YouTube. “That site with funny videos on the internet”. Or is it that anymore?
When I was a kid growing up, I knew what YouTube was. Every kid did. But it was where we spent hour after hour watching cat videos, videos entitled Granny Kicks Baby, Charlie the Unicorn and Camouflage Cat. There were a few people who talked to the camera on YouTube, but they were very much in the minority – it was the cartoon and comedy videos, an online version of You’ve Been Framed, that we spent many hours watching on that site. My parents didn’t have a clue what it was, and why would they? YouTube was a funny site that frankly my (at the time) 50 and 54 year-old parents would have had zero interest in.
Flash forward 8 years and the YouTube landscape has changed dramatically. Videos such as Llamas with Hats that years ago would have been the central focus of YouTube are now few and far inbetween. Of course YouTube has changed, it’s a decade old – but the vast difference between YouTube 8 years ago and now is actually mind boggling.
I went through what I call my “YouTube phase” when I was 14, only 4 years ago. This was when vloggers were steadily starting to take over the landscape of YouTube, and there were certain YouTubers who I looked up to, had a lot of respect for and, frankly, did idolise. I will be honest about that. At the time though, they certainly did not have celebrity status attached to them. I remember discovering a YouTuber called BriBry who had 25,000 subscribers, which at the time was a massive amount of subscribers. These days if you have that many subscribers, you’re just a small fish in a big pond – which is crazy when you think about how many people 25,000 actually is. I can pinpoint when I personally feel YouTube went through a massive change, and that was Summer 2012. I remember coming into school at the start of a new school year, and suddenly I became aware that Dan Howell and Jack Harries were being talked about in the common room. They had stopped being kids who talked to cameras and begun being recognised names. It was around that time as well that subscriber counts began to well and truly boom – YouTubers went from 100,000 to 500,000 in a mere few weeks, YouTubers were beginning to get the Verified Tick on Twitter… Suddenly these people, who quite intimately share their lives with their audiences, were being seen as famous… And it was around that time I began to feel very disheartened with YouTube. There almost seemed to be a code to cracking subscribers, by producing countless Challenge videos, specifically made to cater towards impressionable teenage girls – and frankly, it was boring as heck. Every video was the same. The originality was gone from these videos.
In the past year, we’ve seen YouTubers become even more in the public eye. Some argue “But they’re not celebrities!”… Yet they walk the red carpet, have make-up lines, books published, get stopped in the street for photos with viewers, and not 3 days ago I saw an advertisement on the television for Zoella’s YouTube channel (Zoella aka Zoe Sugg is a very popular British beauty and lifestyle vlogger). At conventions, these people have to have security to prevent them being mobbed by fans. If that’s not celebrity culture, then what is celebrity culture? We feel as though we are closer to these people because the barrier between YouTuber and viewer is not as clear cut as with other celebrities – their career is quite literally built on viewers support. This can lead to blind idolisation, and is where all the problems in recent months have begun to occur. In the past year, there have been various accusations of leading YouTubers such as Tom Milsom, Alex Day, Sam Pepper and VeeOneEye sexually abusing, manipulating and assaulting female viewers – girls who blindly adored these creators and who’s trust was abused. I’m not saying for a second it was those girls’ fault; those YouTubers are grown men and know what is and is not acceptable to do. They have a massive amount of power and choose to use it in a negative way, which is truly disgusting. Yet it is something that does happen with celebrity culture – it just shocks us vastly more because YouTube seems to be a much more close-to-home place.
There are other issues that have come up because of this culture as well. As I have already said, YouTube got to a point where I personally felt it was boring as heck – videos catered to an age group, but didn’t cater to that group when they grew older. So people like me began to wander away from YouTube, leaving a constant barrage of 12 – 15 year old girls, generally, viewing the videos. There are big YouTubers such as Alfie Deyes and Zoella who cater perfectly to that age group; I personally have totally grown out of their videos now and have begun to lose patience with that entire YouTube group – the videos aren’t entertaining anymore, they seem to just ride on people like seeing their faces in things (the “screaming fangirl” idea). It’s this whole thing, of people rising to the top for being attractive that is frankly killing YouTube (in my opinion anyway).
Anyone who hears me talk about YouTube will know that two YouTubers I have an immense amount of respect for are Jack and Finn Harries, two identical twins who are now 21 years old and run a channel and blog called JacksGap. They are one of the most popular British channels, with nearly 4 million subscribers at time of writing this, and it’s fair to say their popularity was initially built on the fact that fangirls found them attractive. However, Jack and Finn have broken the mold as far as YouTube goes in the fact that their channel has grown up as they have. I personally love the fact their videos have a more serious tone to them now, as I have a massive amount of respect that they use their insane amount of power to raise money for charity, travel the world whilst sharing it with us, and now make short films documenting other peoples’ lives around the globe. Their new film series Following Heart focuses around the lives of 3 women who use Skype in their lives in interesting and unusual ways. The twins are the creators of the videos, not the focus. It’s a breath of fresh air in a landscape of challenge and tag videos – yet these videos, and this direction the twins are now taking their channel has had a fair amount of backlash from viewers, who just want “funny videos with both of you in them”. Charlie McDonnell received a similar response when his channel changed from funny vlogs to deep thought out films with spectacular cinematography, scripting and direction. What’s sad as a viewer who loves this new direction is the fact that these videos get far less views, yet take far more effort to make and have a far deeper level of thought. But no, people would rather watch another inane “Haul” video than a video about travelling in rickshaws across India to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust….
Personally, I feel that YouTube, which started out as a channel promoting creativity, has actually lose creativity as it’s got bigger. The community feel with video responses is now gone, and you have to wade through so many ridiculous videos to get to a gem – and then that gem is viewed as rubbish because it’s not a grown man shoving marshmallows in his face. These days, the only YouTubers I actually spend time watching are Jack and Finn Harries (JacksGap), Louis Cole (FunForLouis – daily vlogs travelling the world), BriBry (Life of BriBry) and Charlie McDonnell (charlieissocoollike) as they have videos with substance that are interesting – and none of them are even remotely interested in YouTube celebrity culture. They could so easily get swept into the wave of YouTube fame, but don’t; their content is still imaginative and interesting, and you can tell they are simply down-to-earth people.
There was a recent article on vice entitled The British Vlogger Invasion is Vain and Inane (somewhat ironically shared by Jack Harries on Twitter). It was a crude article, but amongst the harshness did actually hold some elements of interesting truth. There are some YouTubers who deserve to be shouted about – but funnily enough, they’re the ones who seem to care least about gaining the internet fame. And in my opinion, they’re the ones who will inevitably end up making an impact and continuing their careers when YouTube dries up and the next big thing comes along (which it will), as they are slowly but surely becoming recognised film and documentary makers, for example, who ultimately gain a lot more respect from these high-up-there industries. Jim Chapman said in an interview for the Telegraph a few months ago that he hoped to be doing this for the rest of his life – to which I question Really?! Your aspirations for life really don’t go beyond talking at a camera?! The YouTuber TheThirdPew (Nathan) is one of few on YouTube who is popular yet publicly airs how this is not what he wants to do forever as a job, saying in a vlog how mad the process of vlogging is when you actually break it down, and saying that it’s ridiculous people “fangirl” over him, considering all he literally does is talk to a camera.
Altogether, I personally feel we need to take a step back and look at these people we are idolising so strongly. Will the majority of these people still be household names in 10 years? I hate to break it to you, 13-year-old who is convinced she is going to marry Alfie Deyes; but the likelihood is that no, they will not.