It seems redundant to say that there’s a provocative Vice piece making the rounds today. Afterall, Vice is built on a firm foundation of attention grabbing provocations. However it’s not so often that Vice pitches one of their softballs directly onto our lawn. Yesterday, Vice UK staffer Joe Bish posted an incendiary missive on the state of YouTube content colorfully titled “Vain and Inane: The Rise of Britain’s Dickhead Vloggers.” The piece features a banner image of popular vlogger Alfie Deyes, in case you were unsure who Bish is referring to, but Zoella, Sam Pepper, Tyler Oakley, and TomSka also come in for a bit of direct scolding. The problem is that underlying Bish’s premise is a fundamental misunderstanding about YouTube.
YouTube, like any other medium, is not monolithic. No one content creator or even class of content creators represents the whole. YouTube is a diverse content platform with thousands if not millions of creators posting content to varied degrees of success. Bish correctly observes that a certain type of vlogger, primarily young men and women with a particular aesthetic who cater to a teen demographic, have enjoyed greater-than-average success on the platform. He finds this content, which is clearly aimed at a demographic to which he does not belong, bland, insipid, and lacking in nuance. Based on this experience Bish concludes that vloggers are harbingers of nothing less than the “death of entertainment.”
What Bish has perhaps willfully neglected to account for is the fact that YouTube is still a young-skewing medium. Despite its increasing visibility in the mainstream the vast majority of YouTube’s existing audience is made up of teens and young adults. Taking that fact into account it’s hard to be surprised that content aimed at teens and young adults succeed more readily on YouTube. Doing so is akin to tuning in to a rerun of the Teletubbies and concluding that all television is designed for toddlers and that the whole medium is inherently broken.
Despite the obvious clickbait surrounding his piece, I don’t doubt that Joe Bish is sincere in his concern for the future of entertainment. After all, barely a week goes by without a new prediction that YouTube and its content creators are the future of media. Because the platform promotes its most popular creators, he is constantly confronted with creators who are, by definition, not for him. But that’s just the point: the content he’s railing against is not designed for him. YouTube has other things to offer. Vice itself operates one of YouTube’s most visible channels, producing content that bares none of the traits that he finds so troubling.
Vloggers are certainly poised to become a major force in the future of entertainment, their success demonstrates the massive potential of online video to build and move audiences. The content they create is unmistakably successful with the teen audiences of today, but those audiences will grow up and the content of tomorrow will grow up with them. YouTube has the potential to support the modern day Rodney Dangerfield that Bish pines for in his piece, it simply awaits the audience needed to support one.