I have a confession to make: When things get me down and I need a pick-me-up to go on with the day, I don’t pour myself a cup of coffee or slurp some energy drink. I pick up my iPhone and peruse the latest videos on WorldStar Hip Hop.
For those who aren’t in the know, WorldStar is a website devoted to playing hip-hop videos from superstar rappers and MCs who are starting out and need a venue to show off their music.
But WorldStar is also home to the more embarrassing side of contemporary American culture. One of the site’s recurring video segments is the “Fight Comp of the Month,” which rounds up all the taken-from-smartphone clips of (predominantly black) men and women engaging in on-the-spot fisticuffs, with people yelling out “WorldStar!” like it’s a ghetto battle cry.
I hate to sound like a voyeuristic creep, but seeing people act like dang fools on camera amuses me – and WorldStar usually serves that up on an hourly basis. Whether it’s fight videos or news reports of people doing the dumbest, most insane things or the latest, ridiculous sound bites from celebrities, WorldStar is a portal to what’s wrong with human civilization – and I can’t stop watching it. Other people can’t either.
WorldStar gets an estimated 3.4 million visitors and 17 million page views on a daily basis, according to the Worth of Web website. But despite its success, there are rappers – the very people WorldStar was created to help – who consider the site embarrassing.
“To me, it’s just another trash media outlet that glorifies, promotes and celebrates stupidity,” says Raleigh MC Cesar Comanche. “Them having the nerve to include the term ‘hip hop’ in their company name shows their lack of respect for anyone’s culture.”
Durham rapper/singer Sarah Kaboom sums WorldStar up succinctly: “WorldStar is a beautiful collection of memories from this ratchet era of humanity.” (By the way, ratchet means trashy or low-class.)
Rappers aren’t the only ones who consider WorldStar no good for anyone. The Washington Post did a piece last month about how the site has built a following by gathering the most absurd and violent videoand then turning the people who appear in them into viral-video stars.
This is the site that gave people such unlikely viral-video stars as Sharkeisha, a Houston teen who sucker-punched a girl for making a move on someone she liked, and that Cleveland bus driver who viciously uppercutted a female passenger for punching him (“You going to jail now!” he yelled before decking her) . One recent video shows a teenage girl beating another teenage girl (and her little, elementary school-aged brother, who jumped in to defend her) at a park in Indianapolis. Though the video is brutal and horrible, it has gotten nearly a million views on WorldStar.
As much as sites like WorldStar, YouTube and U.K. video-sharing site LiveLeak traffic in videos that usually capture people at their worst, some people insist the sites are not at fault for the content.
“It’s like the news – you can’t get mad at the news for telling you what happened,” says Bari Kindle, Houston-based editor-in-chief of the music news site JusFlippin.com. “It ain’t the news’ fault that a place got shot up, but they’re gonna show you.”
While all the ratchetry that WorldStar exhibits doesn’t bother Kindle much, he does disapprove of people not displaying the slightest hint of decency when a person needs help.
“There are people standing around filming and nobody helping the girl getting jumped,” he says. “That aspect of it bothers me, because we’re so busy trying to get a good Vine or we can’t stop because we’d rather get the good video. That bothers me a lot.”
Maybe if people are reminded by family and friends to love themselves and each other, Kindle says perhaps they wouldn’t feel the need to act a fool on camera, nor be ready to pull out their phones when someone is acting a fool.
That’s certainly a tall order, but perhaps the more WorldStar shows us at our worst, maybe the more we’ll work on being at our best.