People Who Watch People: Lost in an Online Hall of Mirrors

People Who Watch People: Lost in an Online Hall of Mirrors

Wausau, Wis., may seem out of the way, but for tens of thousands of Internet users, it has become the center of a very strange universe.

Up until now, most of the videos posted to the online clearinghouse YouTube have involved demonstrations of weird talents, like the young man doing back flips off of city buildings in "Urban Ninja"; private talents, like the many individuals who film themselves lip-synching in the bedroom; or other people's talents, like the clips from "Saturday Night Live" that the site quickly removes.

With the latest crop of videos, a new style has emerged, though, one that is at once absolutely mundane and completely postmodern: people posting videos of themselves watching YouTube videos. And that's just the start.

One of the most discussed YouTube clips lately features a young woman who calls herself pizzelle2 watching a video of another YouTube user, who is watching another YouTuber, and so on. The video's recursiveness goes several steps deeper, until it reaches the promised land: the Wausau home of a 24-year-old woman known as Nornna, top right.

Nornna's videos, which number in the hundreds, are hardly salacious. Usually she is doing something completely commonplace: making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, powdering her feet, missing her bus, watching television. Some videos of Nonna, shown above at top, have been viewed more than 50,000 times. As her videos gained an audience, her fans started posting videos of themselves watching Nornna, and the momentum was unstoppable.

The first Nornna-watching video was posted by James98105, a 26-year-old Seattle man. In his video, titled "Me eating and watching Nornna while she watches Chicken Litt," he eats crackers while watching Nornna watch the movie "Chicken Little." (See below left.) Her laughter can be heard just beneath his comments.

"The reason why I love Nornna's videos so much is because her day-to-day activities in Wisconsin make me envious because I wish my life were that simple!" he wrote in an e-mail message.

James spurred others to post videos of themselves watching others watch videos that, at some point, included a Nornna video. Of these, the most popular, and most discussed on YouTube's message boards, is pizzelle2's "I Win at Nornna." Like Nornna, pizzelle2 wouldn't consent to an interview, but in the video, she declares herself the winner because one video she watches includes Nornna watching pizzelle2 watch Nornna. It is Nornna-watching gone full circle.

There's no end to the possibilities. Why, someone might even post a video of himself reading a newspaper article about recursive videos.

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