Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Youtube Gems: World's first viral film?

Electrocuting an Elephant was filmed by Thomas Alva Edison in 1903. Wikipedia gives us a little background on the film: Topsy (born circa 1875, died January 4, 1903), was a domesticated elephant with the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island's Luna Park. Because she had killed three men in as many years (including a severely abusive trainer who attempted to feed her a lit cigarette), Topsy was deemed a threat to people by her owners and killed by electrocution on January 4, 1903. Inventor Thomas Edison captured the event on film. He would release it later that year under the title Electrocuting an Elephant.

A means of execution initially discussed was hanging. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals protested and other ways were considered. Edison then suggested electrocution with alternating current, which had been used for the execution of humans since 1890.

To reinforce the execution, Topsy was fed carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide before the deadly current from a 6,600-volt AC source was sent coursing through her body. She was dead in seconds.The event was witnessed by an estimated 1,500 people and Edison's film of the event was seen by audiences throughout the United States.

The reason why I feel it's the world's first viral is the hidden persuasion aspect of this film. Apparently, animal executions was a strategy used by Edison to discredit alternating current as an unsafe electricity system for powering homes. This film strengthened his case for the Edison Power Company's Direct Current (DC).

Posted by Anantha.

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