Disney Channel’s Theme: A History Mystery
The combination of the internet, fan cultures and excessive amounts of free time has resulted in many, many YouTube videos that overthink minute details of pop culture and overstay their welcome doing so. This piece – a 92 minute investigation into a three seconds long television theme – could easily have turned into a perfect example of that trend. But instead it is a thoroughly enjoyable, diligently researched and expertly produced online documentary that sheds light on an industry that always stays in the shadows.
In this piece Kevin Perjurer (operating on YouTube under the moniker Defunctland) takes a deep dive into the world of television idents. These interstitials are often overlooked by media historians but Perjurer is fascinated by them, and by one example in particular. He goes on an epic quest to discover who composed the four-note theme that Disney Channel has used for the better part of twenty years. As many YouTube researchers do, he starts off by scouring the internet for clues. But Perjurer also connects with and interviews a handful of persons with first-hand knowledge, effectively broadening the scope of his investigation from Disney’s music mnemonic to the complete boutique industry of television channel branding.
Over the video’s long runtime, the visual storytelling rarely flags and the editing is deft and to the point. Perjurer largely refrains from the jocular tone and flippant asides that characterize a lot of video essays on YouTube. He trusts that the excitement of following his meandering and meticulous research is enough to hold the interest of the viewer. And he is right. The smart construction of this piece and the historical overview of sonic branding it compiles are riveting.
What really sets this endeavour apart though is yet another layer Perjurer adds to his storytelling. Woven throughout this feature length investigation are short fictionalized segments in which Perjurer wrestles with his own praxis as a filmmaker. Or more precisely, with the way his output is categorized. He makes (at first oblique) references to his desire of being known as a documentarian or as an artist and he expresses disappointment at being labeled a YouTuber or a content creator. This nomenclature matters to him because he sees it being used to create a hierarchy among different creators. These self-referential tangents seem out of place at first, because they are at odds with the actual topic of this video. But in a brilliant closing segment, Perjurer relates his personal qualms to more universal themes such as the artistic legitimacy of popular creations and the way artistic legacies are shaped. He elegantly connects dots he’s been setting up throughout the complete runtime of his documentary, resulting in an honest and heartfelt commentary on his own vocation and responsibilities as well as on that of (anonymous) artists in general.