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How Vine changed our minds

Vine launched on the web officially a year ago, and was on phones months before that, but it's not until now that its full force has been felt

I have definitely seen Madonna falling down the stairs at the Brits, but I can't say that I trust my memory entirely. Maybe this is because the image is almost too abstract and campy to seem like a real event, or maybe it is because what I really saw was Madonna falling down the stairs in a six-second Vine clip on somebody’s Tumblr dashboard, partly because I believe that there is no-one alive (aside, perhaps, from a paid reviewer of television) for whom the hours required to watch the Brit Awards in full might not be spent more wisely — in offering up one's services to a soup-kitchen, for instance, or cleaning the hair from one's shower-drain — and partly because, in the digital age, this is how we experience moments: as second-hand, fast-spreading gossip. launched on the first of May 2014. What a year it's been. 

The cliché of knowing where exactly you were when you heard the news — that Elvis Presley or Kurt Cobain had died; that war had broken out — becomes the new cliché of calling to mind which two posts first sandwiched the story in your newsfeed. Don McLean remembered the sensation of hearing the news that Buddy Holly had died in the Clear Lake crash in American Pie, but I might describe to our generation’s children the strange sensation of first finding “R.I.P. Lou Reed” written just underneath a photograph of a cat that looked grumpy; the airborne trauma of tying a potato to a bedroom ceiling fan with string. 

Madonna’s lips connecting with Drake’s for a mere five seconds at a recent show were fuel enough for a new but very undefined debate about consent; the breezy humiliation of Beck by Kanye West was enough to resurrect the long-dead Imma Let You Finish joke for a tedious forty-eight hours. Rihanna — behaving gloriously like Rihanna — was caught in a Snapchat video doing what looked like cocaine, and chose to respond on her Instagram account instead of through an agent. “Any fool can see I’m actually rolling a joint,” she spat with typical candor, no pre-written PR penitence in sight.

Clips and scandals of blink-and miss-it brevity find themselves coasting effortlessly atop the ‘trending’ and ‘most-read’ lists of online news, as trifling nothings are blown up into towering news behemoths as if by the power of nuclear radiation, then blasted back down as if with a shrink-ray. Warhol’s nine-hundred seconds find themselves dividing, thus, into something even smaller — a super-concentrated form of fame a hundred-and-fiftieth of its former size with greater reach, and a shorter lifespan.

Vine seems almost as if it had been invented, absurdly enough, the better to help us to satirise our own short attention-spans in blog-posts and opinion columns. The kids today, it is possible to argue, are braindead and cannot absorb their news unless it comes in smartphone-friendly bursts of six seconds: never mind that the newspaper headline — whose purpose is surely a similarly loud, unrefined and fleeting grab for attention — has been in use as a method of spreading news to the easily-distracted reader since the late nineteenth century. 

Justifying the teeny length of the website’s clips, inventor Dom Hofmann cites Orson Welles’ assertion that “the enemy of art is the absence of limitation.” Which heady peaks of achievement and entertainment and cinematic engineering have we attained so far through our newfound six-second limitations? The soaring potato and the toppling Queen of Pop; the Kanye insult, the Drake makeout, and the just-a-joint Bajan beauty — all of these, along with twelve million other crystalised happenings daily, are why Vine was programmed in the first place. Vine is for the dumbly fun and the overblown; for the split-second award show reactions which prove those attending to be human.

It is the snappy Ed Ruscha slogan canvas of popular media — terse and visual, but not without its own greater symbolic meaning — and a sequence of random popular Vines as described by the Guardian sound like the work of a PG-rated Harmony Korine. "A sneezing puppy is followed by a man in a wheelchair shouting: ‘Death to all tyrants.’ A girl squeezing what looks like saline solution up her nose is followed by people bowling, a woman licking a pizza, a man dressed as a panda pushing over a trolley in a supermarket.” Six seconds, in popular culture, can be a lifetime; whether the development is a good or a bad one, it only makes sense for the media that we use to evolve to reflect it.