I was going to write about Simon Schama’s Power of Art (Sundays, ABC2) but can’t resist putting up this wonderful distraction. Sorry, Simon-san.

(Afternote, before: this was going to be such a simple post; but it was a shaggy dog in disguise. Grr!)

At this point you should be playing the youtube which is what I really want you to see, and if you know all about Chatroulette, please scroll on down to the vid. If not, hang around here for a sec. Actually, no, I’ll post the video here – mostly worksafe except for a couple of swears – and you have a guess what’s happening, and read on below after, during or before as you like, which is very improv…

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There is some backstory, which while complicated is kinda interesting in itself, in the way that American pop culture* is always interesting – they’re always willing to try out the wackiest stuff and several months later we have a go at it down here. (*And, yes, Chatroulette was invented by a Russian teenage genius, Lenin Godsmustbecrazy, er sorry, Andrey Ternovskiy. But it’s as conceptually American as Idol, and yes, that started British.)

So, Chatroulette. You may not have had time to fool around with it as it’s only been up since November last. It’s a website-application-program that lets two parties have web-cam text-message/audio conversations. I know, that’s a bunch of hyphenated-/slashings.

The SMH ran a breathless and confusing piece about it (even misinitialising the name with a cap R), but it’s real simple. Here’s the interface:

chatr

The beauty/horror of it is that anyone can play for free, any time, anonymously. You’ve been warned when you read the rules: 16+; Please stay clothed; Please use “Report” button to get bad stuff blocked. It’s not only unenforceable, it’s practically incitement.

Now you know why it’s called chat … roulette. What do you think a random stranger might want to show and tell about in the wilds of cyberspace?

stewart(If you really need to have this demonstrated, see Jon Stewart‘s star-studded satire, from 4 March at 6:26 min.)

Nearly there.

Everything on the net happens really fast right? So, about March 11 a guy in a monkish hoodie calling himself Merton (referencing–?–Thomas Merton, trappist monk, mystic) puts up a youtube showing himself improvising ditties on his piano as he has random intersections with his fellow rouletters. It goes ultraviral, notching up 4.2 million hits before being taken down several days ago for “use violation”.

Because he had such witty facility, was bespectacled and – in the lo-resness of youtube – just looked like him, the rumour zinged round that Merton was Ben Folds, the pop-pianist charmer. He wasn’t. But Folds was so taken by the performance that he made a live homage, behoodied, thus the title for his own youtube: Ode to Merton.

There. In a new edit, Mr Merton, as funny as Folds:

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