|YouTube personality Connor Franta|
However, as I was in a car for many hours over the weekend and frequently found myself in front of a cell phone for most of that time, I figured it was time to dive into a YouTube story. I could tackle Shane Dawson's new movie trailer, which, let's be honest here and I do love Shane, is not any good. I mean, I really want Shane to be successful and clearly he has dreams of being a bigger director, but the film looks like a parody of a trailer-that's not a good sign at all. Hopefully his television pilot for NBC that he signed a few months ago is in better shape.
But that clearly only lasted a couple sentences, so instead I want to talk about Connor Franta and his recent departure from o2l. For those of you who don't follow YouTube culture, o2l stands for Our Second Life, and is essentially the "boy band" of YouTube (except for the most part the guys on the channel do not sing or dance...at least not well). Like all boy bands, there are members who are more popular than others, and the most popular at the center of all of this was Franta, a very cute 21-year-old with a love of cats and a solid mastery of that androgynous sexuality that seems to be so en vogue amongst young male celebrities this day (he says he's straight, but comes across as perhaps not, so instantly appeals to straight women and gay men alike).
Franta's departure is interesting in the sense that all such things are interesting when a member of a group leaves, particularly when the group at least claims to want to stay together. It had started to get to the point where Franta had nearly twice as many followers on his solo channel (all of the members of o2l have both their solo and their group channels), and so his leaving the group may in fact cause their breakup, as many people were likely still subscribed to the group's channel just to get more videos from Franta. It does seem fairly clear that Franta can survive without this group mentality (he rarely collaborated anymore with his fellow o2l members and smartly had moved to the point where his second video was more in-line with his main channel video than his group video's format), but o2l may not be able to demand the fame it currently does without Franta. He is, to get on terms that some non-YouTube subscribers may understand, the Timberlake of this group, and we all saw what happened to the rest of 'N Sync.
Franta's departure video (you can see it here), though, is troubling me. For about five minutes Franta talked directly into a camera about his emotional troubles, about his struggles with not being the chipper, hyper personality that is in front of the camera. It's a weird conundrum for someone to admit that the persona they are putting forward on YouTube is not really who they are, particularly since on this particular media platform, who you are (or who you project, rather) is entirely what is driving people to visit you. People visit websites like Franta's (or Pewdiepie's, Shane Dawson's, or Grace Helbig's) not for the reasons they see a movie or TV show-they see it to spend five more minutes with a personality they find appealing. Even for channels like Tanya Burr's, which are about beauty tips, it's just as much about Burr's effervescent grace as it is re-creating a Kate Middleton look. Franta breaking down that fourth wall is a fascinating look at how much acting goes on in something like his YouTube channel.
It also makes me worry for Franta, first from a pragmatic standpoint. You cannot just flip the switch back after sharing something so clearly troubling to yourself-videos on YouTube last forever, and even tweens are going to question the next week whether or not your video about something random and quirky is really you-the fourth wall is there for a reason. While Franta can probably get away with it this once, it could become a problem. Shane Dawson has been going through a similar situation this year with his refusal to acknowledge that his bomb-dot-com project is extremely unpopular with his fans and he likely should quit doing the Sunday videos, particularly since guilt-tripping your audience is a horrible turn-off in terms of gaining repeat and return viewers.
However, I also worry for Franta himself. This is clearly really troubling him, and while he hopefully has been saving his money, this won't last forever. There's a reason that Tyler Oakley, Shane Dawson, and Grace Helbig are all trying to move into more traditional forms of media-it's less fickle than a fame source where you can just click a button and never interact with a person again. Franta's appeal is largely based on his youthful good looks and quirky charm. That's barely going to fly at 25, much less thirty. There's a ticking clock on how long he can pull this off (most YouTube personalities, particularly those who are male and over 25, do not rely primarily on female viewers for their videos, which is the heart of Franta's fanbase, but instead on male viewers through gaming and comedy channels, expanding their shelf life). He will likely have to enter the "real world" someday, and he now has a very personal video where he complains quite readily about how little fun his job is. This video will show up in every google search anyone ever does of his name, and it's probably not the first thing he wants people to see (particularly those in a cutthroat entertainment industry where crazy strong work ethic-like that of, say, Tyler Oakley, is far more sought after).
So what I'm saying here is that while leaving o2l is probably best for Franta (though it will surely affect his fellow "bandmates" negatively), the way he did it was wrong. Franta's confessional does not come across well, and though fangirls will rush to defend him right now (when he is in the do-no-wrong phase of his career), it's things like this that will make the more fickle fans of his work turn quickly in the future.