In her video essay YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!), Lindsay Ellis casts a very self-conscious, very critical eye on YouTube vlogs as an “authentic” phenomenon + livelihood… starting with, of all things, an analysis of the evolution of a couple of cake decorating channels.
I realize this one sounds like it’s a lot heavier on YouTube-specific geekery than most people would appreciate, but I recommend this video to anyone who recognizes that forging a connection with your audience (whomever and whatever that audience may be!) is an important way to get people coming back for whatever it is you want people to come back to you for (be it your videos, your music, your writing, your art).
And I especially recommend this video to everyone who has experienced the heightened trickiness of this territory whenever your livelihood depends in some way upon a public image you must therefore maintain.
So many insights into these juicy topics in this video. And in a stroke of brilliance, Lindsay interviews YouTube darling (and one of my faves) Hank Green, in a textbook tactic from Google’s YouTube best practices playbook: Create, Collaborate, Curate!
There’s a really great section on the history of emotional labor, leading into the impact of trying to maintain an internet persona, starting here. And she gets Hank to talk about why he does what he does here:
I want people to get excited about the universe and the world and… thinking critically and hard about stuff. More and more I want to foster some kind of better communication among people, and also more and more I feel like that needs to happen a lot more OFF of the internet than is happening now… we need to occupy the same physical space as other human beings.
I could not figure out how to get a transcript from this video. 12 points for anyone who knows the trick!
If you’re not already familiar with him through any of his video series (including vlogbrothers, CrashCourse, and SciShow), Hank is a very influential person within the YouTube universe. He is also a heterosexual cis white male who uses his position of power to advocate for YouTubers who don’t necessarily hold that privilege… many of whom are trying to make a living (or at least, earn some money) by sharing their videos on the platform.
Short context, which he does cover in the first video below: there are some YouTube policies that are currently affecting the LGBTQ+ community in a way that simply boggles the brain. As in: certain religious groups are paying so that their anti-gay videos will run as “ads” before videos created by and designed for the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, YouTube has also changed certain policies so that it’s harder to earn money by posting content that is LGBTQ+ inclusive.
Hank’s righteous anger, condemnation of policies, and his very firm request that YouTube fix the problem — complete with suggestions for how they could do it! — give me hope that humanity might prevail, even when The Algorithm fails us.
Thanks, Hank, for showing us how to use privilege effectively!
I’ve been thinking a ton lately about how to put myself “out there” more. Start a vlog, for real this time (the one I was going to launch at work has been put on the back burner… again)? Write another (gasp) book?
And also wondering if it’s possible to promote whatever I’m putting out there in a way that doesn’t seem arrogant, or like I think I have the answers, or risks my flying too close to the sun and melting my wings hubris lightning bolts vultures etc etc… AND also keeps me accountable to a higher purpose, rather than sucking me into the corrupt, or even just “fashionable,” version of power that so often seems to take over when people start gaining momentum.
(I really, really want to dig into life coaching as an example of this, particularly in light of this Quartz Obsession piece, but I’m trying to focus on the positive here!)
As I seek role models who have built platforms for their quirky selves and/or ideas in ways that don’t make me cringe, I have grown more and more a fan of Hank Green. Latest case in point: the description for this video (you’ll have to click through to the video’s YouTube page in order to read it).
Wow, EVEN HANK grapples with how to handle (and I’m assuming, not become similar to):
…people who figure out how to capture [a certain type of] energy [that you should read his description to learn more about] for their own gain and do not consider the responsibility that their power brings, or think that they are righteous when they are in fact leaning into culturally destructive ideas.