How WorldStar Turned Street Violence Into A Booming Internet Business
The infamous L-train subway-fight footage.
For students of Internet subway-fight videos, the genre entered a new realm of virality a couple of months ago on the L train. This commenced at approximately 2 a.m. on November 8, 2011, when, with the train approaching the Myrtle/Wyckoff station, 25-year-old security guard Daniel Endara admonished a number of teenagers for spitting on the subway-car floor. It was then, as shown in the one-minute-and-27-second recording of the event, that one of the teens, wearing no shirt despite the wintry weather, confronted Endara, who pushed him away. Several of the shirtless man’s confederates converged on the scene. In the ensuing mayhem, Endara was beaten with fists and kicked to the floor. What made this video different from the usual mélange of sucker punches and overlit swish pans was the voice on the soundtrack, the one that shouted, “WorldStar, baby!”
“WorldStar,” for those who don’t know, is WorldStarHipHop.com, which started in 2005 as just one more semi-swag hip-hop blog eventually featuring homemade videos of rappers and “sticky page” pix of buxom ladies. Over the years, however, the site has separated itself from the competition by depicting what founder Lee “Q” O’Denat, a self-confessed “Haitian ghetto nerd” from Hollis, Queens, calls “the whole gamut; A-to-Z; soup-to-nuts; the good, the bad, and the ugly of the urban experience.” From WorldStar’s POV, this includes a daily array of street fights and pushing matches in project hallways and camera scans of shoplifting incidents. The mix has proved exceedingly popular. With 1.1 million people visiting the site’s archaically funky layout per day, WSHH, as of last week, was ranked the 278th-most-visited URL in the U.S., according to Alexa, a web-traffic-tracking service. This was ahead of Slate, CBS, and Merriam-Webster, and right behind Sprint and Travelocity. With new vids constantly on display, a large portion of WSHH viewers, many hailing from the 18-to-34 male-demographic sweet spot, say they check the site at least once a day.
Still, it wasn’t until Daniel Endara’s L‑train stomping that WorldStar went meta. Obviously, you don’t have to be Jean Baudrillard to know a WSHH video in the making when you see one. This is what it has come to: No longer do individuals sit idly by and watch a fellow citizen get attacked, as bystanders allegedly did in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her Kew Gardens apartment house. Instead, you whip out your smartphone, vid the action, and upload it on WorldStar.
Accompanied by the sort of tabloid-headline writing that would make any Australian phone hacker swoon, videos run by WSHH in the past several months include “Foolery: Off-Duty McDonald’s Manager Fired After Punching a Mother With Autistic Kids for Bringing a Guide Dog in Restaurant!” “Police Kill Deaf Cyclist With Stun Gun!” “41 Deep Brawl, Guys Getting Jumped for Talking About There Baby Moms (Granny Came Out With the Shovel and Broom)!” and “Lesbian Street Fight in ATL!” Most WSHH entries elicit hundreds of typically scabrous, grammatically eccentric, N-word-intensive comments. Few if any express sympathy for the humiliated, knocked-out, or stone-cold-dead individuals seen in the videos.
As evidenced by last week’s posting, “These Cops in the Bronx NY Are Out of Control!,” in which four large NYPD officers engage in a Rodney King–style beating of a suspect (resulting in the cops losing their guns and badges), the WSHH meme is having an effect well beyond the Net. It has certainly influenced the news cycle. Soon after the WorldStar posting of the L-train fight, the vid was picked up by more mainstream sites like Gothamist, which, despite some tsk-tsk dissing of WSHH as “an Internet cesspool that’s cashed in big on senseless fight videos,” was happy enough (as was nymag.com) to make Daniel Endara’s pain available to its better-heeled breed of voyeurs. Local TV outlets soon became aware of the now Ebola-like “shocking video.” Identifying the incident as occurring on a “Queens-bound L train” (geez), WABC-TV reporter Joe Torres said the attack was now on view at the station site, 7online. That way, Torres said, people could watch it on their “computer, iPad, or smartphone, which is great if you’re on the subway—you can call it up and show it to the person next to you.”
Clearly there are issues with WorldStarHipHop. When you’re getting 200,000 hits on vids of teenage Pittsburgh rappers laying down their beats while brandishing a veritable arsenal, including M-16s, Tech-9s, mac-10s, and Glocks (as if the cops, who would later arrest the crew, don’t watch WSHH too), there are going to be issues.