When was the last time you turned on the TV and vegged there for hours? I can’t remember. My attention span has shortened throughout the years, and I’ve lost the patience for wading through channels, hoping that I’ll stumble across something I actually wanna watch. After all, if I do see something I like, it’s either a mid-season episode or a halfway done movie. So why bother, when I can just go online and find something on YouTube?
We put the ‘you’ in YouTube as we seem to turn more and more to vloggers for some TV goodness. Forget the small screen—the smallest screen is the way to go.
I grew up at an admittedly weird time. My formative years were spent on TV, admiring VJs like Donita Rose whom I worshipped because she played my favorite boy band videos, and seeing the rise of reality television. We had dating, makeover, home improvement shows of all kind. Never mind that I wasn’t a housewife in midwest America—I was hooked on shows like Clean House and The Fifth Wheel, so much so that I’d write down the schedule so I wouldn’t miss a thing.
Back then, the Internet was this unfamiliar, dormant giant. I liked it, but I liked what TV had to offer more. It wasn’t until the rise of video on the Internet—which back then was largely limited to pixelated pornography that I obviously couldn’t watch—that I began to gently push the TV away like a summer school pal. Adios, buddy. Time for a new best friend.
TV shows go on hiatus, and when summer came in the West, I was bereft of anything to watch. With video in my mind, I turned to YouTube for some entertainment. And what I found, I didn’t think I’d end up loving so much. Because why would the ordinary lives of guys and girls — some of whom won’t even fit a celebrity cookie cutter — be so compelling? Oh, but it is. And these have come to rule my life, much like millions of other people in the world today.
YouTube vlogging started picking up in 2009 onwards — I remember because that’s when I discovered YouTuber Charlie McDonnell (@charlieissocoollike) a young British boy who liked talking about Doctor Who and did weird dares given by his fans. He was funny and geeky, enough for a 19-year-old like me to fall in love. He was one of the first big YouTubers in the biz, and showed that it was possible to capitalize on a career of making videos. (Back then, YouTubers would get back upwards of $1000 per 10,000 views, and Charlie averaged about 1.5 million per video.)
I mostly kept this YouTube mania a secret throughout the years, delighting in the discreet clubs I’d form with friends who admit that they’re just as deep into it as I am. “Oh my god, you’re a YouTube fan??? So nerdy!” a friend had said, as if I just told her I joined ISIS last week. I guess it was kind of lame, living for people who were sometimes just as unglamorous as I am. Sure, they’d get free products to try out and they always looked good on-camera. But at the very core of it, they’re just like you and me. They drive themselves to the grocery store and deal with their dogs pooping on the carpet. In just a few years, YouTube has become the reality show of our modern times.
From becoming a little secret among friends, YouTube fanaticism has grown so much. As in, by the millions. In YouTube, memes and challenges are abound—the Chubby Bunny, the Shock tests, the First Time Tags. They have done so much that I worry they’re actually going to run out of ideas soon. The most subscribed YouTube channel is @PewDiePie, a gaming channel run by Felix Kjellberg that shows him playing video games with his humorous comments. That’s it, and yet Kjellberg’s almost 40 million subscribers keep watching on. In other parts of YouTube, beauty vloggers (who talk about new products, hair and makeup tutorials) like Zoë Sugg (@zoella) and Michelle Phan (@michellephan) rake in millions of dollars each year for endorsing hair sprays and lipstick. They’ve gotten so big that a thumbs-up from girls like them can easily get an item sold out in days.
And if you think that these are just the posturing of a crazy fan such as I, know that all over the world, young people are starting to look up to YouTube stars for entertainment. YouTube stars have book deals, movie deals, television shows—taking over traditional media in their own right. Sugg’s book, Girl Online, is the fastest selling book in the United Kingdom of all time, beating our other British literary treasure Harry Potter. And you know, the Bible.
In a study by GlobalWebIndex, over 50% of 16-24 year-olds having watched a vlog within the last month. And it’s not just for product recommendations or fashion trend forecasts, people turn to YouTube vloggers for advice, comedy, and entertainment. In fact, they’re almost as admired as traditional celebrities, according to a study conducted by Variety Magazine. In a survey of 13-17 year-olds in the United States, most young people claim that YouTubers such as Kjellberg and comedy star Ryan Higa (@nigahiga) are more influential than the stars you might see in the next Young Adult blockbuster.
If there’s anything that makes me sad about the state of vlogging now, it’s that it has steadily gone in the same direction of traditional media, where honest and compelling stories of people have been shoved in favor of advertisements made under the guise of videos.
Numbers aside, it’s hard not to see how much more appealing YouTube is. They feel more accessible in a way, because they seem more “real.” When they say something is good or worthy of a purchase, we tend to believe them—after all, can a mineral loose powder foundation make you look like Emma Watson? Maybe not, but you might as well enjoy a different kind of pretty by way of a YouTube endorsement. No glam team necessary.
If there’s anything that makes me sad about the state of vlogging now, it’s that it has steadily gone in the same direction of traditional media, where honest and compelling stories of people have been shoved in favor of advertisements made under the guise of videos. Of course it’s only right that they should—in order to turn this into a full-time job to give us videos on-demand, they need to start making money. But have I and many other YouTubers simply traded TV for the exact same thing, only smaller? I don’t really know how to deal with that thought yet; I might need a lesson in coping with the post-modern vlogging era. Maybe there’s a YouTube tutorial on that. There probably is. They’ve got everything.