Lip Dub Video Clip Captures Essence of the Web — Spontaneity, Authenticity, Participation, Fun

Lip Dub, an amateur lip sync video of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta,” is one of the most interesting videos I’ve seen. I want to analyze it a little, so put on your headphones or crank up your speakers and enjoy it first.

[vimeo 173714]

Lip Dub – Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from amandalynferri on Vimeo

My 20-Minute Analysis of Lip Dub

Why is this such an appealing, engaging video? And why does it capture the essence of the web?


The most salient characteristic is the spontaneity of the video. It appears as if someone thought up the idea on the spot, pulled out their personal video camera, and said hey everyone, let’s all lip sync this Flagpole Sitta song. As the lip syncing rotates from person to person, it seems unrehearsed (somewhat), as if everyone is just walking around singing the words, and the camera man moves from person to person.

The web is a spontaneous place. It is not about highly rehearsed, polished, practiced productions.

You might compare the spontaneity of Lip Dub to Numa Numa, which the Believer describes as “a movie of someone who is having the time of his life, wants to share his joy with everyone, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks” (qtd. in Wikipedia). In some ways, the characters in Lip Dub express a similar freedom, breaking out in spontaneous, amateur expression.

The people who made the video also said,

We did this video one night after work.

The timeframe is akin to the spontaneity of Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road, which he wrote “during a three week extended session of spontaneous confessional prose” (Wikipedia). We like spontaneous works like this. They indicate evidence of the muse at work.


The video also strikes a cord of authenticity. The people seem real. They aren’t all glamorous, highly attractive models. The camera and lighting isn’t studio quality. The camera isn’t roaming around on a smooth gliding cart. The camera is actually jerky, giving the impression of catching the scene in the moment that it naturally unfolds. You can imagine yourself being there and interacting with the people.

It’s also interesting to see the clips at the beginning and end, without the music playing. We love bloopers and behind-the-scenes shots. The video further emphasizes the realness of these people by showing the first lip syncer getting ready to press play on her iPod.

The last scene makes fun of the participants, showing them jumping around without the music. The cameraman is almost a trickster figure, pulling one over the participants, moving them around and having them continue to dance and jump even though he knows the music is silent. This shifts the point of view a bit. Now the viewers know more than the characters. We’re omniscient, pulled into the cameraman’s perspective.


The video doesn’t consist of one person’s spectacular lip sync, but that of a group, all participating together in this one spontaneous effort, which seems to communicate the attitude and mood of the song. One viewer, Steve Borsch, comments,

Examples like this are what fill me with unbounded optimism and joy that so-called “user generated content” and the Rise of the Participation Culture is going to change everything.

(By the way, I saw this video on Steve Borsch’s blog, which I discovered because it was posted on the Tech Writer Blogs directory wiki. If you have a blog that relates to communication, post it there too.)

The video might even be classified as a mashup, since it takes an existing song from one band, Harvey Danger, and is regenerated through a new group that repurposes it with its own style. I may be stretching the term mashup, but it’s bringing together content from two different sources and mashing them together in ways that creates something unique and new.


Finally, the people seem to be having a lot of fun. There’s something to be said for unbridled exuberance, for having fun doing what you do.

What does this have to do with Technical Communication?

Everything. We need to incorporate more audiovisual media into instructional documentation. Users love this type of content. Voice on video doesn’t need to be recorded in a studio. Our screen demos don’t need to be storyboarded to death, requiring 75 hours to produce a two minute video. As long as the content is there, on target, in sync with user needs, it will fulfill the user’s desire.

As tech writers, we should be creating more video — amateur is acceptable. Personal voice is desirable. Bloopers give human appeal. If we can have fun doing it [truly], it will engage our audience even more.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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  • Holly

    The Lip Dub video is marvelous! Such precise choreography, but they pull it off in such a fresh, natural way.

    I’m annoyed at having to wade through so much amateurish, childish, stupid junk on YouTube, so I rely on my friends and my connections in the blogosphere to direct me to good video. For example, tonight, my husband sent me this incredible wildlife footage. Amazing to watch.

    I think it’s hyperbole to say that “the rise of participation culture is going to change everything.” If you read Steve’s blog, you’ll see why he has a stake in that statement. But there’s some cool, fun stuff going on, for sure.

  • Andrew


    I am pretty sure thatthe song is not by Green Day, but by Harvey danger, as stated in the clip’s title ‘FlagPole Sitta by Harvey Danger’.

    Just a heads up.

  • Tom

    Andrew, thanks for the correction about the band name. I updated the post. Originally when I searched for “Green Day – Paranoia” and saw the same lyrics, I assumed they were the band. But I was obviously wrong. I don’t know why Green Day is associated with the song, but Harvey Danger is the author. You’re right. Thanks.

  • Tom

    Holly, thanks for sharing that wildlife video. That is pretty amazing.

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  • I Don’t Normally Sit Down For A Coffee With Dumb Insolence, But…

    What a portentous load of old ****. Your anal-ysis, not the video.


    Tom, son, look. I was googling the original post I found the link to this video on when I happened across your page & word wank. If you are as enamoured by this video as you appear to be then a little research wouldn’t have gone amiss (instead of that pretentious **** above **** over Jack Kerouac & what not).

    Whether the video is staged/rehearsed (possibly it is, as getting that many people – especially around beer – to hit the mark as near-perfectly as they did is nigh on impossible in one, seemless take – which this looks like it was), or spontaneous (doubtful: see previous point – especially as this is a advertising/graphix company – it probably even had a crude storyboard to assist with the placement of everyone) is beside the point & who the hell cares anyway?

    They’re having a ball. They’re not analysing why they are doing it or what impact it will have on the world at large (if you take a look at their other uploads on Vimeo you’ll see they carry out a whole bunch of time-wasteful/youthful/moronic/glorious things, it’s just those don’t have music attached to them).

    The internet is there/here; people do stupid things in front of cameras & upload them before hiding behind couches to wait for the flak. They’re just having fun for **** sake – isn’t this what this type of environment does ALL the time to let off steam? It’s a creative environment. Full of young, energetic minds. This is the result. Rejoice in it with a smile, not a **** essay on self-atonement.

    Finally, & I realise I am somewhat contradicting the last statement by continuing this lecture (&, yes, it IS a lecture), the director is not a ‘trickster’ blah blah blah. The audio drop more than likely became a decision when they were dubbing/syncing the song onto the visual. It’s no grand scheme. Again, it’s showing the group of people having the time of their lives up until that point.

    Jeez. I was really psyched before I read your trashy attempt at self importance.

    I’m sure it’s sunny where you are. Go out. Climb a tree. Graze an elbow. Something. Just, hell, don’t write anymore.

  • Tom

    Wow, what a comment to process. Part of me does agree with some of your reasoning. We should enjoy things for what they are rather than analyzing content to death, looking for meaning and intentions when they don’t exist. I often like to read a good article or watch a frivolous youtube video and not ask any questions afterwards. There’s definitely a place for that.

    But something about this video compelled me to walk into analysis-land. When I saw the 100+ comments on Vimeo that all had one-liner applauds — like Unbelievable. I love it! Amazing video. And on and on and on — I wanted to know why. My enjoyment of the video led me to ask questions. I wanted to do more than simply throw in another “Awesome video” comment.

    Don’t you think people can find enjoyment in asking questions and trying to understand things better? You’ve heard the phrase, “the unexamined life isn’t worth living.” Well, sometimes the unexamined blog post isn’t worth writing.

    Even though your comment was pretty blunt and offensive, it did cause me to think about another perspective for a while. For that, I thank you.

  • steve

    At the end of the day it’s a bit of a rip off. It’s good because the song is a good song, take it away and it all falls apart.

    Re: “spontaneity of Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road”, was half this book by someone else?

    SiteDub: What if I copied a (your) site or whatever and added a few elements then pawned it off as creative. Be original

  • They call me “crazy”

    When you see things like this, Buddies just goofing off, it sort of makes you feel good inside. You can almost feel the sense of friendship in this group.

    In the end it doesn’t matter if this was an on-the-spot video or an extravegant ad for the SILF shirt (which some have suggested). What matters is what you take away from it and how it effects you. If it makes you want to analyze it for a glowing endorsment for humanities cotinued existence that’s fine and dandy. If it makes you want to go outside and climb a tree and airguitar good for you.(watch ou though! The cops may think your nuts. Trust me.)

  • Tom

    The comments on this analysis have really given me a lot to think about in terms of the types of content that *should* be analyzed.

    I’ve always believed that you can analyze anything and find something interesting to see in it.

    Once while I was teaching at Columbia my students challenged me on this idea. So I grabbed the first object I saw — a walnut with a stamped imprint on it. For the next half hour, we talked about whether students should feed squirrels on campus, and whether squirrels are welcome wildlife or troublesome rodents.

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