Youtube: a video media platform that enables content to be distributed to an audience found across the world. It is a place where home videos are found, audio recordings are heard, lessons taught, a place where anything that is either heard or seen, can be uploaded. Now, recordings done by non commercial enterprises (i.e. home videos) are not new; however, exposing it to an audience that can garner more views than some of history’s biggest box office movies is something that should be unfathomable. Yet it is being done, and by the most ‘ordinary’ of people – your coworker, your friend, your sibling. Some of the most viewed videos, with the highest subscriber counts, are from these people and call themselves ‘vloggers’ – short form for video bloggers. These vloggers have followings that are larger than many of today’s most well known celebrities – Nigahiga (a vlogger) boasting at 10 million subscribers while Justin Bieber at 2.5million. In addition, these followers aren’t just your random followers who just happened to pop on in and clicked subscribed. These people are just as, if not more, passionate about the person they follow than some of the greatest die-hard fans plagued by ‘Bieber-fever’. So, how are these vloggers able to acquire such a large audience and earned such frightening loyalty? The answer is ‘lack’ – we as a society are in a state of repression, a constant feeling of being deprived, and vloggers – Youtube, is the medium where our desires can be fulfilled, and whereby businesses capitalize on it.
Before getting to why there’s such a huge following, one has to appreciate the economical accomplishment these vloggers have achieved. The Youtube motto known as ‘Broadcast Yourself’ is an idea, a system, which allows the general public to engage in an activity known as ‘broadcasting’. Traditionally, broadcasting is in the domain of large, powerful conglomerates (Christensen, 2007). Conglomerates like the “Big Five” (Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, and Bertelsmann) who paid billions of dollars to become vertically and horizontally integrated in order to distribute their content to a larger audience are now being ‘outsourced’ by Youtube users. Entertainment no longer needs to be a $100 million studio budget; instead, a creative vlogger can take his or her digital camera, gather a few friends, and create something just as entertaining for a fraction of the cost. With Youtube as their platform, the term multinationalism is now being redefined. Individuals, no longer just corporations, are being able to produce and distribute media content on a global scale. And the best part is that these vloggers have done what very little corporations are able to do, which is to have a subscriber count. Subscription is something many corporations strive for (e.g. Netflix, WSJ). Subscriptions provide the content provider with reoccurring viewers, allowing for a constant cash flow into their bank accounts. This is important as it guarantees them available money if whenever they need it for another project, to pay the broadcasting networks, their employees, etc.
Now the question at hand: how do vloggers, these Youtube sensations, celebrities, acquire so many followers. There are two sides to the equation. First, there’s the content provider and then second, the viewer. Before getting to the provider, it’s best to talk about the viewer. In Molyneaux’s study, it is to note that 10% of the male particpants who were asked to evaluate 4 chosen vlogs told the researcher that the female vlogger would be watched again because “she’s cute”. One may argue this is a desire, an appetite for such fetishism, in order to possibly satisfy their lack of socializing. This candidate may have shown signs of scopophilia, voyeurism – a pleasure from looking from afar, with little to no chance of being caught and reprehended. The viewer, assuming a man, is faced directly with a ‘cute’ female counterpart, and the only thing that separates the two is a screen. She is succumbing to the male gaze. Though mind you, though it’s ‘just a screen’, she’s an unreachable ‘object’. He will most likely forever remain as a fan, and the woman, a person who he’ll never make contact with. But perhaps, he enjoys being in such position – being able to derive pleasure from it. Perhaps this cute woman is someone who he wouldn’t normally be able to interact, but through the Internet, he may feel something special, unique, that no other man has felt before. Here on Youtube, is where the reality principle – the curbing of desires known to be unacceptable in the laws of society – may be loosened – fantasy now becomes reality, if only temporarily.
As for the content provider – Youtube, it is a platform perfect to spark discussion and cause ‘virality’. There are two main ways to generate discussion on Youtube. One is through a ‘video response’ (whereby you make your own video that tags to the original video) and the second way is through comments below the video. These methods are what are known as a ‘cool medium’, where the technology known as Youtube, allows for a high participation rate from the audience. This creates a social network of connected videos, as the viewers are not only just allowed to write a textual comment but they can make a personalized opinion by voicing it through a video response. From there, people may respond to your personal video with a video response or textual comments, which further fans the flames, so to speak. So, with all of this creates an incredibly complicated, interconnected web of social interactions.
A well-known Youtube sensation ‘Jenna Marbles’, who is figuratively speaking, the ideal woman, is often subjected to the male gaze. The beauty to Jenna Marbles’ video, aside from an attractive young host, is her ability to speak of things that resonates with many people’s lives. She has formed a model, a type of register, which draws audiences in and places a firm grasp on them. People love being reaffirmed of what they believe in, and Jenna’s videos reassures them that someone out there understands them, that someone thinks just like how they do. She speaks in a style that is similar to how you speak to your closest of friends. She often pokes fun about what guys usually do (e.g. when they’re drunk), what girls usually do (e.g. when watching tv, when falling asleep) in a very crude, an informal manner. All of these topics are relatable and understandable. It is because of the way she approaches her audience and delivers highly relatable content in a humorously, nonsensical manner, makes her videos accepted by so many. This perhaps is best regarded as polyvalence, where the audience shares understandings of the content, and though some may find the content being viewed as pointless or useless, it still gives them the ability to resonate with their own opinions.
There is no doubt that Youtube has challenged the fundamentals of the media business: as it once known to be expensive, ran by professionals, and usually beyond the scope of the ‘every day citizens’ (Christensen, 2007). It is also to the amazement of Youtube’s celebrities on how they are able to capture the hearts of so many. But perhaps, it’s not as hard as it sounds, as society has been brought up with many restrictions, guidelines, deadlines, often than not, cornering us, depriving us, and though these rules often protects and advances us, there are still many who are left behind, lack day-to-day emotions, feelings, and comfort, which is what Youtube is able to do is provide for them, to make their day better, if only just a little bit.
Christensen C. (2007). Youtube: The Evolution of Media? Screen Education 45: 36-40
Durant A, Lambrou M. (2009). Language and media. New York: Routledge.
Molyneaux H, O’Donnell S, Gibson K. (2009). Youtube Vlogs: An Analysis of the Gender Divide. Media Report to Women 37(2): 6-11
Warning: Coarse language.
Shakespearean actors reading Youtube comments. Perhaps this will raise the discourse level of Youtube’s comments. Haha!