YouTube’s ‘Pointless’ stars: A Discussion.

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This week I’ve found my twitter feed being spammed by hateful tweets directed towards Sunday Times columnist Katie Glass. I don’t follow any of these people, she’s been retweeting them. Here are a few of the most venomous:

Intrigued by such vitriolic messages I caught up on Katie’s article in question, ‘Totally Pointless’, where Glass invites us to meet the British YouTube clique who have captured the hearts (or maybe just the attention spans) of today’s internet-overloaded youth. Without wishing to make this a trend I’ve decided to write another blog in response to an article of Glass’s… it’s not my fault that I continually agree with/am inspired by her ideas.

Glass does kind of ‘lay into’ the group comprising of Alfie Deyes, Zoe Sugg (AKA Zoella), Joe Sugg (Zoe’s brother) & Co so I can see why their fans would be upset. But they’re upset because she’s called them pointless and a little boring… so they’re upset because she’s right. As Katie points out in her opening paragraph, “If you haven’t heard of Alfie Deyes, then you are old. Simple.”(1)

At the tender age of 21 I didn’t think I could yet be deemed ‘old’, but in the age of the internet I suppose anyone who once had a MySpace account is considered a fossil. I’m actually surprised that so many teenagers apparently read The Sunday Times Magazine at this point. In spite of this enlightenment, it’s not that I’m not a YouTube fan. I keep up to date with several channels who I suppose are a little more grown-up but out of the nine profiled tweens in Glass’ article I was aware of only one YouTuber’s existence: the permanently congenial Zoella. And not for good reason.

zoella2

Here she is being delightfully agreeable and, as ever, encouraging her fans to do the same…

Zoella is an interesting dichotomy who has come under both positive and negative criticism for her affect on (and control of?) her teenage girl audience. She supposedly empowers young women, a term which I think is both lost on and loosely used by many. To empower is to catalyse someone or something with the tools of self-confidence, to make someone stronger and able to control the direction of their life and life choices. Empowerment shouldn’t rely on a winter skincare do’s and don’ts or how to attain the perfect fishtail braid… Chloe Hamilton’s article for The Independent last week drew my attention on this point in particular so without wishing to regurgitate her sentiments here’s an extract:

“At the 2014 Teen Choice awards, where she was named the Choice Web Star: Fashion/Beauty, she told a reporter that if she could give her teenage followers one piece of advice, it would be to fret less about their appearance. “When you’re younger you worry about so many things that you don’t need to worry about like image, appearance,” she coos to the camera, without an ounce of irony in her singsong voice, as though unaware that she’s forged an entire career by prattling on to young girls about how to look good.”(2)

Basically, Zoella is fresh-faced deception at your fingertips. If your fingertips are 15 years old and impressionable.

As for the rest of the article I find it hard for fans to be so angry at Glass for outing these online personalities as pointless when Alfie Deyes’ main YouTube channel is entitled ‘PointlessBlog’, where his most watched video is ‘Ariana Grande does my makeup’ and is presumably as pointless as the channel’s name suggests. With little or no intellectual matter at play it is entirely worrying that so many susceptible teenagers (because the subscribers are well into the millions) are depending on these channels for….for what?

The close of Glass’ article sees her searching for a reason behind the popularity of these characters. It’s comfort, she says. I agree with this point. “I was lying in bed when I finally got it. Watching a video of Alfie, wandering around the shops, buying T-shirts and trainers, then going home to show Zoe. Mundane, yes, but also strangely comforting.”(3) Tweets like this one definitely substantiate her claim:

So is the sole purpose of the 2014 YouTube star to provide saccharine, no-pressure, one-way company for the lonely and confused youth of today? To combat boredom just as new Lego or Furbies did 5 years ago, before all-the-children-ever had iPads?

She continues: “But perhaps it’s because they are so beige, or vanilla, that so many young people can relate to them.”(4) She’s right. This lot are straight-up sanitised vanilla milkshake: you’d rather chocolate or strawberry but it’ll hit the spot, kind of, if that’s the only choice.

That’s where I’m chiming in. They’re not the only choice. For more thought-provoking YouTube surfing I advise checking out these other popular channels:

The Vlogbrothers are John and Hank Green, (John being most well-known as the author of The Fault in Our Stars and his brother Hank being, well, Hank). They originally set up their channel as a way of communicating with eachother in a personal way so as not to lose touch as they lived so far apart. ‘Nerdfighters’ as their fandom have become known were hooked by their personal, informed and funny videos and the channel has gone on to become not only entertaining and inclusive but also successful in fundraising and charity work internationally. DFTBA (google it).

Charlieissocoollike is Charlie McDonnell, a cute British Doctor Who fan whose somewhat patriotic love of Tea saw him rise to viral internet fame. He is a filmmaker and funny guy who uses his popularity to deservedly promote his hard work on short films as well as discuss anything from making his own Tea to his expert handling of Sex and Consent, an issue which has blighted the YouTube community of late (RE: Sam Pepper, Alex Day and others, an issue which will need to be tackled in its own blog post).

Nathan Z, or TheThirdPew, is another YouTuber whose maturity and sensitivity are comforting to watch/listen to, whilst also being animated and amusing at the same time. His most popular video saw him chastising Vine star Nash Grier for his inane and overtly sexist video regarding what he ‘looks for’ in a girl, watch Pew’s video here.

It’s refreshing to see channels like the ones above tackling real issues and doing their best, unasked, to package these topics into an easily accessible and understandable medium for young and vulnerable viewers, when so many other YouTube stars use their online presence to smear Nutella over their faces or eat cat food (see Alfie Deyes’ channel if that’s what you’re into…). I’m not saying these kinds of videos don’t have a place on the internet, I suppose I’m saying they’re about as valuable as Nyan Cat circa 2011.

Alternatively you could always go outside for a walk or perhaps talk to a friend or family member…but who needs real human connections anymore when you have the light of your laptop/tablet/iPhone screen to keep you warm at night as you slowly petrify in its vacant, iridescent glow.

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(1) – Glass, K. 2014. ‘Totally Pointless’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 26 October, p. 23.

(2) – Hamilton, C. 2014. ‘Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella’, The Independent Online, 21 October. Link here. [Accessed: 28/10/14].

(3) – Glass, K. 2014. ‘Totally Pointless’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 26 October, p. 29

(4) – Ibid.

Zoella picture link here.

E card meme link here.

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