He’s been called the “Laughing Baby” in the media. On YouTube, his video is appropriately titled “Baby Laughing Hysterically at Ripping Paper,” and in just two months, it’s attracted over 16 million views. To define it best in web slang: His video has gone viral. It’s catapulted a 10-month-old boy to a type of celebrity status, plucking a small family from St. Louis, Missouri, and plopping them down on the couch of television’s The Today Show. This family’s story is modest — the content of the video is simple and unrehearsed — and yet it resonates with millions of people around the world.
On a weekday afternoon, Micah McArthur’s father captured less than two minutes worth of his son laughing at the sight and sound of ripping paper, and then posted it on YouTube as an afterthought. Marcus and his wife, Mandi, never planned on Alyssa Milano twittering about it. They never thought the video would become a media sensation. And, they most certainly never knew they’d have to quickly learn how to venture through a virtual world with blurred privacy rules. Through it all, Mandi discovered how to trek successfully across the viral landscape, and she offers helpful insight about publicizing one’s personal life.
Mandi would be the first to tell you that Micah (who celebrates his first birthday this month) is indeed a happy baby. “We loved how the public immediately starting referring to him as the ‘Laughing Baby,’” Mandi says. “It truly matches his personality, and we feel so blessed that our first child has such a pleasant demeanor. People ask us all the time if Micah is always this happy, and of course, he isn’t. I mean, who is happy 100% of the time? Everybody gets hungry or tired or frustrated. But, Micah gets over it really fast and finds the humor in just about everything.”
This ‘everything’ includes the remarkably mundane things such as paper and lint. Micah even laughs at the sight of his dad folding laundry and dropping the basket. Of course, the sound of babies laughing is not new. Neither is videotaping it. So, what made this video so special?
“Laughter calms the heart and mind, and has a positive physiological effect on people,” says Mandi. “But, I also think Micah’s video was especially timely. There is currently so much negative economic and natural disaster news right now, and watching 30 seconds of a child — completely innocent and not jaded by it all — provides a happy escape. Laughter is truly one of the best forms of medicine.”
It was also the context in which the video was filmed that touched viewers. Mandi noted that the idea of an unemployed stay-at-home dad trying to make his son laugh seemed to affect people. Her husband is currently finishing up his PhD and has been looking for a teaching job in a University. They had waited many years to have a baby so that he could graduate and find work, which would let her pursue her dream job of being a stay-at-home mom.
But finding a teaching job in today’s market was much more difficult than they had expected. “Throughout the last year, Marcus has been applying to jobs everywhere in the country,” says Mandi. “Every week he’d receive job rejection letters. It’s hard not to feel deflated about that.”
Micah, however, found the humor in it…and eventually so did millions of viewers. One afternoon, watching his dad rip up the rejection letters, Micah started laughing. It was a deep, guttural laugh; and it was contagious. Marcus then moved onto tearing credit card statements, and Micah couldn’t stop laughing. Knowing that Mandi would love to see it while she was at work, Marcus started recording. There was nothing staged. Nothing rehearsed. No agenda. For if Marcus had even an inkling that millions of people would view this video, he would have certainly changed his son out of the pink onesie. The days and weeks following that recording would change the lives of the McArthur family, leading to some very humorous experiences…and a few confusing, even scary ones.
“Viral videos are still relatively a new phenomenon, and when it involves your own child, you’re not fully prepared for the aftermath,” says Mandi. “As a parent, you have to find the balance in being able to share your child with the world while protecting him at the same time. Showcasing your baby on the limitless Internet is definitely scary. You really don’t know what to expect.”
Mandi certainly didn’t expect fan mail.
“This may sound silly, but when we received our first piece of fan mail (a letter with multiple pictures of this person’s young child), I became anxious that somebody would find us and want to steal Micah. We started using our house alarm more frequently, and I cringed whenever a newspaper or TV show mentioned our last names. What if somebody tried to hunt Micah down? We also feared that people or businesses would use Micah’s image in an inappropriate way or violate our copyright. We would never want Micah’s image used for something that was not in line with our morals or beliefs.”
The following weeks, however, began to quiet Mandi’s nerves. Each week, they received emails or comments about how the video positively affected a person’s life. For example, their video was posted close to the time that the Christ’s Church earthquake occurred. A woman commented that while searching for missing family members, she came upon the video, and for a few minutes, experienced joy. This delighted Mandi. “It touched our hearts that Micah inspired brief moments of happiness for somebody in New Zealand who was experiencing a difficult time. Even though we posted the video a couple months ago, we still continually hear positive stories about how Micah’s video made them feel good.”
In addition to being continually encouraged by great feedback, the McArthur family feels good that they now know how to find their way through the video viral process.
“There are many Internet safeguards that most people don’t know,” says Mandi. “Through our experiences as well as talking with lawyers and media professionals, I’ve learned a lot of helpful tips that I often share with parents.”
1. When you post a video on YouTube, sign up for AdSense (Google ads) as soon as you’re given the option. It enables advertisements (text, image and video) to run concurrently with your video, which generates revenue for you whenever somebody clicks on the ad or views it. You can use this money to put towards your child’s college fund.
2. Don’t allow comments on the YouTube posting. At first, screening comments seems manageable, but when there are hundreds or thousands of them, there’s no way to screen all the comments before they’re posted. Most of these comments are usually positive, but there might be some really bad ones that overpower the good ones. Negative comments can be very damaging to a video’s owners or lead to unnecessary bickering on the conversation thread. Nobody wants to hear people making fun of your baby. If you are concerned about strangers commenting about your child, just turn the comments off.
3. Watch for copyright infringement on YouTube, especially the first week or two it increases in popularity. Some people will try to make money off your video and will repost it as their own. There are copyright laws that will mostly protect your child, but unfortunately there are also gray areas where you are not protected. When you report copyright infringement, YouTube is very good about removing that video within 24 to 48 hours. Parody videos, however, are a definite gray area and are sometimes allowed.
4. Don’t sign anything or give away ‘rights’ to the video/license of the video. If your video does go viral, you can expect websites or publications to try to buy the video rights. It’s wise to have a lawyer friend review any and all paperwork and emails you receive before you agree to anything. If a media outlet wants to broadcast your video, be sure to ask them in writing how they will present it.
5. Enjoy every minute of the viral experience; it can leave as quickly as it appeared. Think of creative ways to really capture the moment. In fact, the McArthurs captured the moment — with a ringtone. After a news broadcaster on the local Channel 5 News suggested during an interview that they create a ‘laughing’ ringtone, they turned to a computer programmer friend. Within a couple of days, the recording of Micah’s laugh became available as a downloadable ringtone from iTunes.
How would Mandi describe this entire video viral process in just one word? Adventure. “This whole experience was unexpected and definitely exciting,” she says. “I mean, we never thought a baby laughing at ripping paper would be such a hit. There’s been some amazing highs, like traveling to New York for the first time and celebrities actually asking to take pictures with our son. The best part, however, is watching Micah laugh at it all and enjoy the ride.”
To view Micah’s video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RP4abiHdQpc.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Cori Linder is a professional editor and has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from UCLA and a Master’s degree in Professional Writing from USC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.