DiagonalView, a show that debuted on DailyMotion in March, is a video blog which presents oddities from around the world in minute long documentary-style clips. These range from odd, to cute, gross to breathtaking, and every reaction in between.
The name comes from the concept that they are not marketing their content, so audiences discover it on their own, from a fresh perspective – “diagonal” rather than “linear” programming. Their most recent clip, which is on the geeky side, I found particularly cool:
DiagonalView is generally entertaining and relatively innocuous, but it can at times resemble an Internet version of P. T. Barnum‘s traveling freak shows, which arose from a long tradition of Western imperialists exhibiting people of color, the disfigured, disabled and mentally retarded, and other “human marvels” for amusement.
Such shows were popular in the United States between ~1840 and ~1940, but suffered in the second half of the 20th century when the introduction of tabloid newspapers captivated the freak market.
Today there are only a few genuine freak shows left (along with a few tongue-in-cheek iterations). When the world’s oddities are a mouse click away, who needs to go to a show? This isn’t to say that DiagonalView is practicing a modern form of imperialistic exploitation. But certain videos on their site give me a rather squeamish feeling, kinda like 4chan‘s /b/ board. They draw on the tropes which made freak shows popular back in the day, basically people of color doing weird things, usually involving physical disfigurement, deviant or emasculating sexual practices, unfamiliar cultural rituals, or simple weird-ass physical traits. And of course, sexual objectification:
So, yeah, watch all those videos and then tell me it doesn’t make you at least a little uncomfortable. But it’s an unquantifiable kind of uncomfortable, and the guys behind DiagonalView seem to stay on the ethical side of a very thin line. And “squeamish,” not “offended” is the exact reaction they’re going for.
Plus, Matt Heiman, one of the producers, told me over e-mail that they have all their subjects sign releases, and that all of them have been cooperative with the project. The documentary style of the series works in their favor, as does the fact that some of the oddities are cute:
But I wonder if simply participating in the practice of human exhibition is somewhat unethical. In our modern society where capitalism and globalization rule culture, it’s difficult to say what is ethical or unethical in terms of entertainment.
The volume of intriguing content is astounding for only two people sifting through news stories, and it does achieve the effect of a “diagonal” presentation. The unrelated videos don’t lend themselves to the type of watch-everything-that’s-available-until-you’re-done mentality. You sift through the archives for subject titles that stand out and watch what you want, which makes for a very different viewing experiences for everyone.