Thursday, November 19, 2015
Clicking the Unsubscribe Button
This did not start, as one would assume, with dismissing all of the Facebook friends I don't actually like anymore. Facebook for me at this point is one of those annoying things which I only use to reference someone I'm talking about, or to email someone I haven't talked to a while with a question. In many ways, Facebook has become a combination of both an address book and a year-round Christmas letter, where people shamelessly brag about their lives in a way that would be insanely off-putting in real life, but since it's the internet you can get away with saying things like #blessed and talking about your family and spouse in ways that are deeply eye-rolling and would make anyone in real life never call you again. No, what I decided to do was clean out my YouTube subscriptions page instead.
YouTube has not had a banner year, in my opinion, or at least my content creators haven't been up to the task, and I don't think it's just because I (and the content creators I enjoy) got older, as we were already well above the median age of the average YouTuber anyway. No, I think it started when all of the YouTubers decided to write books. This foray into print wasn't the worst idea, and in some ways it was a success. After all, Grace Helbig's comic biography last year was an absolute delight, and Hannah Hart's hilarious cookbook was wonderfully offbeat, just like her channel. Both were surprise hits, and as a result it seems every single YouTuber under the sun wrote a book. The problem was that some YouTubers are not great at writing, or picking out solid ghostwriters, and so for every hilarious comic book like You Deserve a Drink, you got Miranda Sings doing a gigantic cash-grab with her oddly sketched together picture book. By the time Tyler Oakley's Binge came out this year, I think I'd had enough and couldn't buy what would have been an easy purchase in March, and will probably just stick to the Holy Trinity's works later this year (and of course John Green).
The problem that erupted from this was not just that the YouTubers were creating shoddy product, but also that they had to sell it. People like Alfie Deyes, whose Pointless Book is essentially just a children's activity book, were shilling these books constantly on their YouTube channels and social media, and this was in addition to the hodgepodge sorts of shilling they were already doing. The British YouTubers (aka The Gleam Team) are sort of the most basic example of what went wrong with YouTube this year. Like Deyes, many of them came out with rather tedious books, but they also spent at least half of their videos clearly trying to incorporate product placements into their content, and the other half are now focused on lifestyle sorts of blogs. Whereas they used to make videos featuring challenges and seemed like a genuine insight into their world, they have now devolved into a series of adverts and highly-manufactured looks into the lifestyles of the rich and beautiful. The voyeuristic style of their videos has vanished, and when they do attempt to be just "average Joes" they fail miserably, principally because they're in their mid-to-late twenties and yet act like they're thirteen. This is fine when someone like Cameron Dallas or Nash Grier does this, but that's because they are actually still immature and not clearly pretending. Watching a 26 or 27-year-old parade around with the silliness of someone at their junior prom is off-putting, and even their pushes at charity seem more highly-manufactured and yet another constant ask for money.
It's worth noting that almost every single YouTuber has fallen prey to this highly commercialized, everything seems to be for a buck sort of attitude in some capacity. Even YouTubers I genuinely love like Grace Helbig and The Vlog Brothers seem to have a product placement nearly every single week this year. This is the nature of the beast, of course, and in some ways I like the reminder (I want to know if there are new shirts and such online). However, Grace and the Vlog Brothers still make it feel like you're included if you don't have the money (or in my case, also the time) to purchase their products, giving their less affluent fans a way into this fun little world. And they haven't started phoning it in-my god, the phoning it in. Every single fun, clever challenge is instantly copied by every other YouTuber known to man, and if something is successful it's mimed over-and-over until I just can't watch anymore. Daily vlogging is not that interesting if you can't add something unique into the mix, and I can only watch someone eat strange candy so many times before it loses all of its appeal. I think YouTubers haven't realized that in some ways they're competing with each other. If I've watched Joe Sugg do the Speech Jammer challenge, I don't want to also watch Alfie, Marcus, Zoe, Niomi, Caspar, and Connor all do the same challenge as well. This combination of being highly-manufactured and not giving any real insight into the world of these YouTubers has meant it's time to purge. And as a result, I hit the unsubscribe button on almost half of my channels this past week. I still will be seeing Grace, Hannah, Mamrie, John, Hank, and of course Pewds on my feed, as well as new loves this year like Rosanna Pansino, but the entire Gleam Team got cut except Caspar, Louise, and Joe (all of whom at least tend to start trends rather than just follow them). Every vlogging channel got cut (though if Pewdiepie could continue doing vlogging that would be marvelous, as it felt like an actual insight into him as a character), but while I am frustrated with their repetition this year, people like Connor Franta, Shane Dawson, and Miranda Sings are still in the lineup if only because I occasionally have videos I admire of theirs. Even the insanely handsome guys who brought me to YouTube culture, Jacksgap, managed to bite the big one, as I just couldn't get past Jack's attempt at depth when his perspective seems skewed toward the insanely affluent, limited worldview of someone who can afford to go to non-western countries and look at them only with a camera. As a result, I am far more likely to click most of the links in my YouTube lineup, but sad that in many ways I'm abandoning a huge chunk of my connection to YouTube culture. It's smart in the long run (better to remove the clutter and focus on the worthwhile in every aspect of life), but it's a bummer that so many creators got stamped out by trying to be more accessible and merchandised.