Yesterday a nasty article appeared on Vice’s website titled “Vane and Inane: The Rise of Dickhead British Vloggers” and, predictably, set out to implore the youth of the world from letting “average” people become successful celebrities. Writer Joe Bish dramatically declares in his truly awful piece that British vloggers (or really, vloggers in general) are the “death of entertainment”. Aside from being extremely mean-spirited, the article lacked the one thing Bish criticizes his villains from having: originality.
There is an easy road in journalism to react to change in entertainment with anger. “Where is the sacredness in celebrity!!”, the typically male, white blogger cries, writhing his fist at the sky and bowing his head in shame. Well, the same argument could have been made ten years ago when Paris Hilton spread her legs for a sex tape and proceeded to become the It Girl of the 00s. And just as easily could be made for the Kardashians who are famous, not for creating their own videos of “nothing”, but for starring in a reality show and being themselves. YouTubers, like any other self-made celebrity in the 21st century, are famous for their brand. As writers, bloggers and journalists, we can fight this brand or we can learn to accept that with growing technology it means that people like us are going to become famous for being themselves. And we can begin to understand why.
It’s not impossible to understand why vloggers like Alfie Deyes, Caspar Lee and Zoella are becoming celebrities. It’s also not hard to understand why so many teenagers are connecting with them. For many, it is the personal relationship viewers have with their vloggers. Unlike the carefully constructed appearance of a band like One Direction, Alfie Deyes is in charge of his own brand. He creates and edits his own videos. He posts daily on social media. And he spends hours meeting fans. I witnessed this first hand when we met at Playlist Live in Orlando. During one impromptu signing, I noticed hundreds of girls standing in line for hours for a chance at a selfie with him. I asked Deyes when we met if he ever got tired of having to constantly be “on” for so many fans all the time. He responded quickly and candidly, “It doesn’t bother me at all. They give so much to me all the time. The least I can do is meet them and try to make their day.”
The real truth is, if the people who hated how “easy and uninteresting” vlogging is could do it, then they would. But vlogging takes some skill, some good social media tricks and (yes, this does play a factor) good looks. The end result of who becomes famous and who doesn’t is all down to luck and networking. This seems astoundingly similar to nearly EVERY OTHER MEDIUM OF ENTERTAINMENT. How many times have we whined that Britney Spears should still not have a career?
The real problem, though, that I have with Bish’s article utterly lacked any real research or insight into YouTube as a whole. Many vloggers have side channels where extremely thought-provoking and interesting content is made. A great example is Jack Howard: an extremely intelligent and thoughtful YouTuber who creates vlogs but also produces some of the most compelling short films released on the internet or otherwise, as seen with “Project Library.”
Another Vloggers who has managed to turn vlogging into a thoughtful medium is Christopher Bingham with his brilliant “Talk” series. I met Bingham (as well as Howard) at Playlist Live this year at their great panel for Talk and they both are doing their part to start virtual conversations on a wide number of controversial topics. If you want to see vloggers debating with skilled research on gun control, the end of the movie industry and women’s rights then please take a look at Talk. Bingham would love to see vlogging move beyond challenges and games, but I’m assuming Vice never researched this when they wrote this article.
Perhaps the most despicable part of Bish’s article was that it rang of immature jealousy. Case in point, this lovely quote pulled straight from the article:
It really shouldn’t matter to me that these people have no great yarns, no real stories, no points of note; nothing really but webcams and internet hubs. People can waste their time online however they like. But thanks to the accepted wisdom that everything that happens on the internet is the future, they’re working their way out of that cyber niche, where you have a choice whether or not to subject yourself to their terrible jokes and inane dating advice, into the mainstream, where they’ll be much harder to avoid.
Their fame and promotion is symptomatic of a wider issue, too: the norms becoming the stars. Those with no charisma, no talent and no guile being paraded through popular culture like a preening, self-obsessed Ark of the Covenant.
Yes, Bish, this is the future. YouTube is the future. But it’s not going to take away your day job and it’s not going to take away the already horrible shows on MTV. The “norms becoming stars” simply means the general public is finally having a say in who we want to be successful. Perhaps for the first time we are seeing a true rise in public demand meeting public visibility. The reason we are even having this discussion is because the YouTube fandom at large is so powerful and so large. YouTubers themselves are becoming too culturally relevant to be brushed aside. To call them “dickheads” for recording their daily lives in the same way a lifestyle blogger would is cheap and lazy.
The media at large refuses to acknowledge content creators such as YouTubers as legitimate creators. But as I see it, “the times are changing” and we should all be on board. The sooner we embrace YouTubers as actual creators who are forging their way into pop culture and actually doing a good job, the sooner we’ll realize there’s money to be made. A recent example is the release of Camp Takota, a digital film made by Grace Heilbig, Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart. The film was a hit on digital retailers and also proved that these “mediocre vloggers” can act and write a damn good script. I challenge anyone who doesn’t believe in the success of YouTubers to look at Billboard or your recent best seller on Amazon. They are everywhere. From Troye Sivan debuting in the top ten on Billboard for TRYXE to Grace Heilbig scoring her first talk show on E!, vloggers are proving YouTube is a new vehicle to mainstream success.
The final point I would like to make is that YouTube encompasses so much more than just vlogging. Documentaries, short films and animations are being released for free; singers are finding their start here. Even a series about Barbie dolls battling for homecoming queen became one of the hands down, funniest series ever created. Inside YouTube is a floodgate of young talent, hidden from the mainstream. It would be smart to report on this, yet few will uncover what treasures are waiting to be found unless we let go of where entertainment should be found and focus on where it is.
Below are a few of my favorite films, vlogs and series from YouTube. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or email me!
VLOGS CAN BE FUN TOO:
EVEN ALFIE AND FRIENDS