Police say it began years ago with graffiti vandals. They started videotaping one another spray painting buildings and trains.
Dozens of videos have been seized by the New York Police Department. Lt. Steve Mona says to the vandals the tapes are as important as the graffiti.
"In a way video is a way of proving, 'hey look what I did.' It might sound silly to us, but to them it's a really big deal," said Mona. Mona said these videos are a sort of trophy for the teens — something to show off to their friends.
But kids aren't just sharing these with their friends. Some of the tapes are being slickly packaged and sold for up to $25 apiece. Also for sale on the Internet are tapes of backyard fight clubs, home videos of kids imitating the violence they see on wrestling.
Reality TV — The Play-at-Home Version
Jane Buckingham, a marketing expert who studies teenage trends, said affordable video cameras and the popularity of reality TV are drawing more and more kids to videotaping. Buckingham said backyard wrestling and making movies are among the hottest trends with teens.
It's not just fake violence that kids are taping. The hottest video in this underground market is called Bum Fights — having reportedly sold over 300,000 copies at $20 apiece.
In Bum Fights, the young videomakers pay homeless people to fight one another, bash their heads into crates, tumble down stairs in a shopping cart, one man even pulls his teeth out with pliers. On the same tape is scene after scene of real street brawls among kids.
Violent streetfight videos are such a hot item one Internet site was offering $1,000 for tapes — advertising: "Got brawls? We'll make you famous."
One man who became famous from stunt videos is Johnny Knoxville, creator of MTV's Jackass.
Knoxville has become a cult hero among kids for his willingness to do all kinds of wacky things on videotape. And now he's moved from TV to the big screen.
Buckingham said a lot of young boys look up to Knoxville, because he struck it big. "Unfortunately, the crazier, the more outrageous, the more dangerous, the more they give him credit," Buckingham said.
A New Kind of ‘Scrapbook’
It's not just kids imitating their heroes or out to make money who are videotaping. It's a widespread new phenomenon called "scrapbooking," kids recording their lives on tape — the good, the bad, and sometimes the illegal.
Scott Heard and Nick Kenny are among the growing number of kids giving "scrapbooking" a shot. Most of the video they've shot of each other is harmless pictures of them skateboarding, boating, and surfing. Then, one summer day a few years ago they got into trouble.
"We were bored. We had nothing to do. And we're just farting around, doing whatever," Heard said.
Heard and Kenny took their camera into a bungalow scheduled for renovation and proceeded to tape themselves trashing the place.
Heard and Kenny said they didn't put a lot of thought into why they vandalized the bungalow. Heard said, "breaking stuff is fun" when you're young. It seems only slightly more thought was put into their decision to "scrapbook" the crime. Kenny said they did it "just so you can look back like later on, like even the next day, and look at the video and be like: Damn, I did that."
Mona described these kinds of tapes as "America's funniest, stupidest criminals."
A National Trend