Blogging A Dead Horse: Surfing The “Web” With Jo Reid

I never choose to watch a recipe video on Facebook. They choose me. I’ll be half way through learning how to construct the perfect unicorn-themed birthday cake flavoured hot chocolate when I think, what am I doing? I’m never going to make this, its looks so sweet, my teeth hurt just looking at it! And oh my god, did they just mix three different types of sugar with butter AND marshmallows? These types of videos didn’t seem to exist a couple of years ago, but now they are everywhere. Pioneered by Buzzfeed (as most click-baity viral content is), the simple, relaxing recipe videos containing the instructions for all manner of meals, snacks, and gimmicks have overtaken my Facebook and my free time.

The types of recipe videos I’m talking about have a pretty standard style: often a top-down camera centering on a kitchen counter; disembodied hands speeding through the steps of the recipe while white text explains what you’re looking at; and music so generic it sounds like it wasn’t ever supposed to be heard. Probably because it wasn’t. This style of video (which I’m calling ‘Top-down videos’) is intrinsic to Facebook, the medium it lives on.

Top-down videos are tailor-made for this kind of social media, and to catch your eye as you mindlessly scroll down your feed. The auto-play means you don’t even have to have clicked on the video for you to start watching it, it just sort of happens. You’re not supposed to process what you’re watching; you passively look at the videos when you’re lying hung-over in bed at 11 o’clock in the morning. They are fast – most last under a minute, and rarely use any sort of sound-effects or dialogue so you don’t even have to press unmute when watching it. It’s the ultimate passive viewing.

It cuts out all the fluff of traditional cooking shows we’re used to seeing – there’s no explanation of what is happening, no one is talking about how the fish is wild-caught and how aromatic the spice combination is. With no celebrity or 5-star Michelin chef telling you how to make your cheesy pasta, you can pretend that the two hands making this meal are your hands and you could do this if you wanted to. It’s that easy! Top-down videos go right to the point, focusing on being authentic and simple with the attitude that anyone can make this. The only sign of an individual human person is the man that filthy moans ‘oh yes’ at the end of each video. As an aside, am I the only one who finds that weird?

The first Buzzfeed ‘Top-down’ video was a recipe for Cheese Shell Mini-Tacos on the 25th of January 2016. As of July 2017, the Tasty Facebook page has 87 million likes, so clearly what they are doing works. Frank Cooper, Buzzfeed’s chief marketing officer, marks the popularity of these videos to it tapping ‘into a simple truth: people love tasty foods and the kind of foods that remind them of their childhood, comfort food, or food that reminds them of an experience’. Call me sceptical, but I doubt many grew up with the childhood comfort food of liquid nitrogen ice cream. These videos are designed to be quick to consume and easy to share, and this is mostly due to how they look – why else would they have so many imitators? In the past five minutes of writing this article I’ve seen “Sweeten” make minion themed strawberries and “Food Network” make deep-fried deviled eggs, both in the style of a Buzzfeed recipe video.

This style of video has branched out beyond food, however, and can be found for all kinds of things – from DIY slime to DIY Zelda fidget spinners. It’s a quick way to make a video that is eye-catching enough to get people to stop and look your page for thirty seconds. This shows that it’s not the content itself that matters but how you package it. Top-down instructional videos demonstrate just how successful Buzzfeed’s Tasty videos are, and how malleable the format is.

It also shows how the culture surrounding instructional videos have changed. We don’t want long explanations of how stuff works, we just want to basics of how to do the thing: minimalist and quick to digest. This trend in video making looks like it’s going to stay a while, as it is really effective at what it does. I’m sure it will get tired eventually – I’m already a part of several Facebook groups that poke fun at the more dodgy recipes and misguided DIYs, but so far it’s more the content that’s the issue, rather than the format. So am I going to keep watching videos on how to make ratatouille boats while lying in bed eating off-brand Lidl cereal straight from the box? In the words of the strangely sexual Tasty guy, oh yes.

[Jo Reid]

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