In Defense of the Fail Video

Sometimes when I am having a no good, very bad day, I pour myself a Diet Coke, nestle up in bed and watch fail videos on YouTube.

For the uninitiated, fail videos are videos of failure. They are long montages of people falling off of tables at house parties, hurtling off trampolines, accidentally lighting their hair on fire, or, a personal favorite, cutting down a tree that then crashes on top of their house. There are videos of cats mistaking cucumbers for snakes, babies sneezing into their birthday candles, and emo teens smashing into the sides of buildings on their skateboards. Want some gymnastics fails? YouTube’s got ‘em. Want an adorable puppy falling down the stairs? Here’s a GIF I made from one of my favorite videos.


I started watching fail videos in college. The memory of how exactly I discovered this particular genre of Internet entertainment is long lost, but my roommate and I used to sit for hours in our living room, riveted by footage of other people fucking up. It has a comforting element: no matter what early twenties disaster we found ourselves in, at least we weren’t the lady who just fell through the ice in a bikini. We would cackle for hours, mesmerized and drunk off schadenfreude.

giphy-1.gifNow I spend my workday trying to convince Facebook users to watch TED Talks: meaty and rich lectures by experts on any range of very important topics from rape culture to macroeconomics. I love TED Talks, but it is a tremendous relief to come home and settle in with “Scare Prank Fails 2016” at the end of the day. Fail videos ask nothing of me, no moral dilemma, no call to action. They simply are.

Fail videos are instant karma. They’re the only form of entertainment in which mediocre white men immediately face consequences for their actions. Very often their displays of masculinity backfire as their ATV flips backward down to the hill and throws them into a tree. A fail video montage is Misandry Lite: I smirk at the pain of drunk bros body-slamming into plastic tables, unconcerned for their well-being. They’re fine, after all: a laughing friend wouldn’t upload their death to the Internet, or at least one would hope no.

Fail videos are above all fair. Gravity comes for all of us.

People usually look at me askance when I reveal my fail video obsession for the first time. Yes, it’s a sadistic form of entertainment. Yes, the humor requires the intelligence level of a toddler to appreciate it. And yes, I forget a fail video as soon as I’ve seen it. But I find them strangely beautiful. Pure, even.

The classic fail video is of a German lad making a promotional clip for his heavy metal band. It’s so purely mortifying that it even wound up in a TED Talk on laughter. Now that is some full circle shit right there. Turn your sound up.


The fact is the world is pretty terrible right now. It’s straight up garbage. Watching fail videos may seem like a cruel method of self-care, but it’s often what helps me calm the impotent rage roaring in my brain late at night. It reminds me of drinking Amstel Lite in my dorm with my best friend during finals week, and of crying with my dad over a video of a kitten misjudging the distance between a sofa and a coffee table. The failures of others have brought me closer to the people I love. They have also taught me that broken bones heal, but a good story — and viral videos — live forever.

In the interest of self care and dark humor, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite clips and montages. Happy failing, everyone.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

One thought on “In Defense of the Fail Video

  1. I usually like to Netflix and chill to a comedy. But Fail videos on YouTube are just as good to watch and a bit shorter than a feature length film or stand up act.

    Always enjoy seeing you in high spirits. Life’s too short for wallowing in what others perceive as a life ending condition.

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