Opinion

opinion | Meta Wagner

A year defined by what we watched

The YouTube video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” has been viewed over 38 million times.
YouTube
The YouTube video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” has been viewed over 38 million times.

With December drawing to a close, it’s time to pronounce 2014 The Year of the Video.

The choice might come as a surprise. After all, video is nothing new — far from it. But, never before have we watched (and watched and watched) video, binged on it, and learned some heavy lessons about human nature from it.

The amount of video we consumed in 2014 is astounding. We spent 4.4 billion hours viewing video on-demand in 2013, with estimates for 2014 even higher. Netflix streamed 6.5 billion hours of video in the first few months of 2014 alone. More than 1 billion unique users visited YouTube and watched over six billion hours of video this month on hundreds of millions of devices.

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In the last days of the year, Santa Sony gave streaming video an enormous boost and a glimpse into the future when, for the first time, a Hollywood studio released a major motion picture before it opened in theaters. As of this writing, “The Interview” is, not surprisingly, YouTube’s most popular video.

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While I can resist seeing “The Interview,” I wish I were immune to the addictive charms of video, in general. I’d like to claim that I spent this past year reading the literary classics that have eluded me, like “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights.” But, instead of reading, I spent the year binge-watching “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” “Alpha House,” “Breaking Bad,” “Scandal,” “Nashville,” “Girls,” and, so far, seasons one through five of “Grey’s Anatomy.” And so did you.

But, not all the videos we watched were glossy entertainment. Some have the potential to change the culture on a grander scale.

One such video made the YouTube Top Ten of 2014 list. “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” shows two minutes’ worth of “hi, beautiful” and “sexy” and “damn!” that men called out to the female filmmaker over 100 times throughout the day, along with footage of a man who creepily walked in step with her for a full five minutes. It was no “Mutant Giant Spider Dog,” which topped the list, but it drew 37.5 million views and stirred up an important conversation about street harassment of women. Even people who say that women should be flattered by such comments were forced to reconsider their point of view when the nonstop nature of catcalling was revealed.

The elevator surveillance video that showed then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée (now wife), Janay, and casually dragging her inert body into the hallway as if she were a sack of potatoes was chilling. Initially, the NFL gave Rices just a two-game suspension until, supposedly, they watched the video and felt pressured to increase the penalty to an indefinite suspension (which has since been overturned). The power of video is such that Janay Rice has said she has not, and will not, watch it. If seeing is believing, it’s no wonder the NFL and Janay Rice did not want to see this footage. For very different reasons, they simply did not want to believe.

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Finally, the single most important video of the Year of the Video was of New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American man in Staten Island, into a chokehold and, with the assistance of several other officers, wrestling him to the ground and ultimately killing him. This single video, taken by one of Garner’s friends on his mobile phone, gave the “hands in the air” movement what the Michael Brown case could not: indisputable proof of police brutality. It also provided crucial support for advocates of “arming” police with cameras.

Orange may be the new black, but in 2014 video became the new TV, the new novel, the new movie, the new phone call, the new news, and the new judge and jury.

Meta Wagner teaches creative writing at Emerson College. Follow her on Twitter @creative_maven.