways as in days of yore, the graduating seniors I work with thought the appropriate way of showing their love for their soon to be alma mater of Creighton University was to make a parody of a music video.

Wait, what?  Has it been that long since I graduated?  I guess it has.  And I guess this is what you do when you’re graduating college in 2012.  Because now that we’re fully immersed in the age of social media it seems like the internet itself has become something like a worldwide yearbook – a way of keeping up with friends, seeing pictures, and remembering funny stories.

The odd things is that anything put up on the internet follows you – or, as the case may be, me.  I say odd because this was a video full of inside jokes, a video made for coworkers and college students, a video for the school community.

And that’s the way it started out, as something to be shown at our end-of-the-year celebration for our office. And then it was posted to YouTube.  It was then that I and the rest of the group that made it saw to our shock that not only was The Video being viewed by those who had listened to Carly Rae alongside us throughout the semester, but also by hundreds – and then thousands2 – of friends and complete strangers.  Two days after it was posted, I couldn’t walk around the campus (yes, even into the campus church) without receiving handshakes from strangers who told me how much they loved The Video.

So, while we’re no Justin or Greyson, it had indeed gone viral – at least on this small university campus.

And then I received an email from one of my kind editors at The Jesuit Post3 informing me that I should check the TJP Facebook page.

“Uh oh,” I thought.

I was planning to write this month about how hunting for mushrooms is like finding the treasure hidden in a field (or forest) that Jesus speaks of,4 but since The Video was already shared with The Jesuit Post community…

And when friends from around the world were emailing me to tell me that they had seen it…

I figured I needed to respond.

***

The Identifying Collar

I realized soon after joining the Jesuits that on some level I would no longer just be “Michael.”  While my family and close friends still see me as the same person I was before I added an S.J. to my name, whenever I meet new people I can’t expect to just be “Michael,” or even to be able to control how I present myself or who and what others associate me with.  Nope, from that moment on I would always, to some extent, be “Michael the Jesuit,” and “Michael the Representative of the Church.”

At times I haven’t wanted to bear that responsibility.  I mean sometimes one of my brothers will do something I disagree with or find embarrassing.  Sometimes I don’t know what to do or say when people associate me with things I don’t associate myself with.

But other times it’s a tremendous privilege.  People often share their lives with me simply because I stand on the shoulders of amazing Jesuits, true giants.  Or because I represent to them a Church where they find the way, truth, and life.

In all honestly, I love being “Michael the Jesuit.”

I have also (through the immense gift that Jesuit formation and Ignatian spirituality have been to me) grown to see that “Michael the Jesuit” doesn’t have to be entirely different from plain old “Michael”.  I listened to catchy pop music before I joined the Jesuits.  As a Jesuit I still rock out in the car to Maroon 5 when no one is watching.  There have been times, in the past, when I’ve wanted to hide this from people, but lately I’m learning to be grateful – to be able to enjoy being myself – in such moments of unadulterated joy.  And after having worked with college students who play the latest pop music constantly, maybe I’m more authentically myself than ever.

***

It’s nearly every week that a student shows me a new YouTube video, often one that will soon become the latest craze in our obsession crazed culture.  One student showed me a song that now has over a hundred million views when there were just 20,000.  Recently they told me I “had to see” the Adele Butter Dance, and now several hundred thousand more people have enjoyed a similar pleasure.5

And, you know, the surprising thing about this whole experience for me has been that the reaction of those who have seen it has been stunningly positive.  It’s been a real experience of consolation – of being brought closer to the Lord in joy – for me.  The student who directed the video even asked me, “Could you have imagined that after only being here a semester you would leave with a legacy?”

Yup.  The Video, my three minutes and twenty seconds of YouTube glory, is my supposed “legacy” from a semester of apostolic work.  I’m sure this is exactly what my superiors had in mind when they missioned me here.

But it does seem that making a video, and sharing it with friends and complete strangers and online, is a common way of communicating for young adults today – as any reader of The Jesuit Post is well aware.

The response by those of a different generation may not be as enthusiastic.  No doubt my mother’s initial reaction is not unique to her.  And I do realize that some may see The Video as inappropriate – especially featuring as it does someone who represents the Church in a bit of an unusual role.  At the very least it raises all sorts of questions related to changing methods of communication and the place of the Church within them.  I can’t say that there haven’t been moments where I’ve second-guessed myself for being in it.

Because humor, laughter, and goofiness are potentially dangerous things from a public relations perspective.  They can very easily be misinterpreted.  Some expect religious leaders to go about their work with seriousness and only concern themselves with “higher” things.  And there are times when I’ve been asked to deal with things that have deserved only serious attention, or reverence, or even tears.

But because humor and laughter are also delightful, because few things are higher than joy, “the most infallible sign of the presence of God”6 I still see a tremendous amount of good in this whole thing.

Easter Colbert

While I might prefer students to remember some things other than this video, if they see in some small way how I’ve tried to care for them by taking an interest in even this part of their lives, then perhaps this video isn’t so removed from the mission I was given by my superiors after all.

If some students see that those who represent the Church don’t always have to take themselves too seriously and that, as fellow TJPer Jim Martin says, joy, humor, and life in abundance are also important elements in the spiritual life, then mission accomplished.

***

One of my favorite messages from Jesus appeared in the daily readings while The Video was going viral on campus and my heart was filling itself up with nerves about whether I had done the right thing in participating.  It reads: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

So, while I don’t think Jesus had making ridiculous YouTube videos in mind when he talked about abundant life (in fact I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that He certainly didn’t), and while prudence of course is necessary, I also don’t think that Jesus wanted us to be so concerned with people potentially misinterpreting our actions that we miss out on the abundance that comes when we’re living a life of joy.  As my Jesuit Post companion Sam Sawyer put it so well, perhaps a video of Stephen Colbert dancing to “The King of Glory Comes” better illustrates the feel of Easter joy and life in 2012 than a whole mess of cherubs.

It’s true, God may not be immediately visible in that spoof of a music video – especially one so evidently short on substance.  But God is inescapably evident to me in the joy, creativity, and energy of these students I get to work with on a daily basis.  Perhaps some of that life-in-abundance comes across in The Video.  Perhaps that’s what made it go viral.

(Plus you have to admit it’s a pretty good twist at the end.)

– — – — –

  1. Okay okay, so it’s only been viewed 3,000 some odd times, but still… 3,000! I’m almost famous!
  2. …okay okay, three! Three thousand! Fine! Steal my moment!
  3. Let’s call him, oh I don’t know, Derrick Fundrup.
  4. Strange, I know, but there isn’t a whole lot written on mushrooms and spirituality.  And actually the only things I found in my admittedly brief research efforts were written about very different types of ‘shrooms than the morels on which I recently feasted.
  5. Props to the guy who put up the disclaimer on that video about it not being about making fun of either Adele or the lady dancing.  Nice job, guy.
  6. I’ve seen this attributed both to Léon Bloy and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.  Whomever it comes from, I think it’s gold.