Smosh, Shay, and Ray: Why We Love YouTubers

The Tumblr tag “VidCon” yields several results. One Tumblr post reads:

“Sweet baby jesus
I’m going to meet Toby
I’m going to meet Kassem
I’m going to meet Olga
I’m going to meet Jack
I’m going to meet Sean

Another Tumblr user writes, “GUYS. VIDCON IS IN LIKE A MONTH. FUCK. YES. I’M SO EXCITED!” If the extreme overuse of caps still isn’t driving the point home, then I will lay it out clearly for you. People are losing their heads at the prospect of meeting some of their favorite YouTube celebrities.

There are many things I don’t understand about YouTube celebrities. But I can safely say that the one aspect of YouTube that confounds me the most is the pure, almost fanatical devotion that fans have towards YouTube’s elite.

I can wrap my head around why red carpets are packed with hordes of screaming fans. Film and television celebrities have always inspired the public to turn from rational humans to raving lunatics in a matter of seconds. In a Slate article, writer Jacob Weisberg explains, “Celebrities may serve as surrogates for gods or heroes.”

By Drew Winchester

Mainstream celebrities fill us with a, as Weisberg puts it, “mixture of awe and contempt.” One moment, we are inspired by the leading man’s battle against addiction, and in the next, disgusted by a starlet in a leaked sex tape. Celebrities’ lives are the perfect way to channel our own feelings of insecurity and triumph through others’ exploits and accomplishments.

But what about the YouTube star? There is no Jenna Marble’s sex tape or rumors of Shaycarl being a drug addict. In fact, from most of NMR’s personal interviews with YouTube celebrities, I have found that most of these people are normal, healthy human beings.

Transparency is the core of any YouTube personalities’ success. If there were something to hate about them, it would instantly shine through. If we can rule out fan’s obsessions coming from the hope of seeing a Cyrus-esque meltdown, then what is the root of their fandom?

I sent out a Twitter request to Smosh and Shaycarl fans in an effort to understand this phenomenon. I wanted to hear from some of the most diehard fans on the Internet about what drives them to become “smoshers” and “shaytards.”

I asked every fan the same question over email. What makes YouTube celebrities different from Brad Pitt? Why are you fans of Smosh/Shaycarl over mainstream movie stars? The response I got back from fans was instant and overwhelming. As responses rolled into my email’s inbox, one factor became the front-runner for what drives this fanaticism.

Painting by Daniel Valadez

In one of the first responses I received, a Shaycarl fan told me, “These people are real and open. They’re not like normal celebrities who hide behind glasses and hats when they go out. People like Shaycarl let you live a small part of everyday of their lives. It’s like a reality show, but better. You get to be part of some of the biggest moments in their lives and they are happy to share it with you.”

The more I read people’s answers, the more it became clear that it was about a genuine connection. One fan told me, “When it comes to social status, being a celebrity and being a *normal person (*=non-celebrity), I think famous Youtubers are at the halfway point. They are well known, but not necessarily worldwide sensations. And with that status, we as fans feel more of a bond than we’d ever feel with Miley Cyrus or any other MAJOR celeb.”

In terms of mainstream celebrities acting as modern heroes and gods, the distance that we feel between them and us is monumental. It is why an autograph or picture from a movie star can be life-changing for some people. They feel as if they are closing that distance an inch at a time. With YouTube celebrities, that distance is almost nonexistence. With YouTube being a closer and more personal media outlet– and in continuing the heroes analogy–YouTube personalities seem to fall into a folk hero type category. They are the everyman who have risen to celebrity from their own hard work and dedication.

The differences between Smosh and Shaycarl fans’ responses were indistinguishable. Almost every person I spoke with gave similar, if not identical, reasons for loving YouTube celebrities. A fan wrote to me about YouTube personalities, saying, “Most people who love youtubers that I’ve talked to feel as though these people are their friends. Smoshers especially, feel smosh helped them at their lowest, saved them even.”

To most fans, YouTube celebrities become more than people you watch for entertainment, and that makes a world of difference to them. It is clear that online video has transcended the traditional barriers of mainstream media and its association with fans. The ability to actually connect to people who are idolized makes the bond between fan and YouTube celebrity all the more personal. YouTube has replaced the need to create substitute gods with the ability to create friendships one upload at a time.


Thanks to @_Happy_Cow, @Smoshy_Girl95, @alexw07, @brandenthelion, @Millie0013, @smoshabilly, @personontheweb, @_smawshrawks_, and Tumblr users, thatgroovyfeeling and acalhoon for quotes and feedback.