But while pop-culture vloggers may recycle their own insta-nostalgia, a VH1 show of I Love What Happened Last Week, at least they attempt to engage others on an ostensible subject. Countless vlogs literally contain no content other than:
Hey, YouTube, long time! Sorry I haven't made a video lately. Not a lot to talk about, really. Sorry I'm being awkward. Don't forget to subscribe to my channel and like the videos! Leave comments if you have something to say. Well, I guess that's it. Until next time!
We're given zero content, but an earnest appeal for loyal viewership. Doubtless this stems from the tiny fraction of vloggers who have gone viral because one of their videos was featured on an entertainment aggregator like Tosh.0, or, less often, organically made its way around the internet as a meme. Today, producing content that goes viral is not enough. One's self must go viral: You must be the content. It doesn't matter if the whole world laughs at you, so long as you achieve fame and far less likely fortune.
In addition to reality TV, America's long obsession with celebrity adds to the environment that produces these videos. Though often horrible people, celebrities used to have a plausible approximation of talent in order to be popular. Actors and musicians accepted the mantle of celebrity as a byproduct of the public's enjoyment of their artistic product. The inverse philosophy now dominates: first and foremost, be a celebrity. Whatever you do after that is justified by your being a celebrity, while also offering a post-facto rationalization for your becoming one in the first place. As America's version of royalty, the latter-day discovery of some personal utility always excuses your having initially shown up just to cash checks. At first, Princess Diana might have been some sharp-nosed lady who doinked a sad agglutination of sickly DNA, but eventually she felt internationally sad about brown people and, like, marmots or something.
We must confront the ironic paradox that as people are more abstracted from basic, in-person interaction, the more they attempt to make connections with other people, to seek validation by peer approval (or disapproval even, often attention of any kind is enough), utilizing the very media and tools that cause their extreme alienation in the first place. The almost total lack of substantial content in these videos does not necessarily point to the incompetence or dullness of those who made them, but to a basic underlying principle of modern social relations: it isn't what you have to say, nor even how you say it, but that you say it and that the anonymous, infinite, unapproachable Other listens to you say it.
Vlog away, into the ether; assimilate enough pop-culture knowledge to relate to other people; become your avatar/profile/persona; strive for statistical approval; enmesh yourself in a subservient dance to please an invisible crowd. Broadcast yourself.
Special thanks to Kak, JHVH-1 and BlastYouVileWoman for finding horrible videos that were used in the article, and to Beowulf LaGrange and Chandelier Stuntin for their pithy quotes that were used as front-page promo text.
Someone told TIME magazine about trolling and now we all just have to deal with it.
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