Therapists Weigh in on Viral Video Phenomenon

Somewhere in the digital world there’s a video going viral right now. The phenomenon fascinates us because it elevates the anonymous to the momentarily immortal based on merit or horror. Whether or not we’re aware of a viral video, it’s engaging its vast audience, and we have to wonder how that happens and what properties set the viral video apart from others. Surely it’s more than moseying down the information highway and somehow landing at the top position on Google’s first page. And ss a counselor I figured I should weight in on this…

For example, Ultan Sherry is an Irish college student whose Christmas video has captured a ton of views on YouTube in Ireland, along with a ton of sales on Irish iTunes. I know this because my mother forwarded an e-mailto me, which my aunt had forwarded to her. The e-mail is by my aunt’s granddaughter, Ceara O’S., who is my cousin Beth’s daughter. I’ve never met Ceara, but I understand she’s a spitfire. Here’s what she says in her December 6th e-mail about Ultan Sherry and his video:

A comical update from Maynooth [County Kildare, Ireland]:
One of my apartment-mates (who is a bit zany) has been working hard all autumn on his “Christmas song”. Recently, he had the song recorded and made a music video for it… he posted the video on youtube two days ago and it is now going “viral”. 60,000 views and climbing! Might just be Ireland’s #1 Christmas hit on itunes and here we’ve been all along, wishing he would just stop singing the blasted thing. Just goes to show ya! 

The current statistics from Irish iTunes suggest Ultan Sherry’s video may have already peaked, but that’s beside the point. His song has engaged a huge regional audience, although – when you yourself view the video – you might wonder what all the fuss is about… Which is probably an emergent property of viral videos, that they communicate powerfully despite their shortcomings.

I’ll let others describe whatever weaknesses Ultan Sherry’s video has. What I like about the video is how it has reached its viral status somewhere in the world and is unlikely to repeat that here in the US. The video lets us speculate on what a large regional audience gets from it. One counselors at stated that this is typical.

What Ultan Sherry does very well is present an original and engaging Christmas song, one that’s sentimental and seasonal yet strong in melody and lyrics. We can easily imagine any MOR singer, from Randy Travis to Cyndi Lauper, covering it. Then, after acknowledging Ultan Sherry’s songcraft, we might speculate that his video succeeds because it connects with its regional audience by embodying or flattering the regional identity. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The images and language in the video seem to me to be only peripherally Irish, although I suppose an Irish audience might appreciate particulars that I simply miss. Or I suppose the audience might be infatuated with and supporting its hometown boy, who does sing a likable song at a time of the year when likable songs are in season. (And the concluding image of Sherry bounding across a pasture with two young children is affecting and sweetly produced.)

Still, the thing about Sherry’s video that strikes me as being on a par with Sherry’s songcraft, is Sherry’s intent to donate the proceeds to Irish Autism Action. Sherry himself has Aspergers Syndrome, which he discusses in his documentary (which is what he calls it), Aspergers And Me.

The video addresses the challenges faced by college students who have Aspergers and discusses strategies for coping and succeeding.