Monday, October 03, 2016

Ranting On...Colleen & Joshua's Divorce (or How I Learned to Stop Watching Vlogs)

I don't watch reality television.  I quit roughly around the third season of American Idol, when I was watching in college and the idea of reality television was shifting away from being something competitive (like Survivor or Idol) and more toward the reckless, vapid stupidity of a show like Paris and Nicole.  It's something that I've largely felt good about through the years.  Yes, I missed out on a few shows that probably were pretty solid (Amazing Race and Top Chef seem like strong television), and have questionably watched a couple (Drag Race I couldn't get into, but did see an episode of, and I did watch My Life on the D-List, my only break from the sabbatical, though in that case it actually starred a talented comedian so it was easy to justify).  All-in-all, I just couldn't get into a world of Real Housewives and the like.

A few years ago, though, I had kind of found a workaround into the world of reality television with an ardent infusion of YouTube vloggers that I began watching.  First came the British invasion (an article that still stands as one of the most popular I've ever written on this blog), and then I began watching the likes of Connor Franta and Colleen Ballinger.  One-by-one through the years, though, I have become less-and-less involved with the YouTube culture, particularly with the vloggers.  It started with the British Invasion stars, particularly the likes of Marcus Butler and Zoella, becoming less about giving insight into their worlds, and becoming a pandering version of themselves.  They would do videos that felt deeply repetitive, less true to themselves, and more about getting a product placement into their video than anything else.  They would shill for products that felt less than loyal to their brand (all of the people who weren't Grace or Mamrie or someone that authentically felt like they were reading left me less enthused about anything they were selling), and after a while it felt more like watching a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous situation than anything else.

But I held onto a couple of vlogging channels through the years, ones that kept a happy remnant of my YouTube days of yore when I felt deeply vested in the culture and what connections everyone had to everyone else, until this morning.  And that's because, while scrolling through my subscriptions last night I found a video where Colleen Ballinger announced her divorce from Joshua Evans, and I realized that I'd had enough of this world.

I know I'm going to get hate for this, but I don't care at this point; some things need to be said.  I get that marriages break up, I really do, but this crossed an uncomfortable line into reality television for the sake of views and press that felt tacky and wrong.  For those unfamiliar, Evans and Ballinger were married last year in a deeply publicized wedding on their channels.  Both the engagement and the eventual wedding were shared on the YouTube site, likely to the joy of their fans but also, it has to be said, with a deep financial gain for both of the stars, as the videos enjoyed an intense popularity.  It was fun to watch their courtship go through the years, and they were a cute couple-arguably my favorite couple that actually publicized their relationship on YouTube (Grace & Chester See are still my favorite couple, but have been intensely coy about their relationship and only ever really acknowledged they were dating on SnapChat).  But it's also a relationship that became a hallmark of their marriage-something that they were still making videos together for as recently as last month.

And that's where I feel a bit cheated.  If they were struggling to stay together, then why were they still pretending in front of the camera?  It's one thing for you to acknowledge, repeatedly, that the person you're putting in front of the camera is a creation of sorts (like Ballinger's Miranda Sings, a channel I'll still tune into since it's more a TV show than anything else and I don't fault actors for their personal foibles as a general rule when it comes to creative content), but that wasn't what Ballinger and Evans had done in their relationship-they tried to show that they were being deeply authentic onscreen, to the point that it became the centerpiece of their channel.  To know how phony that had to have been-it's kind of hard to grasp.  I gave up largely on celebrity culture years ago except where it related back to a movie or TV or album-too often it felt forced, and only the best of celebrity couples (which unfortunately included Brangelina) were ones that could hold my attention.  I gave into that with YouTube because it felt so inviting and so much fun to live vicariously through, which of course is the appeal of reality television.  Watching people living preposterously wealthy lives or behaving abhorrently may be the hallmarks of reality television, but really the true appeal is we wish we were part of this universe.

That's the thing that made me click unsubscribe not to just Ballinger, but to pretty much every vlogging channel on my YouTube subscription feed this morning.  Ballinger did something that I find really cruel during her divorce video that YouTubers do repeatedly-she pointed out that she wished "only the people who truly care about Josh and I could watch this video, because I know I'm going to get criticism," as if it weren't possible that someone who has watched the videos for years and proclaimed to be a fan couldn't be turned off by a video such as this, one that felt deeply clickbait and in a lot of ways felt like it was more about preserving her fanbase than presenting anything real (the same, it has to be said, was somewhat true for Evans' video, but there it felt pretty clear that he wanted to preserve the marriage and had a level of authenticity that was lacking in Ballinger's, for me at least).  They have made their relationship, and the reality of it, a cornerstone of both of their YouTube channels.  If they truly wanted this to be a time for privacy, why not skip the video and just put out a press release like Hannah Hart and Ingrid Nilsen, instead of putting up two videos that are guaranteed to get more coverage and also millions of views?  It's hard for me to take them seriously as being authentic on their channels going forward if they give up on their relationship just a year after their much ballyhooed marriage.  At that point, it devolves into something like Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, and while I find her interesting in a way (and wish her the best after the terrible weekend she had), I'm not devoting more than a passing glance at the supermarket tabloids to her, and the same will have to be said for Ballinger.

And with that, I also have cut down dramatically my YouTube subscription feed.  I'm still on the site, and still have a few shows I'm going to tune into, of course.  Hank and John are still a warm hug every Tuesday and Friday for me, and Rosanna Pansino is a wonderful reminder of how fun cooking shows can be (anyone else think Nerdy Nummies has been on fire this year?).  Even if they occasionally veer into vlogging, Grace, Mamrie, and Hannah are still to be treasured and are primarily there for the comedy anyway (and occasionally the actual recipes).  Pewdiepie, despite his weird journey this year on his channel (how I have not written about that yet?), will remain because I find him and his brand bizarrely watchable, and like I said I'll stick around for deeply scripted shows like Smosh, and yes, Ballinger's own Miranda Sings.  But with this announcement, I think I'm done with the vlogging angle of YouTube for good-it feels too fake to be even remotely believable, and for me the appeal disappears at that point.  I was a fan, but there are limits, and I think mine has been reached.

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