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What Counts As Content?

Six days ago my younger brother wanted to show me something really funny on TV. He wanted me to watch MTV’s Ridiculousness, he said me the show was hilarious. Immediately after watching I said, “That was horrible. MTV is so patronizing if it considers something like that a show.” I could tell he was confused by the comment a bit, so I explained, “They basically took clips off the internet and played them for you, they didn’t bother creating any content, it is lazy and stupid. They rake in a celebrity guest and a hot chick so that you would keep watching and the commentary that is not even that great. That show is awful.” What shocked me even more was that the show had been around for seven seasons. I was appalled. What I had said was quite problematic, because it postulated than anything that used content from other sources was awful. Obviously that can’t be true, I can mention good books, news/current affairs programmes, documentaries that use content from other sources. Either I was willing to accept that my favourite documentaries and news programmes were also shit or that there was something flawed about my reasoning. I found myself reconsidering the nature of content itself, what counts as content, if there are different classes of content and is there something about content that makes it inferior or better than other pieces of content. In other words what is the difference between the news/current affairs programmes, documentaries and shows like Ridiculousness? Some great shows take content that they didn’t create and comment on it or represent it in a certain way and end up with a great show, like most science and history documentaries. So what makes the difference? Well, I think I might have the answer but you will have to be patient with me first because I had to rethink everything and come up with my own system and definitions on what contents is and more. Now let’s begin.


Content is anything published or made available to the public through a certain medium in any shape or form (tweets, videos,  blog post, books, journals, music etc.). I came up with two broad categories of content, primary content and secondary content. Primary content is the first instance of a particular content in the public domain. Primary content is often original. Not that is creative and extraordinary in nature, although it can be, what I mean by original is that the content is new and non-plagiarised, it has some unique features which mark it as a distinct piece. Secondary content is content which makes use of primary content and embellishes it in one way or the other. By embellish I mean the content is added to, changed in some way or incorporated in some way and more, the possibilities are endless. Example, a parent takes a picture of his three-year-old kid wearing a penguin costume and smiling then posts it on the internet, that is primary content because it is the first instance of itself on the internet. An internet user sharing the photo and with a different comment on it is secondary content, so are the memes and  the newscast using the photo in the event that the child is missing; this is because the shared post and the newscast are examples of the use of primary content as part of another body of content. This means a documentary discussing various scientific theories is a form of secondary content because the theories themselves are primary content. Ideas and theories are a form of content, we rarely have new and truly original ideas while we never run short of new theories so incorporation of ideas into content does not turn the content into secondary content since it is difficult to spot or award a first instance of an idea to anyone. The problem with ideas is that they can be similar and appear at multiple places at once. Incorporation of theories in bodies of content makes the content secondary content while with ideas this is rarely the case. Re-publishing something as it is does not make the publication secondary content unless content it is embellished; this means a second edition of a book is secondary content while the first is primary.

Put simply secondary content is any content formed by the combination of two or more primary/secondary contents using embellishment (this can be part of the content or the content as a whole). Now, this is going to be important for later, the host content is the content which incorporates another into itself or uses another while the content being used is called incorporated content. In the example of the kid picture and the shared post, the shared post is the host content while the picture is the incorporated content. This can be illustrated in the following way: The “+” stands for combining through embellishment.

Content (primary/secondary) + host content (which itself may be primary or secondary content) = Secondary content

Now, what does all this have to do with some content being better than other content? Both Ridiculousness and the news programs seem to fall into under secondary content category. A factor that seems to play a role over what makes certain content in the secondary content category better or worse is the ratio between the incorporated content and host content and/or embellishment, and the nature of embellishment. Embellishments fall into two broad categories, meaningful embellishments and empty embellishments. Meaningful embellishments alter incorporated content by adding a new perspective and increasing the extent at which the content can be appreciated or fathomed. Empty embellishments don’t alter incorporated content at all, they draw attention to the obvious aspects of incorporated content and don’t add anything of any note or significance to the content. Newscasts have relatively (1)less incorporated content and (2)more host content and/or (3)meaningful embellishments (the embellishments change perspective etc.). Shows like Ridiculousness  have (1)more incorporated content and (2)less host content and (3)less meaningful embellishment, instead the type of embellishment that is often available does not change perspective or enhance much of the content (enhance making a note on something that isn’t already obvious). They take a funny clips (incorporated content) and comment (embellish) on it so that it becomes funny, the embellishments (the comments) are empty instead of meaningful because it adds nothing new to the incorporated content (because the funny clip is already funny). The ratio between incorporated content and host content and/or embellishment and the nature of embellishments makes the difference between good secondary content shows and bad ones. So Ridiculousness would be far better show if they added something significant to the clips they played, like making something that is not funny appear funny or had more host content(which simply means wrote more stuff for the show).

So I was mistaken, the show sucks for a different reason that I gave at first, it wasn’t because they used other people’s clips. Because a show incorporates other peoples’ content doesn’t automatically make it bad, if it did a plethora of other good shows would be also bad including the news and documentaries as they happen incorporate other peoples’ content a lot. What matters is the balance between how much of the (1)other people’s content is incorporated, (2)the contributions added to the content and (3) types of embellishment that meaningfully add to incorporated content (altering or enhancing perspectives).

I really hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Now I gotta go work on Prye of Envy, see you next time.

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