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Fenton, Viral Videos and Mash-Ups - The Sketch Writer's Brave New World?

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It starts with the image of a deer in a field; it's an idyllic moment that is shattered hilariously by the gravelled yells of a man shouting, "Fenton!"

Yes it's the latest internet sensation, the Fenton the Dog video clip which has had all the social media sites full of posts, tweets and comments and the inevitable parody responses. What's remarkable is how fast this has happened.

So what makes a video go viral? And what are sketch makers doing to compete? Fenton the dog, the Britney fan who screams 'leave her alone!' the Jedi Kid - is the trick for sketch producers' success on Youtube to scour the 'most watched' clips, to be ready to pounce on the next clip with the potential to spread like a middle age midriff?

Fenton the dog chasing the deer across a busy road is funny, but funnier was the off camera shouts of exasperation from the owner. It was this that provided the jumping point for The Poke to produce the American Werewolf In London spoof. Using something people were familiar with and adding the new, shared familiarity with the latest viral sensation.

There's no doubt that the 'mash-up' is the roaring success of internet comedy, but is it under threat? What are the implications of the Protect IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property) Act and the Stop Internet Piracy act that US congress are currently debating? Will it spell the end of 'mash ups'? Are they just a breach of copyright? Should Youtubers only make their own completely original stuff? Or is this the digital, visual equivalent of Hip Hop DJs cutting up break-beats in the 80s? Is it an art form in itself? It is a clever method of drawing viewers to your own channel, where many 'mashers' have produced their own original work. I've created some myself, with varying degrees of success. You can see them here if you're into masochism.

The trick I think is to be a cultural surfer, riding the wave of what's hot, and striking fast with a subversive, witty twist. Some things transcend this of course, and have a longer shelf life, an ongoing success. But what sets apart the millions of clips of people dancing around in their living rooms, or giving their opinion on their favourite video games, from a stella hit that makes the headlines? A friend on Twitter, Illustrator @AndyCarolan tweeted that what makes something go viral is "something that is at the very edge of possibility".

I think Fenton definitely qualifies for that.

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