Praxis

Lip dubbing on YouTube: Participatory culture and cultural globalization

Mark C. Lashley

University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In the phenomenon of lip dubbing online, music fans throughout the world mime along with their favorite (usually Western) pop songs, and distribute videos of the performances to web video sites like YouTube. Two popular examples of the form are examined: China's Back Dorm Boys, and Moymoy Palaboy, from the Philippines. The dozens of videos produced by each group speak to issues of cultural imperialism and globalization, as well as broader concerns about participatory culture within the YouTube space.

[0.2] Keyword—Cultural imperialism

Lashley, Mark C. 2012. "Lip Dubbing on YouTube: Participatory Culture and Cultural Globalization." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 11. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0408.

1. Introduction

[1.1] As YouTube, the world's largest online video hosting service, has expanded and developed since its inception in 2005, it has taken on the character of a massive global media platform. It is a readily accessible site for all forms of user-created video coming from all corners of the globe. As such, it exists as a sphere for many types of identity practice, as scholars have begun to discuss (see Strangelove 2010 and Burgess and Green 2009, for example). This paper attempts to situate the YouTube user and video creator as a transnational figure through an exploration of participatory culture and media usage, along with a critique of cultural imperialism, a theory that has attempted to define the media landscape as a contested cultural space in which Western culture prevails over all.

[1.2] I examine two pairs of "lip dub" artists: the Back Dorm Boys, from China, and Moymoy Palaboy, from the Philippines. Each of these artists creates music videos soundtracked by popular songs to which the users performatively lip sync along, using humor as the dominant form of representation. Both artists have made a name for themselves through their videos, rising to some degree of fame in their native countries. While lip synching has been the subject of some scholarship (Sutton 2009), it has been mostly technical in nature, failing to account for issues of identity that arise within these visual texts. I contend that the lip dub provides a unique form of identity practice, characterizing the kind of participatory cultural creation the YouTube template brings about.

[1.3] The work of both Axel Bruns (2008) and Henry Jenkins (2006) can be useful in conceptualizing how a cultural performance like this (and a performance space like YouTube) might operate. Jenkins's work on convergence underlines the ways in which changing media forms influence how individuals are able to use cultural spaces, while Bruns's concept of "produsage" (producer and user, existing within the same body) complements Jenkins by placing participatory culture on the level of the individual.

[1.4] The global level of participatory culture is largely underserved in the literature. YouTube is rife with content from all over the world, and that content is largely unregulated. Consequently, users like the Back Dorm Boys and Moymoy Palaboy can be (and have been) viewed millions of times by other users throughout the world. To study these cases of international YouTube personalities, we can couple general theoretical assumptions about participatory culture with the critique of cultural imperialism set forth by John Tomlinson (1991), whose noble attempt to tame the body of scholarship on global culture arrived at the notion of "cultural globalization." Each of these theoretical arrangements will be discussed at length below.

[1.5] A few questions arise: What do we make of the Western music and aesthetics chosen by these citizens of China and the Philippines? How does this cultural reappropriation inform our understanding of contemporary media usage? And, more generally, what does the lip dub as a form of participatory culture (and YouTube as a means of distribution) mean in a global context? I will attempt to demonstrate how theory on fandom and convergence culture offers us a language with which to discuss these kinds of performances—that what is at play is more complex than simple East-West binaries, and that ideas of cultural appropriation are both nuanced and fluid. What is at work is something far more nuanced than Western culture's dominance over East.

2. Cultural imperialism

[2.1] As stated above, to examine the international role of the YouTube user, I will draw from two bodies of literature: that of YouTube and participatory culture generally, and the contentious arena of the cultural imperialism thesis. First, I examine cultural imperialism as perhaps outdated in light of new and open forms of expression, and as possibly poorly formulated (and reductionist) from the start.

[2.2] The term "cultural imperialism" has both the benefit and drawback of having no formal definition. It is usually taken to mean a sense that culture and cultural products from a dominant culture are more or less imposed on less culturally powerful nations or populations; it is typically understood that the West exerts cultural dominance on "the rest." However, cultural imperialism is far more slippery to define than all that, as Tomlinson (1991) suggests in his seminal work on the subject. Further, the concept has been oriented in terms of what Tomlinson calls the "cultural imperialism thesis," which, to his mind, still unsettlingly plays at definition and falsely claims to represent a coherent body of thought. For Tomlinson, cultural imperialism is a concept negotiated through discourse (he invokes Foucault to drive this point home), which exists as a metaphor for colonialism. Still, regardless of his efforts, something like a definition emerges, in terms of "ways to talk about cultural imperialism." One of the most interesting ways to conceptualize the thesis is as "media imperialism," which he describes at length:

[2.3] Media imperialism, then, as I understand it, is a particular way of discussing cultural imperialism. It is not simply a name for the study of the media in developing countries or of the international market in communications. It involves all of the complex political issues—and indeed, the political commitments—entailed in the notion of cultural domination… The main cluster of issues arising out of the discourse of media imperialism has to do with the way in which domination is said to occur. (22)

[2.4] While Tomlinson describes both Marxist and neoliberal strands of media imperialism, he falls most often to discussing the Marxist incarnation, which forefronts domination and the exercise of power. The means of domination he emphasizes are, for example, cultural goods like American television programs being distributed in the Third World, infiltrating and quashing indigenous cultures in a way that mirrors the conquering of indigenous lands. While this view may be conceptually problematic, it points to the way Tomlinson views the discourse of cultural imperialism. However, it is also useful to look at one of the other ways Tomlinson has introduced to study this process: "cultural imperialism as a discourse of nationality." This conceptualization is also helpful because it addresses how culture becomes identified with the nation-state or region. This dovetails with Gellner's (1983) central thesis of culture being the main tool with which the nation is built, an observation that is at once facile and nearly impossible to dispute. Tomlinson's other ways of discussing cultural imperialism are "cultural imperialism as a critique of global capitalism" and "cultural imperialism as a critique of modernity," which need not be discussed at length here.

[2.5] By the end of Tomlinson's tome, he has arrived at a sharpened critique of cultural imperialism:

[2.6] These protests are often formulated in an inappropriate language of domination, a language of cultural imposition which draws its imagery from the age of high imperialism and colonialism… Now, though these practices need to be remembered as part of the process by which the West placed itself in a position of global dominance, they are clearly not the most useful way of thinking about present-day cultural imperialism. What dogs the critique of cultural imperialism is the problem of explaining how a cultural practice can be imposed in a context which is no longer actually coercive. By thinking of cultural imperialism as the spread of modernity, these problems are avoided. For what is involved in this spread is a process, not of cultural imposition, but of cultural loss. (173)

[2.7] It is key here that Tomlinson has situated the discussion away from a model of imposition into a model of cultural loss; this will resonate with the YouTube analyses that follow. In a later essay, Tomlinson (1997) further develops the critique, questioning the concept's relation to globalization and reemphasizing the shifty nature of viewing the concept in terms of dominance. To encompass his theory, he argues for the term "cultural globalization," which, while not dismissing the power relations inherent in cultural exchange, eliminates the false notion of Western dominance in culture. Cultural globalization is a fitting moniker under which to discuss how global participatory culture operates.

3. Participatory culture and the new global user

[3.1] Early in its existence, YouTube was frequently seen as a site for users to engage with already dominant media forms like television (Lotz 2007 engages with YouTube as simply a form of television), but recognition of the platform as a cultural game changer has since become widespread. Strangelove (2010) envisions YouTube almost as something akin to the home movie, a form that has been present since consumer video cameras became widespread in the mid-20th century. However, he accounts for the social dimensions of the space, and the implications of YouTube as an almost universally accessible video source in a more thorough way than others have. For Strangelove, YouTube is a site where the ordinary is king, and where sharing is paramount.

[3.2] One of the most notable attempts to corral YouTube into a conceptual frame comes from Burgess and Green (2009), who note that YouTube itself is an unstable force of culture, undergoing constant changes in form and complicated by being both a top-down and bottom-up distribution platform (meaning it caters both to original cultural products as well as reappropriated forms from other media). The pair wrestle also with the discourse around YouTube, whose legitimacy as a host of media content has often been challenged. Perhaps most interestingly, Burgess and Green put an interesting spin on the YouTube user, whether that user represents a major media outlet or produces content individually from his own home: "All contributors of content to YouTube are potential participants in a common space; one that supports a diverse range of uses and motivations, but that has a coherent cultural logic—what we refer to as the YouTube-ness of YouTube" (57).

[3.3] Henry Jenkins (2009), writing in the same tome, tempers this sense of commonality a bit, noting that while the YouTube space does value amateur content, the space is not conceived as a meritocracy, and the perspectives of the minority have the effect of being hidden among the mass. This is but one effect of a broader trend Jenkins notes: the great takeaway from YouTube is that its altering of the means of cultural reception is far more significant than any changes it reflects in production style. Were YouTube not to exist, the ease of video production engendered by new technologies would simply manifest itself in other ways.

[3.4] All the same, issues of both production and reception are significant to what Jenkins (2006) calls sites of convergence (of which YouTube is undoubtedly one), where "consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content" (3). In this dispersal, media forms never truly disappear, but the technologies we use to access them constantly change. The ways in which users adapt to those changes are what is truly important. Further, these changes exist from the top-down and from the bottom-up (production and reception). And, most important to Jenkins, technological changes (along with changes in media economics and systems of capital that go along with them) allow for a greater sense of participation and collectivity, whether this is the ability to easily distribute video content or to build knowledge communities that benefit all.

[3.5] As such, Jenkins positions his convergence theory as a counterpoint to what he cattily calls "critical pessimism":

[3.6] Far too much media reform rhetoric rests on melodramatic discourse about victimization and vulnerability, seduction and manipulation, "propaganda machines" and "weapons of mass destruction." Again and again, this version of the media reform movement has ignored the complexity of the public's relationship to popular culture and sided with those opposed to a more diverse and participatory culture. The politics of critical utopianism is founded on a notion of empowerment; the politics of critical pessimism on a politics of victimization. One focuses on what we are doing with media, and the other on what media is doing to us. (248)

[3.7] Witness how, like Tomlinson, Jenkins is reacting against a view that emphasizes domination. Theories of domination have the tendency to dismiss cultural practices and cultural creations like the ones discussed below.

[3.8] Jenkins's critical utopianism dovetails nicely with the work of Bruns (2008), who covers similar participatory terrain, conceptualizing new media forms as meritocracies, and resting on notions of collective intelligence. In Bruns's view, open media are truly democratic, allowing the most appealing products to win out. Bruns operates at the level of the user, offering a handy portmanteau—the "produser" (producer plus user)—to embody a new kind of subject that could come into existence only in the contemporary era. To wit: "The distinctions between producers and users of content have faded into comparative insignificance… Users are always already necessarily also producers of the shared knowledge base, regardless of whether they are aware of this role—they have become a new hybrid, produser" (2, emphasis in original).

[3.9] Those "produsers" who engage in the practice of media like YouTube are directly involved in all aspects of the cycle of media use, able to create content if they choose, and able to actively make decisions about what media they consume, how and when they consume it, and what kinds of feedback they wish to provide. The site of production is decentralized, and as a consequence, modes of reception are diverse. Taken with Jenkins, this model provides a highly instructive means with which to define the YouTube user.

[3.10] Similar terrain is covered by Bauman (2005), who defines "liquid life," the seamless movement between production and use that characterizes contemporary media practice. Other scholars, like Deuze (2008) have taken these notions of participatory culture into the realm of political economy, analyzing what the changing dynamics of media mean for work, interrogating Bauman and Jenkins for failing to emphasize issues of user labor.

[3.11] Perhaps, though, it is most useful for this discussion to allow Jenkins (2006, 257) to have the final word: "The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but by writing over it, modding it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream media."

[3.12] For Jenkins, this optimistic view of cultural production is embodied by the way culture is embraced and resisted, taken and remade. Enter the lip dub, a form of cultural reappropriation par excellence.

4. The global fan

[4.1] A final note is necessary at this point. This new style of user behavior (modding, amending, recirculating) should be viewed within the existing discussion on fandom, which reverberates in discussions on both cultural globalization and participatory culture. Each of these texts is the product of a particular kind of global fan practice, namely the adaptation and reincorporation of (predominantly) Western musical styles. Harrington and Bielby (2007) make an opening volley into a conceptualization of what they recognize as "global fan culture," finding that term problematic. As they see it, the study of the global fan is in crisis, with some debate as to whether such a phenomenon even exists. This worry resonates, as little theoretical work has gone towards conceptualizing this specific type of fan/user (one who interacts with media products in the sphere of cultural globalization). Regardless of fandom's role in cultural globalization, Jenkins (2007) himself has argued that the role of the fan should not be underestimated when dealing with issues of new media, community, and convergence. Here we turn to the Back Dorm Boys and Moymoy Palaboy, exemplars of fandom, produsage, and cultural globalization.

5. Chinese Backstreet Boys/Back Dorm Boys

[5.1] The first video by the Back Dorm Boys (or as they have often been called, the "Chinese Backstreet Boys") was posted to YouTube in 2006, when the site itself was in relative infancy. In fact, these two Chinese art students, Wei Wei and Huang Yi Xin, posted their first comedic lip dub video to a different Internet site in March of 2005. Through a translator, Wei Wei told an American interviewer about the duo's beginnings and inspiration:

[5.2] We made our first BDB video in March, 2005. We just felt it was very funny and we actually got the inspiration from a funny video abroad. We post the video to the local internet network of college. Other students liked it very much, and then they helped us to spread it out… My friend recommended that video to me. After watching it, we felt it really funny. But that video only lasts for around 10 seconds. We began to wonder what it could be if we completed a whole song. (http://www.projectgoodluck.com/blog/2006/08/back-dorm-boys-interview.php)

Video 1. "I Want It That Way" by ewo.

[5.3] The song they eventually chose was "I Want It That Way," a 1990s pop hit by American boy band Backstreet Boys. In its most popular incarnation on YouTube, the video created by the Back Dorm Boys has over 13 million views. Since it is hosted elsewhere on YouTube, as well as on countless other video-sharing sites, we can presume it has been viewed countless more times than that. In it, the two students (Huang Yi Xin on screen left and Wei Wei on screen right) emotively lip sync along with the song, trading off lead and background vocals. They sit in front of a desktop computer, presumably filming the performance on a webcam. The picture quality is quite grainy and out of focus, common to webcam technologies of the mid 2000s. The two boys' faces take up most of the frame during the entirety of the video, but aside from Wei Wei and Huang Yi Xin we can make out a few other significant details. Primarily, the setting of the video is undoubtedly a college dorm room. In between the two singers, we can make out the back of a male figure diligently working at a desk. Above him is a bookshelf containing books and a number of other indistinguishable items. We see light coming in from the left side of the screen where a window is likely placed. This positioning of two desks across from one another is quite typical of the dorm room space. These are clearly two students having some fun in their free time. The shot composition was discussed briefly by Wei Wei in the interview referenced above:

[5.4] Art school training really helps us a lot in making videos. It prepares us with art basis and sculpture aesthetics so that we can pay a lot of attention to the composition of pictures, vision effect and light contrast in our videos. Besides, we got training of creativity and advertising in art school. It prompts us to make new creations in each video so that it can impress more people.

[5.5] Also of interest, and completely inescapable, is what the two singers are wearing. Both Huang Yi Xin and Wei Wei don Houston Rockets basketball jerseys with black t-shirts underneath. Wei Wei wears a white headband to complete the look of athletic attire. While we don't see the name on either jersey, Wei Wei's is clearly emblazoned with the number 11, the jersey number of Rockets center and Chinese sporting hero Yao Ming, the most notable (and one of the only) player of Chinese origin in the NBA. Here we see the influence of global culture, and the influence of both Chinese and American cultural signifiers within the Back Dorm Boys' production.

[5.6] The pair lip sync to the entire 4-minute song, working between what appear to be choreographed dance moves (swaying side to side or back and forth in unison or opposition) and improvisation (some bouncing and hand gestures toward the camera). As one might expect when translating sounds from a foreign tongue, there are some peculiarities with the lip sync. Sometimes the two trade off singing in mid-line, sometimes there are gaps where no lip synching occurs at all, and often lip movements do not directly translate to the sounds a native English speaker would expect to hear. Still, the performances of the two singers suggest they understand the original song's context on at least a basic level. Synching the lyrics "You are my fire/my one desire" during the song's stripped down middle eighth, Wei Wei points to the camera and clenches his hands to his heart while dancing, signifying his knowledge of the work as a plaintive love song, and exercising it as such, even though he may not know what every word means.

[5.7] At the end we see credits (written in Chinese) along with some outtakes, suggesting this performance was tried multiple times to achieve the best possible result. This is a work by a pair of produsers who were clearly aware and pitching toward an audience of peers, as Wei Wei's interview answer suggests (at least passingly considering what cultural signifiers to use in their production, and considering who might receive their content). Spurred on by the success of this video, the Back Dorm Boys have performed many other lip dubs, a few of which I will detail here.

Video 2. "As Long As You Love Me" by duncanmeister.

[5.8] Another Backstreet Boys hit, the Back Dorm Boys tackled a lip dub of "As Long As You Love Me" shortly after "I Want It That Way." The premise and setup is the same: Huang Yi Xin on the left, Wei Wei on the right, the same basic camera position, the third student working hard at his computer (or perhaps playing a game?) in the background. This time, the pair wear matching red Adidas track jackets, another Western cultural artifact, instead of their basketball jerseys. "As Long As You Love Me" is a song of similar tempo, but allows for more lyrical breathing room. The duo begin over the song's first few bars looking pensively at the camera, Huang Yi Xin scratching his nose, and Wei Wei seemingly in deep thought.

[5.9] When the first lead vocal kicks in, Huang Yi Xin launches himself toward the camera to belt it out, a funny cockeyed smile on his face, ironic considering the line is "My loneliness has always been a friend of mine." The pair trade verse lines, each doing the same kinds of interesting, over-the-top facial contortions. This is a hammier performance, played even more for comedy than the one before. The performers, always self-aware, appear to be less playing with the material than directly commenting on its ridiculousness. "As Long As You Love Me" is a funnier exercise in the creators' talents, mugging for the camera, mocking the source material and themselves. The same notions of cultural translation (the slightly-off lip movements) persist, but this appears to be the Back Dorm Boys poising themselves for a mass audience through their technological savvy and their love and knowledge of Western pop music. It is a far clearer work of parody than their first attempt, and a far sharper one.

Video 3. "Da Da Da" by VampLuver28.

[5.10] Perhaps the silliest Back Dorm Boys performance is their lip dub of the (already silly) pop hit "Da Da Da." The German song has very few lyrics, and this barebones composition allows the Back Dorm Boys some freer interpretation in their performance. This time Huang Yi Xin and Wei Wei wear matching Pepsi-sponsored China football jerseys (note again the embodiment of East and West within the same figure), but their relative positions are the same. Huang Yi Xin begins the video standing, with Wei Wei seated. As the tick-tock rhythm of the song's percussion kicks in, the pair begin to alternate position in a strange simulacrum of a pop and lock breakdance move. They alternate performing one repeated German lyric, and move in opposition up and down, back and forth, and around the room, to the clicking meter of the song. As the title line, "da da da," is sung, Wei Wei crouches in and out of screen right, while Huang Yi Xin cycles his arms through the air in a swimming motion in the background (the third student even gets up and leaves about halfway through). At one point Huang Yi Xin plays with a soccer ball held into frame by a third person. The video required perhaps the most elaborate choreography of any of the duo's videos, providing a commentary on the song through dance rather than through simulated vocal performance.

[5.11] The Back Dorm Boys have performed in 20 to 30 videos and only a small number of them have been surveyed here. The basic premise and structure are nearly always the same, and some videos have proven much more popular (if assessed in terms of view count) than others. The pair have parlayed their Internet celebrity into off-line fame, lip dubbing Backstreet Boys songs live on Chinese television and performing in Motorola commercials; they have made videos promoting Pepsi, celebrating Christmas, and covering countless Western pop songs both classic and contemporary. While their most popular international videos are parodies of Western artists, they have also performed lip dubs of a number of Chinese pop songs. They present a complicated case in the discussion of global culture and user production. Additionally, their performances lend themselves to discussions of gender and sexuality (as with their send-up of Jessica Simpson's "A Public Affair" [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j80YDDfiaT4]) that have not been discussed at length here. What is most notable is that the Back Dorm Boys have inspired a lip dub culture that is so pervasive that any casual viewer of YouTube would be unlikely to miss it. Those who have followed in their wake include Filipino duo Moymoy Palaboy, discussed below.

6. Moymoy Palaboy

[6.1] Moymoy Palaboy, a pair of Filipino brothers who go by the handles Moymoy and Roadfill, have become popular for a series of comedic lip dub videos, but have also achieved mainstream success as comics and singers, appearing on television comedies and signing a recording contract in their native country. Their first video, a lip dub of *NSYNC's "Dirty Pop," was recorded via cell phone camera by Moymoy and uploaded to YouTube in February of 2007. In later videos, Moymoy appears with his brother, whom he convinced to join him in his comedic endeavor (http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/entertainment/entertainment/view/20080709-147434/Moymoy-Palaboy-superstar).

Video 4. "Dirty Pop" (2007) by moymoypalaboy.

[6.2] "Dirty Pop" was filmed by Roadfill but features only Moymoy on camera. Unlike the work of the Back Dorm Boys, Moymoy's videos have been, from the start, far more technically sophisticated, suggesting a more advanced level of produsage. Shooting on cell phone camera rather than webcam allows for more portability and use of locations, and "Dirty Pop" makes heavy use of editing to create a more fluid narrative structure. Still, the lip dub is fairly basic in form. Most shots of Moymoy are done in closeup, and he lip syncs along with the song's lead vocal, earnestly looking into the camera (wide-eyed) while he performs outlandish dance moves with his hands and upper body. The video's two main shots are of Moymoy in indistinct backgrounds. In one he is filmed straight on wearing a black shirt, while in the other, the camera is held at a Dutch angle about shoulder high, shooting Moymoy shirtless. During the shirtless shots, Moymoy chooses more sexually provocative dance moves, and appears to be mugging more for the camera. The video also features some rudimentary intertitles: during the choruses, a bright blue screen with "Dirty Pop!" in comic book lettering intermittently appears. The notion of "dirty" is played with quite clearly in shots of Moymoy's (presumably) dirty laundry hanging on a line (followed by a suggestive full body shot of a shirtless Moymoy removing the clothing from the line). Unlike the Back Dorm Boys, Moymoy is an English speaker, with a full understanding of the nuances of the words he pretends to sing.

[6.3] The second half of the video continues the sexual theme. After mimicking the line "Man, I'm tired of singing," the video cuts to a full shot of Moymoy dancing in a kitchen, shirtless with a pair of black jeans and a garish belt buckle. The shot is color manipulated, beginning in a green-tinted sepia tone, and cycling through other colors, from yellow to red. We return from the dancing to one of the master shots (the black shirted one), with Moymoy's crotch front and center in the frame; as the vocal part of the song kicks back in, he relaxes into his normal singing pose. The video ends with a digital rendering of Moymoy's face on the cover of a newspaper, suggesting the impending stardom he strived to receive. This opening foray of Moymoy's plays with issues of celebrity, technological savvy, and the blending of cultures, condensed into a short-form pop parody.

Video 5. "Wannabe" (2007) by moymoypalaboy.

[6.4] After the "Dirty Pop" video, Roadfill began appearing in videos alongside his brother. An early (and very popular) piece was the duo's lip synched version of the Spice Girls' hit "Wannabe" (2007). At almost 15 million views, "Wannabe" is perhaps the most iconic of Moymoy Palaboy's works to date. For all the relatively sophisticated construction of "Dirty Pop," "Wannabe" would not feel terribly out of place in the Back Dorm Boys canon. Roadfill, with a long shock of brown hair and a "Jag USA" T-shirt, appears screen left, with Moymoy on screen right in a white tank top. The pair mimic the giggling intro of the Spice Girls single, before the music kicks in with the vocal (mimed by Roadfill) of "I'll tell you what I want," silently screamed toward the camera. The two cycle through each line, mirroring the construction of the original song, and incorporate a series of stereotypically feminine dance moves. "Wannabe" rests a great deal of its humor on the inherent shock value of male actors appropriating the voices and mannerisms of female singers.

[6.5] Moymoy Palaboy's official YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/moymoypalaboy) contains dozens of videos, many of them lip dubs falling into the motif of either "Dirty Pop" (constructed through editing and the use of multiple locations and narratives) or "Wannabe" (single location comedic song-and-dance routine). They have also branched out into live music (where the pair sing for themselves), comic sketches, and other types of content, displaying the kind of versatility that has landed them on television and in the recording studio. Their page is even emblazoned with a Coca-Cola advertisement featuring the two brothers, culled from a broader campaign they starred in for the soft drink. Moymoy Palaboy have taken the simple concept of the lip dub and, through a command of YouTube's means of production and presentation, used it to propel themselves to superstardom in their homeland.

7. Discussion and conclusions

[7.1] It is clear that both Moymoy Palaboy and the Back Dorm Boys, for all of their similarities and differences, are both operating within a sphere of participatory culture, the kind that would not have been possible before the advent of YouTube or something similar. We should consider the lip dub—the cultural form that both pairs ascribe—first as a form of global culture. As Harrington and Bielby (2007) have contested the notion of the "global fan" (or at least suggested the concept is in need of some coherent theoretical foundation), we can look at Moymoy Palaboy and the Back Dorm Boys instead as global actors operating within a specific cultural apparatus. The position of these artists as fans is incredibly significant, however. Some form of cultural re-inscription operates within many kinds of YouTube texts, but these lip dub artists present cases in which this re-inscription operates when performers are dealing clearly with cultures that are foreign and different than their own. It is significant not only that these artists choose to parody popular music, but also that, as Filipino and Chinese citizens, respectively, they choose to parody Western cultural objects. In the minds of these performers, most of the chosen songs are clearly part of a foreign culture, but these songs are beloved along with, but not in place of, local cultural products (witness the Back Dorm Boys' use of both Chinese and Western popular music). Other than the music itself, we also see additional Western cultural products on display, no less embedded in the text: there are the Houston Rockets jerseys (USA), Adidas track suits (Germany), Coke, Pepsi, Motorola, etc. It is worth considering that these performers may not consider these products in terms of East-West, but of whatever strikes their fancy—a testament to a global culture. Further, the iconography of Coca-Cola and Pepsi are present because of the artists' commercial relationships with those companies, clear evidence of global economy at play just as the apparatus of fame engages the performers.

[7.2] Perhaps in illustrating this it is best to speak the language of Tomlinson (1991) and to address this textual critique to potential issues of cultural imperialism. The media imperialism paradigm that Tomlinson offers (as a way of discussing cultural imperialism generally) is not necessarily as it appears at first glance. Neither Moymoy Palaboy's nor the Back Dorm Boys' videos offer immediate, concrete evidence of forms of domination. Certainly, most of the cultural products present in these texts are Western (mostly American) creations that have been reappropriated by citizens of the Eastern world. These are forms that are taken up by these produsers with a clear fondness for their entertainment value. Tomlinson provides us a middle passage between dominance and acceptance (stemming from the neoliberal theory of cultural imperialism) that he calls cultural coercion—cultural products do not exercise dominance but are nonetheless offered to (and taken up by) heavily suggestible populations. In some form, this kind of cultural coercion is likely at work. However, the presence of both indigenous and Western cultural products within these videos suggests that such coercion is an incredibly nuanced process, such that, though some form of Western cultural dominance may affect what cultural choices are present to a given population, there is a sense of agency among these produsers in terms of when and how to deploy Western cultural signifiers.

[7.3] Tomlinson, writing years before mass opportunity for recycling and reappropriating culture even existed, resituated this debate in terms of cultural globalization. While there is power embedded within the cultural product, the issue is not always one of dominance or coercion; this perspective is far more flexible and far less deterministic than that of others who speak the language of imperialism. The texts created by Moymoy Palaboy and the Back Dorm Boys embody many forms of culture, and these produsers are citizens of an increasingly denationalized world. For the Back Dorm Boys, we see the influence of native language on the interpretation of the songs (less so for Moymoy Palaboy, who are English speakers). Because of the near-universal structure of popular music, except for a few hiccups along the way, Back Dorm Boys are able to capture the cadence of song lyrics and the emotional underpinning of the music. This is evidence of the global nature of popular music as a form. The way in which this brand of Western culture operates in places like China and the Philippines represents a change in the way culture is read and processed. Here we see resonance with Jenkins, as the culture of convergence has, to some degree, influenced the ways in which transnational cultural traffic might be understood.

[7.4] We might recall Jenkins's (2006, 257) contention that "The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but by writing over it." In the cases of Moymoy Palaboy and the Back Dorm Boys, we see users who take cultural products (popular songs they are presumably fond of) and reinscribe them on a new platform, embedded in a different physical body. We see also, in a nutshell, how produsage operates: Moymoy Palaboy and the Back Dorm Boys are consumers of these popular songs, and producers of original cultural works that reference those songs.

[7.5] The participatory culture model framed in large part by Jenkins and Bruns is clearly in effect here. I would suggest that, in addition to the clear presence of produsage, a sense of convergence is at play, stemming from the ready accessibility of technology and an awareness among users of the modes of reception their videos undergo. In interviews, the members of the Back Dorm Boys have pointed to their art school training as aiding in their videos' lighting and composition. (http://www.projectgoodluck.com/blog/2006/08/back-dorm-boys-interview.php) However, their video content does not appear very sophisticated (or at least, far less sophisticated than some of Moymoy Palaboy's work). Their process is enabled most significantly by the ready availability of the computer and webcam, the two chief technologies that make their cultural production possible. This is true, to some extent, in the case of Moymoy Palaboy, but (as evidenced in "Dirty Pop," for example) some of their creations require much more significant material technologies, like better cameras and editing software to achieve certain angles and special effects. Still, these technologies are likely commercial (meaning not professional) in nature. The affordable nature of such material is key to the media landscape that enables a phenomenon like produsage to exist.

[7.6] In light of these issues of participatory culture, the notion of fandom and reappropriation arises again as a concern. It is clear that both the Back Dorm Boys and Moymoy Palaboy are taking in, recycling, and in quite subtle ways (contrary to the outlandishness of their performances) making comments about the merits of certain cultural products. I would argue, certainly, that these artists are using this music (most of which is almost annoyingly pervasive throughout much of the world) for the purposes of parody. It may not be incredibly sophisticated parody, and there are certainly problems with its presentation, like the offensive gender representations that persist in a number of both artists' videos. However, it is clear in the work of both the Back Dorm Boys and Moymoy Palaboy that while there is a fondness for this music, there is a clear awareness that it is not to be taken terribly seriously. The music chosen is "pop" in perhaps its purest sense: 3- to 4-minute, factory-produced, sugar-sweetened earworms by huge artists like Jessica Simpson, Backstreet Boys, and the Spice Girls. The parodies of the songs lie in the recognition of their popularity, an homage to their songcraft, and a sendup of their self-seriousness. Moreover, the reworking of the cultural text that Jenkins (2006) describes at least in these cases also plays out by "feeding it back into the mainstream media" (257), as both artists have achieved a level of fame in their own right, undergoing a process we might call "mainstreaming." The cultural text is reflexive, open to interpretation, and prone to reappropriation.

[7.7] In closing, I will make note of a few points that could influence further research. First, cultural utopianism offers a way of examining culture that places emphasis on the role of the media user or produser, examining what can be done with culture, rather than what influence culture has on the individual. This does not disavow critique of how the user remakes or interprets cultural products; this analysis of Moymoy Palaboy and the Back Dorm Boys has hinted at some problematic issues that are worth further probing elsewhere. Second, it is worth noting how, perhaps beginning with the Back Dorm Boys, the lip dub has exploded as a cultural form. I have attempted to discuss it in relation to participatory culture and the form of cultural reappropriation that it represents. However, it is worth investigating its ongoing use as a particular cultural form (particularly from a perspective more equipped to discuss linguistics and language barriers), and the meaning of that in terms of fandom and participatory practice. There is no doubt that both the Back Dorm Boys and Moymoy Palaboy have offered gateways into new uses of culture. They embody the model of the produser: avid consumers taking and remaking culture on a global level.

8. Works cited

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2005. Liquid Life. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Bruns, Axel. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang.

Burgess, Jean and Joshua Green. 2009. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Deuze, Mark. 2007. Media Work. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Harrington, C. Lee and Denice D. Bielby. 2007. "Global Fandom/Global Fan Studies." In Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, edited by Jonathan Gray, Cornell Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, 179–97. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2007. "Afterword: The Future of Fandom." In Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, edited by Jonathan Gray, Cornell Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, 357–64. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2009. "What Happened Before YouTube." In YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture, edited by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, 109–25. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Lotz, Amanda D. 2007. The Television Will Be Revolutionized. New York: New York University Press.

Strangelove, Michael. 2010. Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sutton, Paul. 2009. "Lip Sync: Performative Placebos in the Digital Age." In Drama Education With Digital Technology, edited by John Carroll, Michael Anderson, and David Cameron, 38–51. London: Continuum.

Tomlinson, John. 1991. Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tomlinson, John. 1997. "Cultural Globalization and Cultural Imperialism." In International Communication and Globalization, edited by Ali Mohammadi, 170–90. London: Sage.



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