“A Brief History of Exploding Whales”

Whales explode due to natural and man-made causes:

Sometimes beached whales erupt on their own, but sometimes humans blow them up first—as was the case in Florence, Oregon, in 1970. The town of Florence may have been the first to confront the dilemma that faces Trout River today.

Oregon officials thought their whale was too big to cut up or burn; they ended up hiring a highway engineer named Paul Thornton, from the state’s transportation department, to devise a plan. Thornton decided on using dynamite to blast the whale to bits. He figured that the blown-up pieces of blubber would scatter into the sea and whatever remained would be scavenged by birds and crabs…

In an obituary for Thornton, who died in October 2013, Elizabeth Chuck of NBC News describes what happened that day:

Bystanders were moved back a quarter of a mile before the blast, but were forced to flee as blubber and huge chunks of whale came raining down on them. Parked cars even further from the scene got smashed by pieces of dead whale. No one was hurt, but the small pieces of whale remains were flecked onto anyone in the area.

Though I wouldn’t have called it such at the time, this is the first “viral video” I remember discovering. And it would be years before it made it to YouTube. I remember in high school stumbling onto a fairly simple HTML page that had a video of this scene in Oregon. The news report was one of the strangest I had ever seen: people gathering to watch and then running as quickly as possible away from an exploding whale. I showed it to a number of people that had never seen anything like it. It isn’t exactly what viral videos are today – which tend to be more pop culture, catchy – but it was certainly unique and something quite foreign to most Midwesterners.

House of Cards may be all the rage but how many people have actually seen it?

Derek Thompson notes the disconnect between all the attention the TV show House of Cards is receiving versus the number of people who have actually seen it:

Netflix doesn’t share (and doesn’t care about) live audiences, and neither do its advertisers, because there aren’t any. So rather than rough Nielsen figures, we have to go by even rougher broadband analytics. But here’s our best guess: “Anywhere from 6-10% of subscribers watched at least one episode of House of Cards,” Procera Networks found, and in the U.S., “the average number of episodes watched during the weekend was three.” Fascinatingly: There was no appreciable increase in Netflix’s overall traffic.

Given that Netflix has just under 30 million domestic subscribers, that means that two to three million people watched House of Cards in its opening weekend. (A previous Procera estimate went as high as 16 percent of Netflix subs, or nearly 5 million.)…

It’s awkward to compare streaming estimates to Nielsen estimates, but it seems safe to say the average CBS program has at least twice times as many viewers as House of Cards...

The outcome is sort of weird. Pop culture critics, who tend to be attracted to the thing that’s most popular, mostly ignore the most popular shows on TV, which are lower-brow fare crafted to get high ratings. Meanwhile, a handful of networks whose business models rely on subscriptions rather than advertising amass all the most-talked-about shows on television. And that’s how the people reading about TV and the people watching TV live in two separate worlds.

A similar issue is taking place with the Best Picture nominees for this year’s Oscars: few Americans have actually seen any of the nominees.

Among other questions, the poll asked 1,433 Americans whether they had seen any of the nine best-picture nominees, plus two other films competing in other categories. The Academy Awards will be hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres on March 2.

Among those who responded to the online survey, Somali piracy thriller “Captain Phillips” was the most-watched film, at 15 percent. But 67 percent said they had yet to see any of the eleven films in the poll.

The outer-space drama “Gravity” was second with 14 percent, while crime caper “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s portrait of 1990s greed and excess, each had been seen by 12 percent of those surveyed. The numbers include those surveyed who may have seen more than one of the nominees.

The survey found that 60 percent of respondents were unsure about which film should win best picture. Slavery drama “12 Years a Slave” had the most support at 9 percent.

With the fragmentation of media in recent decades, this shouldn’t be any surprise: viewers can see what they want and now, can often do it when they want. It is difficult to really have a larger, public, shared conversation in the United States about a single media event like it would have been fifty years ago when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It might only be possible today with real-time events, like the Super Bowl or major political happenings (though now people can watch many sources broadcasting and interpreting the same events) or coverage after a major disaster.

Perhaps this also helps explain the popularity of viral videos: compared to the time investment for a TV series or a movie, a video tends to only take a moment or two but the viewer can then be an expert or a participant immediately.