School’s out Friday

Now here’s something to put in the lesson toolbox for 2014. Chicago’s Magical Piano, currently sitting at 3,352,971 views on YouTube and looking for all intents and purposes like a wonderfully Christmassy feel good viral video from Amtrak.

But, it’s hard to get anything past the Reddit community these days. Here’s what transpired (from Mashable);

About two hours after it was shared on Reddit, a user named schwagro claimed in the comments that the video was fake. Schwagro posted a link to a notice about an Amtrak casting call for a video in Chicago’s Union Station with a “magical piano around Christmastime that seems to be truly alive.”

One of the examples given in the notice is that an actor might “play ‘Chopsticks’ … and we turn it into a duet,” which is exactly what happens to a young girl at the beginning of the video.

Kevin Nalts, at has provided a scene by scene breakdown outlining the indicators to tip us off. Here’s what he had to share (I’d encourage you to visit the link to the site too);

  1. Girl playing chopsticks has almost no reaction at :28 seconds when the magical duet that occurs. Her “mother” at :37 seconds realizes her reaction is just as disingenuous so she covers her face.

  2. At 1:00 a business man gets frustrated in convenience proximity of the piano. As the music becomes tense, his hand stays up in a token gesture of frustration. People don’t hold their hand up like that when they’re frustrated, and if they do it’s for a brief moment. He somewhat convincingly barks at the piano at 1:07, but that’s a much more severe reaction that would have occurred naturally. In real life, the guy would have almost subconsciously walked away from the noise to keep focused on his call.

  3. At 1:25 a fat man approaches and almost convinces us he’s amused. But when he kicks into a manic blues dance at 1:44 we’re painfully aware that the moment is staged.

  4. By the time two other musicians stumble upon the piano (a trumpet player and a harmonica player) I could no longer continue watching.

  5. I scanned toward the end, and shouldn’t have been surprised to see Santa shooshing the piano at 3:33. I think that was actually the real Santa, though… not an actor.

I had my students investigate the nature of viral videos in my class last year and I intend to do a similar thing this year. I’ll definitely be including this as a discussion point, perhaps with the title, ‘When is a viral video not a true viral video?’ As our eyes tune in more and more to spaces like YouTube and less and less to mainstream media, we’re going to see more companies try and get their message out with entertaining videos that tug at our heartstrings and make us aware of their company or product. Westjet did it well with their Christmas Miracle video, but they were upfront about what they were doing. Therein lies the difference. Be upfront at the start, and you won’t incur the wrath of the Reddit community and the less than complimentary debate that follows.

Have a great weekend. Lovely weather here in Melbourne at the moment, and next week promises to deliver the opposite of the Polar Vortex experienced by North America this last week. I will be returning to work and leaving the holiday behind. Can’t say I’m excited about that just right now, but them’s the breaks!