Cutups rocket to fame, launched by YouTube

September 06, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Brandon Hardesty is a moon-faced, 20-year-old grocery clerk who makes videos in the basement of his parents' Parkville home and posts them on the Internet. He impersonates Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Candy and Jodie Foster.

The Towson University film student even stages one-man re-enactments of scenes from movies such as Goodfellas and The Silence of the Lambs, earning a following on the Web, not to mention a description of "cinematic genius" from The Village Voice.

But in his most-watched effort, he's doing little more than clowning in front of the camera, laughing maniacally, flapping his tongue and barking like a mad dog. Chances are you've seen at least some of "Strange Faces and Noises I Can Make III" - since it's now part of auto insurer Geico's relentless television ad campaign.

"It's the American dream: You can get praise for something that you put very little effort into," says Hardesty, explaining that he made the video one evening after coming home "really hyper" from his job at the Weis market in Perry Hall.

Internet video sites such as YouTube have been since their inception a stage for antics that are at best entertaining and, perhaps more often, wincingly embarrassing. But the consequences of this look-at-me behavior are no longer confined to cyberspace - for better or for worse.

Hardesty is among a growing line of YouTube contributors gaining a measure of fame. At the same time, young people are documenting their lives - diner meals and dodgeball games, tasteless jokes and drunken exploits - creating videos that might be best kept from Mom. And the platform for outrageous behavior is blamed by some for inspiring such over-the-line behavior as dousing fast food drive-through workers with sodas.

"More people are looking for attention than are looking for money," Syracuse University popular culture professor Robert J. Thompson says of YouTube's allure. "The idea that something you make could go viral" - widely e-mailed - "and millions of people could watch it is very seductive."

Local YouTube users record themselves and their friends in outlandish situations, such as dancing while wearing a mask made of baloney.

"For a filmmaker, exposure when you're starting out is your No. 1 priority," says Daniel Regner, 18, a sophomore at Villa Julie College.

Regner describes his first YouTube posting as a tongue-in-cheek examination of the so-called "Five Second Rule." The clip shows his cousin eating a potato chip less than five seconds after it fell into a backyard pile of something that was definitely not onion dip. (He calls his style "kind of John Watersish.")

More than 2.5 million people have watched the video, which Regner posted when he was a Calvert Hall College High School student.

In a more recent endeavor, Regner wears a Viking helmet and a skimpy white dress, the top stuffed with apples, as he marches down The Avenue in White Marsh with several buddies also wearing women's clothes.

While many YouTube contributors test the bounds of good taste, others film themselves engaging in actions that are ill advised or illegal. Some suburban Pittsburgh teens were apprehended by police last month after they posted a video of themselves throwing a liquid in the face of a fast-food drive-through employee - a bit of Internet-propagated delinquency known as "fire in the hole."

"It's not funny. They can seriously hurt somebody," said Lt. Rod Mahinske of the North Huntingdon Township police. "We're treating it as the crime that it is."

Last month, WBAL-TV reported that a video posted on YouTube showed employees of the Woodlawn Best Buy store engaging in a bleep-riddled rant about customers. Attempts to later find the video on YouTube were unsuccessful.

"All I can say is, we don't condone inappropriate conduct by our employees, and we're looking into it," said Best Buy spokeswoman Nissa French.

In New Jersey, two college-age brothers were fired from their grocery store jobs last month after they posted a video of themselves rapping in the produce section, according to an Associated Press report. In the video, the brothers, calling themselves "The Fresh Beets," put bananas in their pants, and sing, among other lines, "Now stick with your gut, take some advice, it ain't safe in our produce paradise."

Grocery chain A&P filed a suit seeking $1 million in damages and demanding that the video, which is on YouTube and the brothers' Web site, be pulled from the Internet. The company claimed the video motivated at least one "disgusted and distressed" customer to boycott the supermarket, and said several lines were "disparaging and disgusting," according to the AP report.

Some videos portray more troubling behavior. One clip on gang life in Maryland begins with gun shots, then moves to a young man who identifies himself as a gang member. If rival gang members come through shooting, "We're gonna shoot back at them," he says, displaying his gun for the camera.

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