Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pizza Rat: The Back Story

New York City rat taking pizza home on the subway (Pizza Rat) 

Is this a Viral Video? It definitely seems to fit the description...

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  A viral video is a video that becomes popular through a viral process of Internet sharing... Some eyewitness events have been caught on video and have "gone viral"[. In 2012, the Kony 2012 video by Invisible Children, Inc. became the most viral video in history with approximately 34,000,000 visits three days after its upload on 5 March 2012... Another recent example is Gangnam Style by PSY. As of January 2016 Gangnam Style had been viewed 2.5 billion times on YouTube, which made it the most viewed video in the history of the site.

Well, OK, this one (as of this viewing, some 6 months after it was posted) is only showing

9,224,806 views, but then again, we only get to see a few seconds of a rat dragging a slice of pizza 5 times its size down a NYC Subway stairway. True, those numbers hardly match the kind of popularity Gangnam Style, the viral, runaway, smash YouTube hit of a couple of years ago (July 15, 2012) has racked up: over 2 and 1/2 BILLION views by now. But, hey, give this little rat some time :) 

Gangnam Style, by the way, had all the elements we would expect to add up to a video that goes viral. It was produced professionally and no doubt at some significant expense to promote the lead single from an album of songs from PSY, a recording artist, who was already a star in his native South Korea. It offers a very catchy bit of highly produced, people pleasing music... AND it features that kind of goofy, easy to imitate dance craze little move that people everywhere just have to get up to do at 'that wedding' that might have been boring otherwise, or at the drunken office Christmas party, or at the local sports bar, or wherever.

This video, though, was shot in a common public space that was appropriated as a location, shot using only available light without filtering out ambient noise, and didn't require paying its star anything - other than a couple of bites of stale pizza. It was probably 'filmed' using a Smart phone. The pizza ($2.50 a slice @ average NYC prices) was probably the only actual expense incurred in producing something that has drawn the attention of well over 9 million viewers. Pretty impressive.

This comes off as something of a beautiful thing. Someone stops to notice an outrageous occurrence going on beneath the feet and beyond the notice of average people dashing through their busy day, hustling to get wherever it is they are hustling to... The little drama unfolds and an impromptu documentarian captures it with a camera and uploads it to YouTube... and the rest is viral video history. Nice!  But wait... is there a back story to this video?

No one is saying for sure, but probably there is,  and its far more interesting than the real life adventures of a subway dwelling rat foraging for nourishment in the streets of New York and hitting it big time in the trash piled up outside Ray's Pizza would be. What if this little rodent lotto winner story turned out to have been STAGED? How fascinating would that be?

Well, 6 months after the Pizza Rat video was first posted, the following article appeared in the NY TIMES...

"The Artist Behind the Three-Eyed Fish and Selfie Rat, and Other Hoaxes" 


"The artist Zardulu, creator of Selfie Rat and the Three-Eyed Gowanus Canal Catfish, makes myths for the modern age… Her medium is the elaborately staged viral video… She has been suspected as the creator of the even more famous Pizza Rat, caught dragging a slice down subway stairs in September, though another man claims credit for that video… she is not above coyly taking credit for Pizza Rat — writing that “one day I might be hiding around a corner coaxing a rat to drag something down a staircase."

'Myths for the modern age?"

Absolutely! I understand the theme of this one; it's everyone's fear in NYC that vermin will take over eventually and that you'll be confronted with the disgusting, irrefutable evidence of this personally, when you least expect or are prepared for it... This video is especially hard hitting because people in such overcrowded places really just want to be left alone to enjoy the last little vestiges of personal space and the dignity and sanity that comes along with them.

Only part of this video's spell, though, comes from its subject matter that hits you in the gut, putting you in touch with your vulnerability in the urban, pre-apoclyptic disasterscape that is contemporary, upscale Manhattan. The other, perhaps larger, part is the catalyst that Zardulu has intuited and chosen to give this story the authority, authenticity, and punch to turn it viral... YouTube.

The Viral Video an art form? Absolutely!

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