Writing YouTube: second person stories

Lately I’ve grown interested in writing stories that reflect different media through form. My story “People Who Are Michael” takes a run at structuring a short story as a series of portraits of YouTube videos, all featuring the famed Michael. “People Who Are Michael” has just won Matrix‘s fiction contest (judged by rapper Cadence Weapon) and will be in the Winter issue. The story relies on the second person You — in this case, the You is the viewer of videos of Michael. Perhaps only a trick of the light, but why are you watching him? Just as Michael is a patchwork of performative moments, the viewer is a changeable invention.

Recently, I read Queer writer Douglas A. Martin discuss the “You” voice as akin to the French “on,” which can equally mean “one” or “us.” For Martin, there’s something Queer about this voice: general, genderless and intimate. The You is whoever is listening: the You is just for you. Martin did this to a hypnotic degree in his experimental Queer novel Your Body Figured (Nightboat, 2008). From Your Body Figured: “People would ask you if he was your brother. People passed by with their real brothers, turned to look at you. He would respond under your hand by moving closer into it…How could you fill out of the countours of the skeletal idea of you. What wraps around your more pronounced points. How might words shield you both” (p 47).

“You” can also feel like an indictment. The pull of direct address. A narrative strategy for tearing down the fourth wall. Poet Ray Hsu and I have collaborated on a series of descriptions of YouTube and Vimeo videos that show the police violence at the recent G20 protests in Toronto. Living at a distance from Toronto, online videos recorded by protesters were an indispensable direct, visceral line to what the crackdown looked like. And felt like — a baton hitting the lens of a camera, the sound of marching filling a microphone, the unsteady weaving of a camera held by a protester fleeing an advancing police line. There’s also the strict limitation of the form: the small frame of the camera, often hand-held, and the brevity of most videos. You (!) can read a triptych of these descriptions online at the Vancouver Media Coop here.

My regular series, Objects For The New World, will resume tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

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