Ellen Roche

Contributed by Ellen Roche

March 15, 2013



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Want to Go Viral? Channel your Inner Disney Princess.

As someone who spent far, far too much of my childhood learning how to perfectly imitate every single Disney princess of my generation, I am kicking myself for not creating this video. Jon Cozart, who must now be a shoe-in for a guest appearance on Glee, created (apparently single-handedly?) a video that has been blowing up my Facebook and Twitter feeds for the past 2 days, and which I finally sat down to watch today. And I loved it.

Of course, the video is funny. And most people are passing it around because it’s funny. And, as is so often the case with a piece of content that breaks through, I heard about it from my friends first. Then saw it on Huffington Post, then saw it on FastCo. It’s a textbook study in video virality. At Free Range, we’ve been lucky enough to make a number of successful videos ourselves and shared much of what we’ve learned in our recent book. But watching a young whippersnapper do it himself...we’re re-inspired!

There’s no secret recipe for making a video or any piece of content “go viral.” But Cozart brilliantly deploys a panoply of what we call Freaks, Cheats, and Familiars in his 4 minute spoof.

Freaks, Cheats, and Familiars


From Story Wars:

The widely accepted social intelligence hypothesis tells us that the greatest evolutionary pressure for social animals comes from our need to interpret the identity, status, and intentions of other humans and to use the information we get to our best advantage. That is what nature has designed us to do...Jerome Bruner, a giant in the field of cognitive psychology, says the very structure of our brains favors attention to the weird: “Our central nervous system seems to have evolved in a way that specializes our senses to deal differently with expected and unexpected versions of the world...The more unexpected the information, the more processing time it is given.

Jon Cozart, as much as he looks like the theatrical kid next door, transforms himself into a capital-F Freak in this video. For one, he’s split in 4. My eyes were constantly scanning between his faces. The subtle intro and outro blink choreography is a nice touch. And, he’s splitting his voice in 4. Unless you’re a Tuvan throat singer (please google this if you haven’t already), that’s pretty freaky. And on top of that he’s playing cartoon princesses, masterfully imitating their cloying dulcet tones.


But there’s that boy-next-door quality to Cozart. He actually looks like he could be on Glee.

From Story Wars:

Our modern world can be seen as a return to tribalism in which people gather around shared interests. These tribes form strong bonds no matter how niche or geographically far flung as they are. They also form networks of trust through recommendations and sharing of information they care about. This is essentially what a Facebook wall is or how a social bookmarking service like Digg works. These tools help tribes create a language of familiarity with each other that becomes their members’ main sorting strategy, the best way to navigate the flood of information of the digitoral era...the encoding of these familiars into a story doesn’t so much limit a message’s reach as provide a spark that can catapult it to success.

Cozart unleashes a torrent of blatant and subtle familiars in the video. Boy-next-door, check. Blockbuster movie melodies, check. Recent environmental and human rights mistakes, check. Ability to vocally caricature beloved childhood idols, check. Even as I laughed at his witty lyrics, I waxed nostalgic for those wide-eyed hours in front of the TV wishing I, Ellen, was actually a crooning red-haired mermaid.


From Story Wars:

Natural selection provides us with a tricky problem in explaining the development of social creatures. There is, no doubt, an advantage conferred on other animals that hunt in a team. Packs or tribes that cooperate with each other are more likely to survive and pass on their genes. In order to hunt together, however, tribe members must all trust that they will share in the kill. This is where it gets complicated, because we’d expect that those who grab as much of the meat for themselves, excluding others, would get the most nutrition, becoming the most robust and fit to reproduce. So while evolution might favor a tribe that learns cooperation, evolution’s favoritism for individual members who hoard or cheat should make cooperation impossible.

Natural selection has solved this problem by favoring tribes where elaborate emotions and social systems have evolved to punish cheaters, build trust, and allow cooperation to thrive—in other words, to build altruism. Uniquely armed with complex language, humans have mastered this art for better than any other animal.

One way that our brains have evolved to make altruism possible, with all the benefits of social behavior it provides, is by automatically paying close attention to situations where established norms are either being upheld or violated. We want to be sure that if we behave altruistically, our partner will too—otherwise we’re evolutionary suckers.

Both evil and do-gooder cheats are fascinating to us and make for great stories. Sinister Iago cheats the system in Othello and we long to see him punished. Pure-hearted Katniss Everdeen cheats the system in The Hunger Games, and we root her on.

Cozart is absolutely a cheat for the greater good, taking the squeaky clean fun of Disney’s sanitized plot lines and ripping them to shreds with his dose of sharp-witted reality endings. Take these lines for example, sung to Pocahantas’ “Colors of the Wind”.

After John Smith traveled back to England, I helped my people cultivate the fields.
For English, French and Spaniards came to visit, and they greeted us with guns, and germs and steel.
They forced us into unromantic exile, they pillaged, raped, and left us all for dead!
So now I’m far more liberal with a weapon, when I separate their bodies from their heads.
Have you ever held the entrails of an English guy? Or bit the beating hearts of Spanish men?
Can you shoot an arrow in some French guy’s eyeballs? Can you paint with the red colors in these men?

Cozart is a delight to watch. The self-harmonization, the visual gags, the sense that he’s doing something a little risky but pulling it off, his charisma, the hand-written signs. And, of course, the sugar-coated but painful dose of reality he dishes towards destructive fisheries, BP, the American government (and its citizens), and Disney itself is a pleasure to witness.

You can follow Jon Cozart's work on YouTube, and here he is on Twitter