Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A New Take on Hate Comments

Yesterday I was catching up on YouTube videos before bed, and since it was Tuesday that meant SuperFruit had a new video out, so I tapped the link, which sounded promising (it was in regard to learning the lyrics of "Circle of Life"), and so I watched the video, and found that for what has been quite-a-few videos in a row, I was bored out of my mind.  SuperFruit, for those who are unfamiliar, is a channel featuring Scott and Mitch from Pentatonix having different topics to discuss and occasionally doing tributes to their favorite singers.  When they are at their best, they're highly-enjoyable, particularly when they have taken on singers like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift for medley singing.  However, lately it seems that with them on-tour they are coasting and seem unprepared, not-ready-to-make-videos, and frequently have shorter videos that make them appear kind of catty and above the YouTube game.  Part of me was ready to talk about this in the comments section, but I didn't want to start getting flagged for "hate comments" in the videos, which seemed like a topic I should at least bring back to my blog.

The cyberbullying and hate comment phenomenon has become a huge thing on the internet, and advocates against it are absolutely right that parts of it need to stop.  YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat-they've all become hotbeds for hate against celebrities and random people alike, and to a certain point I'm totally against this.  Attacks on people's appearances, personal or violent threats, racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic comments, pointless flame wars or trolling-these are wrong and in the case of the threats, illegal.  I have been a strong advocate in the past against these sorts of statements, as seen here.  However, there is a flip side, and it's called artistic criticism.  The reality is that what SuperFruit is doing is presenting creative content.  It is not a reflection of themselves or an attack on their personalities or appearances to say that they seem to be phoning it in and their content doesn't seem as well-crafted lately.  That's a way of public expression that, quite frankly, should also be encouraged.  Having a meaningful discussion about an emerging art-form like online vlogging (particularly one that has become a lot more repetitive, product placement-heavy, and less inspired from many of the leading vloggers today) is important, particularly as younger people begin to learn about shaping their artistic taste and sensibility.  I'm not calling anything on YouTube Citizen Kane, but there's definitely a difference between something uninspired like the "Circle of Life" video (which will likely get a million views regardless) and the sharply-edited videos of Hannah Hart and the thoughtful discussion of the Vlog Brothers.

But even they have come down on artistic criticism and called it hate.  In January, Hart put together an interesting video that was fascinating as it brought four leading female YouTubers (Colleen Ballinger, Lily Singh, Mamrie Hart, and Jenna Marbles) together to discuss the impact of "hate comments" or "mean tweets" and whether they noticed them on their channels.  All of the women did, and while male YouTubers also obviously also receiving hate comments (hence Pewdiepie turning off the comments section on a regular basis), female YouTubers frequently are more susceptible to attacks on their gender and appearance.  I figured this would be the direction that this went, and while Colleen, Jenna, and Mamrie all got comments attacking their appearance and intelligence, Lily actually got "this video is not funny at all."  While Lily (as is her style) laughed it off with a "you're probably right," I was taken aback as this wasn't a hate comment-it was just a comment simply disliking the video.  Attacks on someone's personage are not okay and need to be stamped out, but this is simply stifling your critics, which is also equally wrong.  This is an inelegant post and probably should have contained an explanation as to why the commenter didn't think it was funny, but it's a legit opinion and shouldn't be just dismissed as hate.  If YouTubers want to consider themselves artists or relevant, they need to be able to handle criticism and, if it is overwhelming, realize that there might be a nugget of truth to the idea.  I frequently have disliked videos from some of my favorite YouTubers, including even Hannah whose videos I never miss and generally adore, but that doesn't make me a hater; it just doesn't make me a blind fan.

And let's be honest here, this sort of blind fan worship is just as damaging to this artistic and cool YouTube community as the hatefulness that erupts in the comments, because what makes some of the best YouTubers (which include the five women I just listed) so interesting is that they are consistently evolving their content and actually seem to care about their comedy and not just constantly repeating themselves.  Ballinger herself came up with a pretty clever way to repackage the entire "end the mean comments" trope which has become a massive clickbait strategy lately.  However, if the videos are becoming less inspired and aren't as good, it isn't hate to talk about that in the comments.  Getting back to what started this topic, I would much rather have SuperFruit make videos that seem clever and thought-out than have them become another channel like JacksGap in my feed that has gotten too pompous and I can't watch anymore, or worse yet, just make me unsubscribe.  YouTubers can't have their cake and eat it too when it comes to art; if you want to be considered creative content, you have to take the legitimate criticism along with the unadorned praise if you want to be taken seriously.  And internet society needs to find a way to realize that criticism isn't always bad, only when it's meant to be hateful and derogatory.

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