When it comes to Internet memes, the supercut might be the ultimate. It takes what you love — or what you love to hate — and hits you over the head with it. Repeatedly. It’s a squirm-inducing type of comedy where the same joke is told over and over until it’s mind-boggling that the same trope has been pulled out over and over and over again.
Andy Baio, a writer and tech entrepreneur who riffs on all things digital on his blog, waxy.org, coined the term supercut in a 2008 blog post. Baio maintains what is likely the most comprehensive database of supercut videos, a Web site called Supercut.org.
“I find the entire genre really interesting because it’s fun to watch,” Baio says. It’s very entertaining and it’s also very high concept, easy to understand and all it takes is the time and willingness to do it.”
For some, the word supercut conjures up the image of a tech-savvy fanboy staying up all night to splice together common elements from something that begins with the word Star and ends with Trek or Wars.
And that’s sort of how Supercut.org started (the staying up all night part, anyway). Last May, Baio participated in Seven on Seven an AOL-sponsored event that paired seven artists with seven technologists.
Baio, who for years had maintained a running list of supercuts on his blog, was paired with Michael Bell-Smith and the two worked throughout the night to create the SuperSupercut, which used algorithms to form a massive supercut composed entirely of other supercuts. The project also included a way to randomize which supercut you could view.
Baio launched Supercut.org to host the project, but last month, turned the Web site into a database of supercut videos from around the Web. Visitors can also submit links to supercut videos they find (on YouTube or Vimeo since videos aren’t hosted from the site). Baio reviews submissions before they are posted.
He followed up the site’s makeover with a Wired column, which featured an analysis of 146 supercut videos. Noting that supercut videos were increasingly being created by critics (as opposed to superfans), Baio enlisted Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. to find background on supercut videos — who created them, the type of content they contained (games, film or TV) and how comprehensive they were.
Among the findings were that 73 percent of supercuts in the database were created by fans of the video’s subject. And here’s this interesting tidbit: The average supercut is composed of about 82 cuts.
Baio predicts that supercuts will show up in campaign ads next year as candidates zero in on the verbal habits (and hiccups) of their competitors. Did you know, for example, that President Obama likes to say “spending” a lot?
“I guarantee that [in 2012] there’s going to be supercuts focusing on the candidates, especially during the debate,” Baio says.
Anyone who’s tried to watch a music video on YouTube knows that content often gets removed for violating copyright laws. And while the makers of supercut video generally don’t own the content, Baio says the consequences aren’t as steep and that, at best, videos simply get removed from YouTube.
As for a favorite supercut, Baio doesn’t have one but notes he’s a fan of “Let’s Enhance”— a montage of that moment in film when a character enhances or runs back footage to get a closer look.
Baio notes that the technologically inclined will often tell you it’s not possible to get such a close look of anything on a computer or on a surveillance screen, but that mix of quirky, funny and just plain annoying is arguably what makes supercuts so alluring.