The School of YouTube: Growing Up Online

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Sat outside Central St.Giles, home of Google HQ at half past midnight a few days ago, I poured myself and two others a polystyrene cup of wine and sat giddy on the bench outside.
I love London, its architecture and art, but when the street lights flicker and the suited business men stroll home, its night life holds nothing but false promise and closed shutters.
We had to be inventive if we wanted to race for the last train home softly numb and muddled with the conceited confidence that often followed.

The irony gleamed stronger and darker as we took in our surroundings, there we were three middle class 20-nothings, drinking cheap wine and discussing how to determine what the hell it is we're supposed to be doing with our future and who the hell knows how to harness happiness, outside the corporation that for the time being, had made us.
One of us a viral video magician, the other a million subscriber strong YouTuber and me, a hapless 18 year old who fell into the clutches of Google by chance.
We'd bypassed University, spitting criticism feverishly over formal education, when really we were nothing more but three kids ourselves sat outside our campus swigging drinks.
Suddenly, stripped of After Effects and Final Cut Pro, we were no different to that of an insurgent student.

8 months ago I knew nothing about YouTube. Not really, not like I have to now.
My naivety lead me down an offensive path that suggested it was all just as simple as sticking a camera in the most attractive corner of your bedroom, eye-sexing your audience nonchalantly and washing it all back to complete innocence with the dulcet tones of a ukelele.
I was an idiot.
Never did I understand that when my internet-famed friends cancelled on me last minute because they were 'caught up' with work, or took days to reply to my emails, they genuinely were inundated with actual work.
"Stop pretending you're working late in the office, you're a kid with a camera, get over yourself."
I'd ignorantly splutter, wishing they were sat opposite me in one of our favourite over priced restaurants.
I'd slap myself now if I could, because now, thrown in the midst of a world where CMS and SEO and VIDCON is all native, I realise how incredibly demanding and ambitious the world of YouTube is.

I curtsey to the daily vloggers, the short film makers, the intelligent and inspiring young creatives that have now become my peers in this odd world where YouTube is almost our education.
I've never understood how at 16 the formal education system expects you to be able to accurately pin point the direction in which you want to choose for the rest of your life, how at 18 it's all supposed to be scrawled down on official documents and followed neatly like some kind of fickle religion.
It wrecked with my judgement so much so I couldn't hack it and left.
YouTube was an escape from that, a haven where you could forget for 5 minutes the anxiety of the awkward teenage years that followed, whether you're the consumer or the creator, so why suddenly does it bare so many similarities we all dared to avoid?

What started as a hobby is now a career, if people enjoy your content, monetizing your work eventually, is easier and more fulfilling than your first weekend part time job in TopMan.
But with that also comes brand deals and sponsored content.
Like selling your soul to the popular group at school, wearing a band t-shirt on non-uniform day whose songs you pretend to bare vague interest in, this is all quite similar.
So you might not be pretending to love the new Rimmel sheer gloss lipstick for hope of popularity but instead a healthy cash injection, but when does morality step in? When are you selling yourself out?
More importantly, how on earth have you gone from a kid in a bedroom with a camera to a business man generating deals with the sudden loom of social and personal moral responsibilities? Weren't you trying to avoid the real world by casual filmmaking? How much thought did you put in when you wore that band tshirt? Were you concerned you weren't selling the real you, that you were a false advertisement? Probably not, but suddenly you should.

One thing you can praise YouTube for is its abundant community, the union of viewers and creators from more countries around the world you could confidently pick out on a map.
It's a revolutionary social platform that allows likeminded people to come together and comment or discuss their favourite video, or collaborate with other users on their content.
In its humble beginnings this was fantastic, where would my lovely friend Jack be if he'd not joined forces with Bertie Gilbert one afternoon? It was never a competition, people used each other as polite stepping stones in hope that their filmmaking skills would progress.
Just like school, in comes the hierarchy.
Fans have now been divided into the avid follower and the super-fanatic, YouTube creators cast into cliques.
Collaborations taking place simply in the hope of more views and subscribers with total disregard to the actual physical content they're making.
Don't even get me started on the total monstrosity that is this newfound idea that talking about One Direction and covering your face in household/kitchen products is apparently creative, exciting and inspiring visual content for your audience?

Before I lose myself in the thought of a marshmallow challenge, I'd like to tie this back to the beginning.
Very few of us know what it is we want to do at 18, some not even at 25 and 50, we grow, we develop we throw ourselves in as many different directions as possible to learn who we are and where our purpose in the universe sits. Nobody scrutinises this, it's healthy.
But with YouTube?
It twists and turns my insides watching viewers form hysterical criticism that because you're no longer creating the content that you once started out with, you've changed, it's bad, be ashamed.
There is suddenly this overwhelming pressure, a pelting force that has grown from nowhere, that suggests creators are no longer at the hands of just being creative and fun, learning about themselves, helping the world out in due course.
Much like school, much like the teachers we've all tried to shun with their desperation to form a solid foreshadowing of the rest of your life, you're suddenly expected to know exactly who you are as a creative at 18 and it's discouraged to change up your content.

My night under the stars and the glowing Google signs made me realise an awful lot about how much I appreciate the people I get to see everyday and meet at events, how talented and hard working, crazily intelligent and witty these individuals are and how selfless it's forgotten they're being with their lives- openly learning about themselves in front of a large audience and tirelessly editing into the early hours.

How did an evening away from homework turn into a whole new assignment?


  1. Finally someone brought up the subject of what Youtube is becoming. Amazingly written as always, Charly! I am aware that everything is temporary, therefore the Youtube community is bound to change in time but I feel that it's getting ridiculous! All those pointless silly challanges and tags, and nothing more!.. They may be entertaining, but so banal and shallow. I'm not saying that all videos HAVE to be educational or deep, not at all. Yet their content is just... not that great... It's all just not worth the amount of crazy fans and absurd dedication! So, all in all, youtubers may be awesome people I occasionally watch myself but do not deserve to be treated like celebrities. I kind of displaced the topic, which I'm sorry for, haha.
    P.S IM NOT HATING ON ANYONE, just to be clear. :)

    1. Some of us enjoy those "pointless silly challenges and tags." I don't have to be freaking inspired everytime I turn to youtube. Somedays I just want to laugh my ass off and have a bit of fun. And those challenges and tags make me laugh.

    2. I agree with you that they are funny, I'm not saying they're not entertaining, sometimes I watch them too. It just seems strange to me that those kinds of stuff are so appreciated and valued that they have made their 'creators' ridiculously famous and admired. I'm happy that they have become successful, it's not like I'm jealous or have prejudices because of their massive popularity. I just don't understand it.
      Anyways, I guess it's normal for simple funny things to be more popular with the audience, it's not only Youtube, but the same goes for movies, music, etc. They're more comprehensible.

    3. They are appreciated and valued because the audience they are targeting are young school aged kids who need a break from the real world. If I was still in school , last thing I want to see on tv/youtube is anything serious. I want to relax, unwind, have a bit of a laugh and not think about anything too deep. This article, while good intentioned, seems nothing more than stuck up, too good for you attitude. No offense to the author of this article, but I"ve never heard of this Charly on youtube. Or anywhere for that matter until her article was retweeted by Jacksgap. Well written but still confused as to what Charly is trying to tell us.

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    5. No one said anything about YouTube being solely for serious, inspirational or filmaking-quality type content - or even that those are the only 'worthwhile' videos to be posting. Dear God, what would YouTube be without humour and whimsy?

      I may stand corrected, but I think the point that Charly was making with regards to the 'monstrosity' of it all is that - in her opinion - originality and creativity should not need to be sacrificed in order to create that humour. I share that sentiment.

      Of course, humour is subjective. I find tags and certain collabs exceedingly dull, but the next person may find those hilarious. Be that as it may, it would be ignorant and naive to pretend that there is not a vast difference between the content that someone like Mamrie Hart, for example, puts out versus someone putting out yet another uninspired Household Makeup Challenge. Both can be placed in the category of humour, yet one is arguably creative and original, the other not. And yet still, for some unfathomable reason, the latter gets the most praise, attention and an obsessed unquestioning fandom to go with it.

      That is what YouTube has become, and it is sad.

    6. I disagree and don't share your sentiment about creativity and originality. Youtube doesn't need to be creative or original. If an audience will watch your content then by all means keep the vids coming. Stupid collabs or not. I don't get Mamrie Hart's comedy at all. Nor Grace Helbig for that matter. I watch daily vloggers, Louis Cole, Joey Graceffa, sometimes Wulas. None of them are really doing anything original or creative but it takes me out of my day for 8 minutes and that's all that really matters to me. I'm not well spoken like you but I tried my best to explain my self. But I will agree the household makeup challenge is really cringe worthy!!

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    8. Fair point. I don't really know what to class daily vloggers under, as you said they aren't necessarily always doing something original or creative, yet there is a specific market for them. I myself do immensely enjoy Louis Cole's vlogs on occassion.

      I guess the problem I (and it seems a number of other content creators and consumers) have is that the type of YouTuber that almost exclusively makes pointless tag videos with nary a thought for ever creating any original content can be - and is - significantly more successful than another YouTuber writing their own skits or producing their own original content. I think this may be especially disconcerting since in the past (daily vlogging aside), YouTube had arguably been more of a space for the latter, not the former. I personally have no problem with the odd tag or collab, but the proliferation thereof gets irksome, you know?

      However, at the end of the day you're right. It's basic supply and demand. So long as a significant section of the audience, for whatever reason, prefers tags and collabs those will remain the order of the day.

      As for me personally, if I have to see another Household Makeup Challenge or - God-forbid - Cotton Ball Challenge, I will lose my rag. But I guess the solution for that is simple. Don't watch, don't support that type of content.

    9. I'm going to name and shame here. I love Tyler Oakley, think he's great, did amazing job raising money for the trevor project but how on earth does he get over a million views each time he does a drunk collab? Who wants their kids watching this and why are they watching that? My mind gets blown at the amount of views some videos get. I won't lie I've watched a few challenge vids but why on earth do we need to see 10 versions of the chubby bunnychallenge. Or the bf does my makeup vid.

    10. In response to the fourth comment from the top: just because you haven't heard of Charly in no way invalidates her opinion. She clearly knows a mass amount about the industry, so we shouldn't be calling the article "stuck up"... it's childish in my opinion. Anyways, Charly's talking about the the lines of creativity and fame, how they're balanced and interconnected, and how they influence the youth of today, Sure, not all may agree with her opinion, but you can't deny that she's intelligent. It's a very valid point to start a friendly conversation.

    11. I don't think the person was saying it invalidates her opinion. She/he was trying to find out what it is exactly Charly does. I re read the blog a few times and didn't notice what Charly actually does that involves youtube. I know she works with jacksgap but doing what?! Does she film, edit, write videoideas, do assistant work?

    12. In all fairness to Tyler, I laughed my ass off for a few minutes after watching his what's in my mouth challenge with Ricky Dillon. That flavored condom and huge eggplant had me in stitches!

  2. I'm halting all my to-do tasks to congratulate you, Charly, on your bold, honest and straight-to-the-point article. I cannot NOT comment on this because you have managed to voice out exactly what bothers me for days and days now leading to me not posting enough on my own blog (which oddly, was titled "professional YouTuber fangirl"...) You really, really got me thinking, especially on those parts where you talk about fanaticism and how it's turned out to be (from community to a commercialized digital consumerism). We've all been there, we've all thought about it at one time or another but we never really STOPPED to TALK about it. You did and it was brilliant. Not a waste of time. You definitely gave me A LOT to think about. Thank you for sharing (I am very curious though, who were you with? LOL)

  3. This is brilliant Charly and I'm thankful that someone finally started to seriously talk about that!

  4. I'm 23 and even after almost five years of university, i'm still not quite sure what to do with my future. I envy some youtubers (and other creative people) for taking a risk: they stop doing the thing they are 'supposed to do' and start trying to make things work by doing a thing they love. Some of them fail, but others become extremely successful (and also probably never expected to be that successful). I think it's good to ask yourself once a year: 'what am I doing?' and 'what is it that I want to do'. You don't have know the answer (I don't know either). But it's good to at least think about these things, because you don't want to end up years from now, thinking 'what if...'

  5. Charly, this is fab. I do sometimes feel like I've made a stab in the dark with my university choice for next year- how am I supposed to know what job I want, when I've never done that job before?! I definitely admire lots of YouTubers that take a step back- they know they want to create content, and they're okay with stepping outside the normal 'system' to do that, and even doing it in front of thousands of people! (and getting the odd bit of criticism for it, too) I also totally understand your frustration at the people that upload ten minute videos where they put mustard and toilet roll on their face. (Not really my thing...) x

  6. I'm going to disagree with you thinking that people who collab are doing it for views and subscribers. A lot of times they do it because it's fun! Youtube doesn't have to be just about being creative all the time. And how exactly do you think it's your career? What is it you do that involves youtube?!! Thanks.

  7. You know the one big difference I see between the "brit crew's" videos and jacksgap videos is laughter. I never see the same type of happiness/fun in a jacksgap video. Makes me wonder if they really even like their job.

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  9. Fantastic post, as always, Charly! Totally agree that it's too easy to sit on a pedestal at scoff at the endless cinnamon challenges, finding success on YouTube ISN'T easy and takes a very special kind of person! It's essentially self-starting a business, personal brand, and career in the entertainment industry and that's certainly not something most of us can achieve. (polaroid blog)

  10. This article is what needs to be said. It's a fabulously written post, that speaks the truth. YouTube can't be an easy job, and I have the upmost respect for those YouTubers that still try and create good content in a site which is increasingly being used to gain 'internet fame'. Very insightful post, and like I said, beautifully written.
    Thank you Charly!

  11. I feel like some of the comments have really missed the point. You were simply giving your perspective on something that is new and ever-changing from the point of view of someone who works behind the scenes. It was a very clever way to explore the element of youth in new media and how that effects the way things work. And all your comments were, as usual, well thought out and honestly written.

    For me, this also highlighted the difference not only between those who have large followings and those who don't but a difference between creators and consumers and the way we are trying to define what their roles should be when we probably shouldn't.

    If you didn't know Charly before Jack tweeted her, that's cool. But that doesn't define her contribution to what Jack and Finn do or her own personal work.
    The great thing about YouTube is that it has become so much more than the faces in front of the camera and just as much as there is going on for you to watch, there is as much going on behind the scenes. And that's exciting because it's making something creative and fun really legitimate and respected.
    And to say that Jack and Finn don't enjoy their work cause they don't smile enough is rather shallow and only further enforcing Charly's point.

  12. I honestly don't get the negative attention this post is getting. Here's how I see it, ones blog is ones blog. You post your opinions, your concepts, this is your creative space and you do whatever the heck you want with it. This is why I love this blog, it is honest, it is genuine, it is real.

    How can any person mildly familiar with the youtube world not recognize what a hierarchy it is? Name three of the "top," youtubers right now: chances are they're friends, chances are they've filmed together and chances are they have done the same "tag," videos as everyone else. Its an undeniable fact. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing (however, I easily could) I'm saying it is really sad. Think of what youtube could be if people, young independent filmmakers, who held no obligation to corporations and didn't feel the need to be "the most popular," just did what made them happy. Charly you talk about Bertie Gilbert in your article. Can we please talk about Bertie a little bit more? He's what, seventeen? He makes FILMS, real, honest and creatively driven films. And he's damn good at it. Bertie is an example of what youtube should be about, or so I think. However, the fact the Bertie has moved his content from youtube to Vimeo is a pretty clear indication that is it is not what youtube is actually about.

    I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the relaxed vlogger who chats with their "audience," about matters that… well matter to them. However in the realm of popular youtubers this doesn't occur. Instead people spend their time doing lush and top-shop hauls or boyfriend tags and language or accent challenges. In all honesty I'm not sure whether this is an issue with youtube in particular, or the perception of worth in our generation but I think it safe to say that today people chose being a "popular youtuber," over being a "good youtuber," But can you blame them? Why be a good blogger, why make content that matters or discuss things that are important to you when you can do the same redundant tags and get invited to movie premieres and put into magazines?

    C'est la vie.

    1. What "negative attention", Salma? People are posting opinons and some disagree with the others. Not sure when disagreeing with someone turned into negative attention. But I like your c'est la vie at the end. It's good to have open ended conversations. This post will bring many youtube creators/viewers to the table and let's try to give everyone an open floor. Agree or disagree. Does not need to be negative. :)

    2. I guess negative attention is a bit of a hyperbole, I just meant that Charly has posted on her tumblr as well as on her twitter about how people seem to be seeing her view as an attack on the youtube community as opposed to just being about her opinion. But obviously as you said, those opposed should be able to also express their opinion. I guess on the internet things can sometimes be seen as confrontational when they aren't meant to be. I definitely agree with you though, it will spark debate and sometimes thats all you can ask for!

  13. "But with that also comes brand deals and sponsored content."
    I remember you getting clothes from TopShop because a photoshoot ...

    1. I'm not suggesting that I dont think brand deals and sponsored content are good, that's the way this particular industry works, the point I'm making is you're often given brand deals whereby you don't have a natural fit with the brand, selling yourself out to products you wouldn't use. In fashion and styling, of course you borrow clothes from designers or brands, otherwise how else do you do your job? I wasn't paid to feature Topshop nor did I get to keep them. You've completely taken this quote out of context.

  14. You've taken the words right out my mouth and mind. Youtube being the free, creative video platform it is should be treated be as an actual entity (particularly the reflection of the creator) because most of the time the content is the result of what the creators believes, opinionated ,etc. at the time. Therefore, the channel, the creator, and so forth should be able to freely evolve as would any animated entity does. It would be foolish to not believe and do so.

    Change is necessary and politely ignore criticism.

  15. Charly, everything you've written here is golden.

  16. As likely as I am to go to a Hannah Hart meet up with 400 other people I understand that Youtube isn't what it once was. Collabs seem forced and not fun. 'Ships' generate a fanbase which then all content is over looked. I wasn't here at the early days of Youtube, but I have seen the videos, and the content is far better and a real community existed; not 'buy my merch and i'll follow you on twitter'.



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