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

by Tom Johnson on Jun 5, 2007
categories: technical-writing web-design

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.

Download Lip Dub - Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger

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.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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