How Boootube turns YouTube’s trash into cringe-inducing treasure

A good YouTube binge is one of every Internet lover’s favorite activities. It’s got everything: Original content, amazing stunts, tutorials, cats. And the highest ranking of them all surface right to the top, bringing us the best of the YouTubed best. 

But there is also a terrible side to YouTube – and we mean, literally. While there are well-ranked videos that have been watched millions of times – more or less winning the Internet’s approval – there are also the little watched, ripped-apart, down-voted videos. And for good reason: 

One site is going out of its way to collect these YouTube embarrassments so they don’t fade away into oblivion. That site, so aptly named, is Boootube. 

The video above is one of the many featured on Boootube, a site that aggregates all the videos on YouTube that have received the worst ratings (or the most thumbs down clicks) ever. While the creator of this hilariously awful clip is seriously misinformed (Psy is South Korean, not North Korean) and is claiming not to be a racist (only a racist would say that before saying something racist), there’s something oddly captivating about him. You hate him (or should) but you also can’t look away. And while his tirade almost has 70,000 thumbs down votes, over 18,000 people gave him a thumbs up (for being an enjoyable target for mockery, hopefully). What’s more impressive is that his video has just under 3 million views.

Here’s another equally ridiculous and appalling video, featuring Lena Fokina, a 50-something Russian woman who has a career performing “baby yoga,” which basically seems like a fancy schmancy term for child abuse.

Flipping screaming babies around while the parents look on is disturbing, awful, strange, even horrifying – it’s like a car crash you’ll whip your neck around to get just one more glimpse of.

“We enjoy ‘worst of’ lists because they make us feel better about ourselves.”

Dylan Berg, Digital Creative Director of THEY – the company that conceptualized Boootube – explains the idea behind compiling the worst videos online into a website. “Sometimes toward the end of the day at work we like to drink beer and watch videos. We started noticing that many of our favorite videos aren’t the ones with the best ratings but rather the ones with the worst, and some of them have millions of views,” Berg says. “And we knew we weren’t alone, because other people shared these videos with us. That made us wonder, if these videos are so bad, why do so many people watch them? At once THEY knew THEY had to go on a mission to find the worst videos on Earth.”

The videos are automatically collected by the site. The criterion is simple: If a video has been voted thumbs down more than thumbs up, it appears in the site’s database. It’s not about the gross amount of down votes, but rather the proportion between thumbs up and thumbs down. Additionally, Boootube has a Staff Picks section, to which members of the THEY team can add their favorites and form a collection of “the best of the worst” videos on YouTube.

But there has to be more behind why the worst videos on the Web often have the most spectators – more than just “we can’t stop watching.” Why can’t we stop watching?

Eric G. Wilson, the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest University and author of Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away, shares with us why he thinks people are interested in “worst of” lists. “First, I think that we’re just basically bored,” Wilson explains. “We are bombarded each day with so much information – on our [computers], our smart phones, etc. – that we become desensitized to experience, bored with the everyday.  So we seek out the aberrant to give us a little thrill.” Wilson adds that people might be tempted to look at violent videos on the Internet simply for the element of taboo they provide that can adequately titillate the senses; viewers may go on and watch something gross or disturbing just to give them a little rush.

“[Also], I think we enjoy ‘worst of’ lists because they make us feel better about ourselves,” Wilson continues. “For the same reasons we used to watch Jerry Springer, which featured ‘freaks’ of all kinds (those committing incest, and all other manner of socially unacceptable behaviors), we enjoy seeing the failures of others so we can feel successful ourselves. ‘I may be bad,’ we might say, ‘but I’m not that bad.  In fact, compared to that, I’m a success.’ This is one of the features of Schadenfreude, taking pleasure in another’s misfortune.” 

Basic human instinct wins again. 

Fortunately, the idea of being overly interested in someone else’s embarrassment or horribleness may have positive effects. “In considering other’s misfortunes, even if our initial motivations are far from noble, we can sometimes develop empathy for those failing.  As in: ‘I can imagine how awful it must feel to be that person.  I feel compassion for him,’” Wilson illustrates. Although a lot of people thought Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance with Robin Thicke was on the verge of being shameful and disgusting, there are always feelings of concern for her. 

And of course, Boootube isn’t to blame in any of this. All this service did was create an algorithm that makes it easy to find the horrible things we love to watch. No matter how much thumbs down we dish out, we just can’t bring ourselves to look away. 

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