The Accidental Media Critics of YouTube

Gary Vaynerchuk has been an internet celebrity for so long that it’s hard to know which era’s terminology to use to describe him. He was among YouTube’s earliest stars, crafting videos for his father’s wine business and then about media and technology companies; Later he started his own media company. He has been a self-help guru, publishing books about how fans could “Crush It” in their own businesses, and also something more extreme, adopting an almost televangelist-like person as “Gary Vee.” Most recently, nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, have turned out to be a natural fit for him: he re-entered the zeitgeist last year with his own NFT projects, exhorting his young audience to join the club. “He spends so much time denouncing.

But something interesting popped up in response: Videos of young adults looking plainly in their own cameras and explaining why they considered Vaynerchuk’s content dangerous. Nick Green, a man named Curly-haired and baby-faced, lampooned Vaynerchuk’s business advice, exhortations like “be aware” and “do it.” Georgie Taylor, blond and British and under the screen name Münecat, made a video calling Vaynerchuk “the youth pastor of capitalism,” apart from his tendency to inflate his entrepreneurship origin story (being hired into a family business) into an epic personal mythology. And highlighting how his emphasis on positivity can include someone struggling with a strange viciousness beyond their individual control.

Importantly, these commentators were not professional journalists, concerned experts or onlookers from outside the YouTube world. They, and their audiences, come from the same demographics Vaynerchuk targets: young, more engaged with internet video and social media than traditional commentary. YouTube, in other words, has spawned its own media critics. Taylor, for instance, offers peering-through glasses and clutching a beer, offering an in-depth video that is almost an hour long and as neatly structured as a “Dateline” exposé. Marshaling’s video evidence from Vaynerchuk’s own output, she accuses him of feeding on youths, selling Gen-Z and millennial audiences while dreaming of wealth while using his own pockets to line his attention.

Over the past few years, this type of commentary – dissecting the internet-video figures of other, more popular internet-video figures – has become its own small ecosystem. The people doing the commenting often appear on each other’s channels, where they discuss the absurdities of influencers and social-media culture. Their level of earnestness varies, but they are, generally, trying to be funny; Even withering takedowns like Taylor’s are laced with quips. Their commentary has become one of YouTube’s more popular genres, appearing in trending videos like Jimmy Fallon clips and James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.”

There is, perhaps, a heartening inevitability to all this: Even in a world with no gatekeepers and limited moderation, certain savvy will assert themselves. YouTube even has its equivalents of tabloids and trade publications, covering salacious online drama or niche interests. But it’s the commentary youtubers in particular who have become, in some cases, as popular as the stars they react to, leading to strange conflicts between fame and critical integrity – plus literal run-ins in the influencer-infested studios of Los Angeles. In 2019, the loutish influencer Jake Paul posted a video titled “Confronting Internet Bully Cody,” in which he tracked down Cody Kolodziejzyk, a commentary YouTuber who often discussed his work. Visibly enraged and complaining that anyone could be so full of hatred instead of spreading positivity, Paul recorded himself criticizing his ambush – a video he would monetize for income.

Kolodziejzyk and his Comedy partner, Noel Miller, has become popular on YouTube with a series called “That’s Cringe,” which mocked not just Paul but other internet celebrities. Kolodziejzyk and Miller’s fans, however, noticed that as the two rose to prominence, they became steadily more immersed in the very media of the world than they were critiquing. Soon the mockery of the subjects started appearing on Kolodziejzyk and Miller’s own channel, creating hit videos by the reconciliation of performing gestures with the comedians. Fans fretted about a conflict of interest that would incentivize Kolodziejzyk and Miller to pull their punches – a neat mirror to worries about access-based coverage in traditional journalism.

On a May 2021 episode of Kolodziejzyk and Miller’s podcast, for example, they reacted to a particularly outrageous TikTok from Gary Vee, in which he urged an attendee at one of his self-help seminars to induce gratitude by imagining family members being shot in the face. Howling with laughter, Kolodziejzyk and Miller traded escalating riffs on the theme (“Picture your family getting swallowed by 10,000 locusts!”); A clip of the conversation became one of their most popular posts on TikTok. But soon Gary Vee caught wind of himself and requested to be on the podcast. Appearing in a T-shirt that demanded “POSITIVE VIBES ONLY,” he parroted lines at Miller’s request (“I need you to picture yourself swallowing a bag of nails!”) While the hosts laughed credulously.

Kolodziejzyk and Miller and others like them – YouTubers like Drew Gooden and Danny Gonzalez – don’t just inform you about internet ephemera; They also reveal the shady online courses, moneymaking conventions and NFT hype that some of the internet’s influential celebrities have in their hands. (Celebrities whose audiences, it must be said, are consistently of teenagers.) They almost certainly see themselves as comedians, not media critics, but they are hesitated to judge the content they discuss. They are an influencer among young people but sometimes ignored by traditional media. Knowingly or not, they have begun teaching them audiences Media criticism, along with the lesson that not every popular figure shouted “What’s up, guys?” In a camera has their best interests in mind.

As entertainers in a landscape they are creating themselves, these commentators are free to define their craft; It’s hard to begrudge those who have become friendlier towards internet celebrities, even if their blunted style makes them less compelling. But whether or not the future of criticism on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram lies with these comedians, they have already highlighted just how desperately a generation – people who have heard “What’s up, guys?” Since preschool and now hold credit cards and bank accounts – needs and wants of significant coverage of what it is seeing. The question is whether such criticism can thrive in a world without structure, where values ​​need not be articulated and glad-handing can always be trafficked under the banner of positive vibes.

Source photographs: Screen grabs from YouTube

Adlan Jackson is a freelance writer from Kingston, Jamaica. He last wrote about the band Beach House for the magazine’s Music Issue.

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