With the recent Toby Turner scandals emerging from the consistently glorious Keemstar conveyor belt, the rapidly ensuing discussion had me thinking to myself about the kind of person Toby is, and also what it means to be popular on the internet in the age of YouTube.
Unless you’re a 16 year old fangirl with below average GCSE grades, you’ve looked at the perennial plethora of white male British vloggers and have at least once stopped to examine them and ponder over the reason why they become so famous. I’ve talked before about the innate apprehension that you experience when putting a piece of writing or a digital design online, the apprehension you feel when you release it from a place where only you can judge it; but this phenomenon of extremely personal and intimate vlogging and blogging is almost the inverse of that. You feel nervous, usually, releasing something online because you have no idea how it will match up against the precedent set by other creators, but in the case of vloggers and let’s players such as Tobuscus, there isn’t that kind of creative criteria. And if there is no creative precedent or criteria, there is in turn no talent. And as such, can we even call their content creative at all? Popular vloggers can be funny, granted, but they’re not Louis C.K. tier comedians. Popular vloggers can use a camera, but they’re equally not cinematographers.
You will find that these channels pander to YouTube’s business model perfectly, daily uploads upwards of 10 minutes long is the ideal format that YouTube tends to promote on their ‘suggested’ algorithm, so these vloggers receive in turn some of the best CPMs on the website. But, again, what is the reason for their initial popularity?
I think it must be that these vloggers simply sell themselves, their personalities. These vloggers are factories of their own visage, their own voices, their own idiosyncrasies and their own lukewarm opinions on topics, just honest enough but not eloquent enough to be considered informative, because vloggers’ audiences don’t want to be lectured. Let’s players’ audiences don’t want a millimetre precise speedrun of Halo 2, they don’t look for talent or eloquence, nothing that requires effort to mentally ingest, they want the kind of casual intimacy they would receive if the person were right there with them, just in this case they can only get it parasocially. It all lies in the necessity of a facecam, and this applies to both vloggers and let’s players. What could the inclusion of a vlogger’s fluctuating countenance possibly add alongside their commentary? What it adds isn’t creative, it isn’t talented, and yet it is extremely popular and prevalent.
It’s the minimalisation of that virtual barrier between the vlogger and the viewer, the maintenence of that suspension of disbelief. It’s why some of the top searched YouTube terms are ‘face reveal’, viewers have an innate need to attach a face to commentary or an audio personality, so that we can feel subliminally more intimate. You’ll see hordes of Twitter accounts dedicated to one vlogger or let’s player, with a picture of the YouTuber’s face in place of their own as their profile picture, as some good friends do on Facebook after years of knowing each other. It’s extremely easy to say that we can consciously dissociate a vlogger or a YouTuber or any other creator with any kind of parasocial personal connection we have, that the medium we use as consumers will always consciously overlap with the content they produce, and that we don’t subliminally disregard that medium in the formation of a deeply rooted parasocial relationship. We have no idea what it is psychologically that gives us the need to associate a content creator with a face and a personality, but the vast audience of vloggers are the perfect testaments to an evident need for a kind of casual personality, a constant streaming of unplanned, unedited and unadulterated intimacy in place of creativity.
The popularity in turn has formed a greater need for greater intimacy on the, I guess, ‘creative’ side. Trying as hard as I can to not sound like an old man/arbiter of all correct opinions: where has all our privacy gone? I don’t know what your opinion is if you’re reading this, and I’m sorry if I offend you, but I think it’s utterly disgraceful that our online community not only tolerates grown men crying into Nikon lenses because ‘they cant believe they got this far on YouTube’, but that we actually laud them for it.
Not just this, but we get live house tours of YouTuber’s homes, we get footage of them waking up in the morning inside their own bedroom, for Christ’s sake. There is nothing about this that would be normal if the content creator were any other person that we didn’t know. It is a person online letting millions of strangers into their house. It’s just odd that creators would be willing to hand out these otherwise stalkerish breaches of privacy.
I should remind you all that I’m taking this abstract reasoning straight from my arsehole, because I’m about to make a pretty big leap, lads. One of the most popular media businesses with the most well paid individuals is also the business that entirely capitalises on the purest form of intimacy: pornography. People want access to these intimate human moments either out of a deep lacking or because its accessibility means they simply can, either way pornography panders to sexual fantasies, and these films are contorted to be the most aesthetic and the most pandering forms of intimacy possible.
If you ever watch a documentary about pornography you’ll see that the actuality is incredibly disillusioning. The actors are incredibly detached from one another and the filming is incredibly stop start. An ambulance siren will flare by while x position is being initiated and so on, and the intimacy and allure of the situation decreases dramatically when 12 sweaty cameramen are staring directly at your pork Excalibur. It’s fake. It’s all fake, nothing that aesthetic will ever be that intimate, and it creates dangerous standards for that kind of real life intimacy. Stereotypical porn addicts and vlogger fans tend to be similarly introverted and lonely.
Vloggers are pretty much YouTube pornstars. You can ‘hang out’ with them for about 10 minutes in exchange for your ad revenue, and they insist that they’re your friend through their trademark catchphrases like ‘how’s it going, bros?’ which they’ve said so many times by now that they must be akin to a fake orgasm. It’s depressing, but the most candid information you’ll receive from YouTubers in general, or anyone else in the entertainment industry for that matter, is that popular personalities are fake.
Toby Turner is an arsehole. I bring this up because apparently people are so surprised about this, so surprised that a man who makes videos of himself every week proving to his audience that he’s funny and friendly, didn’t actually turn out to be either that funny or that friendly. Toby Turner is a man that craves attention, which is why he films himself, and if you crave something then you’re probably likely to employ the use of artifice to get it.
I like to think that in my little corner of the internet, what I do takes at least some talent, and I don’t just turn on my Motorola’s front camera and ramble on for 12 minutes unscripted about ‘YouTube is Changing’ or some shit, my writing might be somewhat conversational in a few cases but I aim to achieve things like the ability to instigate discussion where there hasn’t been one before, the ability to give insight to gaming, even just eloquence. If you’re going to put something online, strive to put something out there that hones skills you know require effort to access, and there is nothing that will pervert your purpose and hamper your legitimacy more than if you put something online because you want attention.