Can we bring Jenna Marbles back?
I keep thinking of her the past few weeks. I know she’s still as popular as ever. Her YouTube channel is pumping along at 14 million viewers strong. She regularly racks up one million views on every video she releases, and she still has no further aspirations other than making YouTube videos. Jenna doesn’t want to act. She doesn’t want to host anything. She just wants to create funny YouTube videos and get drunk at home while doing it. “I’m not completely sold that you ever have to transition to mainstream media, you know?” Jenna was quoted as saying in a brilliant piece about her in the New York Times. “What I get to do is have fun in my house, by myself, and put it on the Internet.”
In a year when more YouTubers than ever are desperately trying to break free from the YouTube mold, it’s almost refreshing to see a YouTuber content to sticking to the medium. Lest any of you think Jenna is “not smart” or “doesn’t have anything to fall back on,” I will remind you that she has a bachelor of sciences in psychology and a masters degree, as well. Jenna is smart. She obviously knows her audience well, and she makes a large amount of money by being herself.
But Jenna is nostalgic to me for some reason. She’s not exactly “current” and her fans aren’t the same teen fans who will watch Connor Franta videos. (Well, they might be but her demo is a bit more broad) Jenna is nostalgic to me because she takes me back to when YouTubers were first becoming a “thing.” She was one of the first to make funny videos where she simply yelled to a camera about what annoyed her, girls who were stupid and things that she found absolutely hilarious. Kin to Jenna are Kinsgley, Glozell and Charlie McDonnell–also original YouTubers who could potentially be the grandparents of YouTube fifty years down the line. Some of these YouTubers are just as relevant as ever, others are not. But it’s safe to say that with YouTube shifting and changing so much in the past three years, some of them have been left behind.
I feel nostalgic because Jenna was, and is, a YouTuber before YouTube became a brand. She doesn’t hardcore push her merchandise onto her fans. She’s not begging for you to “like, comment or subscribe” below. She’s not wanting to make a quick buck by going on a tour that allows you thirty seconds to meet her. She is very happy with doing what got her here in the first place, and still being just as weird. I find something about this endearing. This, I think, is what vlogging should be. Before YouTubers wrote books, created brands and realized their personalities could become marketable there was a genuine quirkiness to their videos. Once they realized money could be made off this quirkiness, the weirdness became lost. Taken over by a black hole of self-parody. Somehow, Jenna has never lost this. Perhaps it’s because she’s not truly driven by money. Perhaps she really just loves what she does and doesn’t want to change or feel pressured to be more than she is.
Either way, I wish more YouTubers could be more like her. Jenna represents what I consider to be a well-made YouTuber. She’s still making extremely funny and original videos, like this one:
And aside from some annoying comments about feminism, she’s managed to keep herself out of assholery YouTube territory. I respect that. I like Jenna because she knows what works, and what doesn’t. She has understand how to grow as her audience has grown and she has taken on a brand of comedy that can carry with her as she becomes older. It may not be for me, or for you, but it certainly appeals to some viewers (14 million of them, to be exact). On her website, Jenna describes herself as a “Comedian. YouTube entertainer. Mother oft two dogs. Majestic internet creature….And unicorn.” Perhaps I miss more YouTubers like Jenna because they embraced how odd and quirky they are. Many of our biggest YouTubers were like this, too, until time and money changed them. When YouTube began it was a place for nerdy, slightly antisocial teens and twentysomethings to connect over a camera. It wasn’t about getting views or looking pretty. It was about a connection. It certainly wasn’t about looking perfect or fearing that you aren’t a good role model. It was about being real.
I miss this.
Perhaps Hank Green nailed it best when he lashed out at Good Morning America for their catty segment on Jenna. “First, comedy doesn’t have to be about something,” Hank said in a video take-down of the segment. “But more importantly, Jenna’s videos aren’t about nothing, they’re about culture and sexism and growing up. Hiding in amongst all that “nothing” are often poignant insights…. [GMA] completely misunderstands one one of the most influential and intelligent creators of media in America.”
I respect people like Jenna, Charlie, Glozell and Kingsley for still being true to themselves. I would love to see more YouTubers who are like them gain success. But as YouTube gains more prominence and respect (much needed, too), the genuine and authentic personalities will continue to fade from the limelight. How many times are we going to see basic white boys gain five million followers while women, people of color and the LGBTQ’s continue to struggle for views?
I know Jenna is just as popular as ever, but I wish I heard more about her. Perhaps this is partly my fault. I am part of the problem. As a member of the media, I don’t write about these YouTubers nearly as much as I should. I don’t black out the ones I should. But I do wish there was more attention surrounding her and the ones who began. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are now in the age of the Internet. Before Nash Grier broke the internet for being an asshole, Jenna Marbles broke the internet for calling out “an idiot with a ponytale” for saying the Olympics was stripping women of their femininity. I still love her for this. I still wish more women who called men out for reasons like this received as much attention as she did.
Jenna’s not unproblematic (a word I truly loathe). She’s not without her faults. But that’s exactly why I like her. She’s not worried about coming across as perfect or well-liked. She’s just herself. Jenna carries on a spirit I’d like to see more of in the Internet mainstream. But a part of me wonders if that is in the past. Have we evolved so far in YouTube culture that it can only be something for teenagers? Can white, pretty teenage boys only be the ones who find global success on YouTube?
I’d like to think not, which is exactly why we need more Jenna’s on YouTube. (And Mamrie’s, and Grace’s, and Glozell’s….) I still fully embrace all aspects of YouTube becoming mainstream, and more “normal” people becoming successful off of their own creative work. But I would like to see a return of vloggers and comedians on YouTube who are as popular as Jenna is. I’d like to see more writing and attention given to actual trailblazers on YouTube.
In fifty years, when culture watchers critically look at YouTube and the culture it inspired, I would like to think we’ll have more bad-ass women like Jenna who came along to prove YouTube isn’t just for teenagers.