I find the phenomenon of vlogging, that is internet video blogging, a fascinating one. It takes a certain type of individual, part-performer, part-narcissist, to be a successful “YouTuber” or “content provider” (a much abused term). This is not to dismiss or denigrate the work that such people produce. Far from it. I follow and admire a number of YouTube channels, many of them reflecting the enthusiasm and knowledge of just one extrovert person. My personal subscriptions on the website cover a wide range of subjects, from archaeology to photography, and I usually watch these on my mobile devices when away from home. I’m happy to admit that this is a medium of commentary that I would almost certainly fail at. Despite a background in IT, I very much prefer the written word, or the pithy Tweet, and would be deeply uncomfortable with anything else. Hence my respect for those who are prepared to step in front of the camera (and usually behind it too).
Many observers of internet fashions and technologies would argue that blogging, in the traditional sense of the word, has become very much a minority interest among “opinion makers” and “influencers” (ugh!). There is little “fame” to be gained in the daily grind of writing, especially well-honed and researched writing, while bite-size videos are relatively easy to produce (though, of course, some creators do much more than that). For those seeking transitory fame and fortune, YouTube has become a well-trod path. While successful blogging rarely produces enough money to be self-financing, successful vlogging can be quite lucrative. Even a moderate list of subscribers and viewers can generate surprisingly large sums of revenue, in the low hundreds of euros per month. Enough to supplement one’s income or to replace it altogether if you achieve online stardom.
Perhaps unsurprisingly this has had a deleterious effect on the medium. Some YouTubers have become incentivised to court controversy knowing that it promotes their “brand” image, bringing in more eyeballs and more revenue. There are several well-known professional contrarians on the Google-owned platform who have a habit of generating highly offensive clickbait while behaving in a reasonable manner elsewhere. Of course many people almost subconsciously adopt an over-emphatic persona when it comes to offering online opinion, one that is somewhat at odds with their real world behaviour. I have fallen into that trap myself with some of my more tongue-in-cheek or spur-of-the-moment articles, or where I have failed to give adequate space or time for my thoughts before publishing. However, poor judgement or an exuberance of anger is quite different from the cynical exploitation of other people’s concerns and fears.
Inevitably political blogging has also migrated to these new platforms, especially – it must be said – on the conservative and libertarian side. There are a surprising number of hugely popular YouTube channels based in the United States of America which are almost wholly dedicated to the country’s domestic “culture wars” debate. Indeed many of these channels function as drivers of the debate, or at least in its online manifestation. In recent years America’s simplistic contest of right-left ideas has begun to take root in Europe, particularly in Britain and Scandinavia. However, even in Ireland, I have noticed a number of prominent, politically engaged users on Twitter and Facebook adopting the fiercely partisan language of US “campus politics”, often to hilarious effect. Reading young Irish internet users complaining about the censorious behaviour of “Social Justice Warriors” or railing against “white male privilege” on this island territory is almost beyond satire. The temptation to reply, “Cop the fuck on!”, is a serious test of one’s patience.
All this aside, I enjoy watching some of those who espouse the arguments of the alt-right or its sympathisers on various YouTube channels in the US and United Kingdom. If you approach it in a certain frame of mind they can be somewhat entertaining, like poor old Glenn Beck during his hyperbolic heyday at Fox News. Likewise some of their far left opponents can be equally as engaging, albeit in a less straightforwardly offensive manner (though the arcana of “SJW” terminology can resemble an online course in particle physics – which I’ve done). Unless you are plugged into this fractious world of competing ideas and personalities it’s easy to pass it by.
Quite honestly, most of the YouTube debates, of videos and counter-videos and counter-counter-videos, can be categorised as navel gazing on an epic scale. It is a collection of self-identifying, self-contained communities at war with each other. This is battle where the leading champions are on near-intimate terms as only true enemies and online stalkers can be. However, for all the force and bluster, much of it is glaringly unimportant, and of so little consequence in the real world (beyond a few colleges in the United States) that one is astonished that the participants would think otherwise.
Interestingly, and another surprise, one of the most popular Irish-related YouTube channels is Computing Forever, a technology and social commentary site, with an emphasis on the latter. It is relatively well-produced for all its egregious nature. While the man behind the pseudonym, Dave Cullen, would probably place himself in the “classical liberal” camp of fellow-travellers like the UK’s Sargon of Akkad, his opinions seem not too dissimilar from those of the American ultra-rightists. Among his more recent videos has been an interview with Justin Barrett, the leader of the minuscule National Party, and a paean to the infamous British street thug Tommy Robinson, titled “Tommy Robinson is a British Hero”. Cullen ticks most of the boxes when it comes to the further reaches of the conservative cause, featuring discussions on immigrants, Muslims, feminists and so on. It is pretty risible stuff and a lot less fun than most (who at least have swivel-eyed lunacy in their favour).
A taster of what you are missing, or not missing, can be found in this Joe Rogan interview with Carl Benjamin, the eponymous Sargon of Akkad. It’s fascinating stuff, though perhaps in the nature of a petri dish beneath a microscope. Benjamin recently had a run-in with Anita Sarkeesian, the heroine or villain of the Gamergate controversy depending on your point of view, and his attempt to persuade Rogan that his attacker is a modern-day Lady Macbeth is pretty hilarious. Over all, he fails to reproduce the occasionally foul-mouthed patrician tone of his YouTube channel, although even there the mask slips more often than not.
Have a watch or listen and let me know what you think. The attempt by both host and guest to disparage some men as effeminate buffoons or disingenuous sexual predators because of their feminist sympathies is quite intriguing. The argument among the alt-right more generally seems to centre on the belief that men who support women’s rights as a cause in and of itself are either “uggos”, “faggots” or “rapists” (as an American email correspondent once put it to me). That, I suspect, is deeply indicative of how many in the far right view the fairer sex, a projection of their own inadequacies or sociopathic tendencies.
Personally the ranting and raving of YouTubedom makes me glad to be an old-fashioned blogger. More power to the written word!