March was a monster month for the MFF. We produced 8 videos on a range of topics from Obama in Cuba, to Batman v. Superman, to the limits of Google Trends. To the extent there is a theme here it’s on the limits of narratives. As I best pointed out in my criminally under-watched first video in the Syria series, we govern ourselves, and view the world through stories. Until the robots take over, we don’t have a choice. Human minds, even the minds of supposed experts in a given subject area, are captured by stories that synthesize and simplify what’s actually going on. A large part of what we’re up to here at the More Freedom Foundation is challenging these narratives and trying to develop new ones. We will always be governed by stories. To improve things, we need to challenge the ones that aren’t serving us well, and find better ways to reckon with this infinitely complex, messy world we live in.
“Super Tuesday Explained and Ridiculed” is my favorite of my text-based videos. Released on Super Tuesday itself, it makes the very important point that Super Tuesday is a choice we made. The steady expansion of the Presidential race, to the point where it almost swallows up a full two years, is the result of stories we tell ourselves. The Presidency is of course important in our system, but it’s been getting more and more important, largely because we choose to make it so. This is the result of choices made by media, and the way that parties have organized the nominating system in individual states, but these choices are reinforced by, and reinforce the choice that the public has made to over-emphasize the President. There is a whole lot more to the US system than the Presidency, and important days like Super Tuesday. I’d argue that your governor, or your mayor, depending on your local system, are a lot more important to your daily life than the President. But we lose sight of that because of stories we tell ourselves about things like Super Tuesday and whole Presidential race.
“How Powerful Is the United States of America?” is probably my favorite video from 2016, if not of all time. It tackles the biggest broken narrative in US politics today. This is the idea that places like Iran, or Russia, or today’s China present any kind of real threat to the United States. Trump obviously presents an extreme version of this story, but he’s not the only one. Republicans and Democrats push this story as well, though in a milder form. In fact, the United States, with its US World Order runs the world. Everybody else is just living in it. The United Nations is probably the best example of the silliness of the story of US weakness. The UN does nothing without our approval. We wrote most of its founding documents and charters. The UN’s General Assembly, a powerless but more democratic entity than the all-powerful security council, occasionally releases PR against Israel. These actions get endless publicity. But nobody ever talks about the sixteen world hot spots that the UN polices so the US military doesn’t have to. It’s details like this that help to show how faulty our narrative of “American weakness” is.
“Is the USA Turning Socialist?” is a fascinating artifact of a video. It’s largely about one of my personal narratives falling apart. It’s interesting that I describe myself as a Libertarian in this one, because I don’t do that anymore. As the video above indicates I’m transitioning towards a weird “proud Globalist” stance that I haven’t really fully defined yet. The Libertarian story always appealed to me because of its extreme paranoia about centralized power and Washington, DC in particular. I still have that paranoia about power and the US federal government, but I simply can’t describe myself as a Libertarian anymore. The yawning abyss of Trump’s vision of the world has highlighted the value of things like Foreign aid, international law, trade, political correctness and the American world order. These things rely on a lot of money, international cooperation, and yes, even the US military industrial complex. Libertarians don’t support those sorts of things, so I guess I’m not a Libertarian. Weird. If the United Nations ever moves an inch towards the “World Government” fantasies of Alex Jones & Co. I’ll get super paranoid about its power as well. We’re nowhere near that though. This video itself is kind of fun, half improv, revised in post, and featuring a hobo fire. Basic Income is something we’ll hear a lot more about in the coming years. Interestingly, Milton Friedman, one of the many godfathers of modern Libertarian thought, supported the concept.
“Why the US world System Is Good For Everyone” is a brief video, but it makes a useful point, and expands on the message of “How Powerful is the United States of America“. We’re all into narratives of nationalism to one degree or another. My assumption has always been that the rest of the world should want to throw off US hegemony out of self-respect. The “How Powerful…” video makes the case for the US world system from the US perspective. This video makes the case for the US world system for everybody else. The “soft nationalist” urges of the rest of the world are better channeled into working to make the democratic and universal promises of the US world system real rather than destroying it. It’s a simple self-preservation argument. I don’t think any of us would survive the demise of the current approach…
The four videos above, as well as last month’s “3 myths about President Trump” were all produced in a five day period. I’ve only managed this particular feat of masochism twice, but I think it’s helped immensely both times. The videos in question aren’t always my most successful, aesthetically or in terms of views, but they sometimes are. And the effort puts me into a nice zone of flow. My second most viewed video ever “How Powerful Is John Oliver” was written on day 6 of a five video week in early 2015. In 2016’s “sprint week” Wednesday’s “How Powerful Is the United States of America” may be my favorite video ever, and Monday’s “3 myths about President Trump” holds up very well. The “Is the USA Turning Socialist” video is a complete mess, but I kind of love it. I think the frantic pace of a “sprint week” breaks bad habits and frees things up creatively. I’ve been devoting all my spare time to a particular project recently, but I’m looking forward to doing another sprint week at some point in March or April of 2017.
The effect of these “sprint weeks” on views is interesting. The videos produced during the week don’t necessarily do all that well, but the effect on algorithm voodoo is hard to deny. March 2016 was my most successful month ever, and remains so months later. The videos that drove this growth were all from the back-catalog. But would they have done as well if YouTube didn’t know I was producing so much content this month? Hard to say. I tend to think not.
This project has taken me to some interesting places. Sometimes they are irritating as I laid out in my “sprint week” hangover video “Google Trends Is Depressing“. Google Trends is a free service I occasionally use to generate video ideas. It lists the stories people are talking about the most. It is mostly the sea of sports and celebrity stories that I complain about in this video. It turns out that this video is completely wrong about Google Trends actually. One of my many technically savvy viewers pointed out my screw-up. It’s not that people necessarily care more about these stories, it’s just that they are better suited to showing up under the Google Trends algorithm. If a sports game goes well or poorly, or Natalie Portman signs up for a new movie it creates a discrete news event, and a spike in awareness for the related topics. On-going issues are less likely to spike to the top of Google trends. So as fun as this video is, it’s just plain wrong. Whoops!
“Is Ted Cruz Worse Than Donald Trump” fights against a narrative that we’re still dealing with today. Folks in media, including myself at times, have invested tremendous effort into turning Establishment Republicans into scary monsters. In the context of typical party politics ca. 2014 this probably wasn’t wise, but it wasn’t all that dangerous. It has tripped us up in the era of Trump. When I made this video, asserting that a President Trump was much scarier than a President Cruz, I got a lot of push-back. “What about those Supreme Court Justices, etc. etc.”. After two weeks of President Trump, I don’t think anybody would disagree with this video anymore. Traditional Republicans present challenges that are threatening to a number of Coastal American priorities. Trump threatens everyone, and threatens to tear down the context within which both progressive and conservative priorities are implemented. This is getting clearer by the day. Incredibly the old narrative persists. When I uploaded my “When Can We Impeach Donald Trump?” video, the first two comments were along the lines of “Pence would be even worse!!!” I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. Another conservative judge or two might be a bad thing, depending on your worldview, but we’re getting that anyway. You may see Pence as malign, but at least he’s an adult, who would govern with something like decency and sanity. Old narratives can be dangerous.
“What Obama In Cuba Means for America” is an attempt to build a new narrative. I’ve played with the idea of a “New American Century” or a “True American Century” before. The old “American Century” concept refers to the 20th century as one of US dominance, leaving out all those other countries in North and South America. A 21st century dominated by the United States is hard to envision. But a 21st and maybe even a 22nd century dominated by the Western Hemisphere isn’t. The rise of the Pacific can be just as good for the Americas as it is for Asia. This may become a focus of this channel towards the end of this year, provided that this channel survives to the end of this year (You can help that happen).
Before I was a politics and history nerd I was a comic book nerd. I bring this absurd level of knowledge to bear in “Batman v. Superman REVIEW: The Worst Thing About It“. A lengthy discussion of comic book history and film is a great way to close out a month focused on narrative. Though I enjoyed it, I’m happy to concede that Batman v. Superman was a terrible movie. But there is no denying that it was tremendously culturally significant. Millions of people saw it, and this is the version of these characters that a generation of kids will grow up with. That’s a shame. This video points out that at the movie has an incredibly dark vision of the United States at its heart. Frank Miller is the grim genius that shaped this movie more than any other, and his vision of the world isn’t much different from that of Donald Trump. Narrative is important, and we have to be aware of the influences that shape the things we consume. Even things as trivial as super hero movies.
Views ballooned in March 2016, hitting 25,812 up from 17,709 in February. 10 months later it’s still my best month ever. None of the top five, and two of the top ten videos in February were produced in February. Interestingly, for such a good month, only two of the eight videos crossed 100 views on their first day. Ten months later, eight of eight have topped 200 views, and of those five have also topped 300, and one has topped 5,000 (I paid to promote “How Powerful Is the US“, because I like it). At the end of March 2016 we had 156 videos, all but four of which were viewed in March, 81 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 23 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia). The John Oliver video was viewed more than 10,000 times which has only happened three times before, two months for FATCA in 2014 and one month for John Oliver in 2015.