On following Youtubers

I have been following Youtubers since midway through 2012. I used Youtube before that, for looking up songs and movie clips and that sort of thing, but in 2012 I entered the world of subscribing to Youtubers and looking forward to their videos coming out.

I started out with danisnotonfire and charlieissocoollike [1], and through them I started watching nerimon, and through him itswaypastmybedtime. Fast forward almost two years, and I have 93 subscriptions [2].

I started to care about the lives of the people I was watching. Especially Alex Day (nerimon) and Carrie Hope Fletcher (itswaypastmybedtime). They would neither confirm nor deny whether they were in a relationship, but anyone who could read body language [3] could see that there was something going on there. I was living in Arnhem Land at that time, in a different community to where I am now. One night, driving home from Gove in the small hours of the morning, I kept my driver, Sally [4] awake by explaining about shipping, and Youtubers, and vlogs [5], and fandoms. “Why don’t they just go and have a cup of tea with a friend?” Sally asked, bemused. I myself felt uneasy that I cared about the personal lives of normal people living their lives on the other side of the world.

But I was invested, as uncomfortable as it is for me to admit it. Watching the vlogs was escapism. It was like watching TV, like wanting your favourite characters on TV to get together. See how easy it is, going from vlogs as entertainment, to vlogs as TV, to Youtubers as TV characters?

I know that they are not characters on a screen. My strategy to deal with the fact that I was treating them as such was to abstain from commenting on the videos, as many do, along the lines of “OMG are you together? You should totally get together!” or after their breakup (which was revealed publicly, on a lowkey level): “OMG he still loves you, you should totally get back together!” etc. There are a lot of people who start to feel as though they are entitled to all the personal stories of a Youtuber, because they have been privy to some. I didn’t join that camp, but I also didn’t engage with the “Just leave them alone it’s their own private business!” conversation. All in all, I am not a big commenter, especially not on Youtube.

A month or so ago, Alex Day posted a video about how he got seriously depressed when it looked like they were never getting back together after he realised he made a mistake breaking up with Carrie, and how he won her back with three grand gestures. I think I might have even cried. I was so happy that they were back together, because from seeing them in videos it seemed like they really both wanted it.

Again, the parallels with TV are uncanny.

I commented on that video, saying: “These days your new style of honest videos always tend to make me cry. I am a little embarrassed to be so happy for two people who live on the other side of the world. But I really am glad that you are back together. I want to acknowledge that I understand how you or any other youtuber don’t owe your audience personal stories like this. I have been hanging out for this slice of the pie [6], though.”

I was so pleased when Alex Day actually replied to my comment, saying “Thanks a lot <3”.

Sidenote here. At the time, even though I liked the story, I felt an emptiness in it. He had treated her badly and had lost her love. Then he had ‘proved’ that he had changed by three grand gestures.

The thing is, grand gestures are easy, especially if you are imaginative and have sufficient funds. And they work on TV, because they are dramatic.

But if a guy treated me badly and was trying to win me back, I wouldn’t be convinced by the grand gesture. If he carved a lifesized model of me in chocolate, I would probably eat my face, but I still wouldn’t trust that he’d changed.

The thing is, it’s the little things that count. Calling when you say you will. Listening properly. Offering to do stuff like make a cup of tea, or a meal. Making arrangements and sticking to them. Prioritising time together without making her responsible for your happiness. Fixing whatever it was that broke the trust. It doesn’t necessarily make a very good Youtube video but it is the kind of thing that would earn back trust.

Anyway. Fast forward to a couple of days ago. Both Hank on vlogbrothers and tyrannasauruslex posted videos about consent. I thought there must be a connection. Hank wrote in the video description that there were some stories about online creators having manipulative and possibly abusive relationships with their fans. But there were no links to further information, and I didn’t know how to find it. I googled “youtube community” but only came up with Natalie Tran [7].

I don’t use Tumblr. I don’t understand it in the way that most old people don’t understand Facebook. And like many of those old people, I get by fine without Tumblr. I use Twitter a bit more, but my feed contains mostly writing and publishing peeps rather than Youtubers.

This means that whole empires can rise and fall, and I only notice when someone posts a video about it, which is almost always after the fact. Even if it’s only a few days after, I’m already behind the 8-ball [8]. This kind of thing happens like lightning. Except that unlike lightning, which flashes and is gone, people don’t forget it. The Internet Never Forgets.

Eventually I commented on tyrannasauruslex’s next video, in which she made a veiled reference to what was going on. I asked someone to tell me what happened. Someone replied with a link to one of those round-up posts, telling the story in a series of links. At this stage it was way past my bedtime (ha) and I was in bed, squinting at my phone, following all these links, feeling a sense of mounting disgust, coupled with that watching-a-trainwreck thing [9] where it’s horrible, you don’t want to know, but you just. Can’t. Look. Away.

A few male Youtubers were called out, but the only one I follow was Alex Day, so I was mostly interested in what people were saying about him. I finally put down my phone and attempted to sleep, but yesterday, when I had some unexpected time at work, I went back to the roundup post and read some more of the links. I hadn’t wanted to believe it about him, but in the clear light of day I started to become convinced.

I just want to point out here that I am not in a position to judge. It is of no relevance to Alex Day what I think about him. I am telling a story about my relationship to the people I follow online, not about casting judgment on them.

Having said that, of course I still have my opinion. And from what I can glean, including from what he himself has written, he has been abusive and immoral.

I had never heard of any of the women who came forward with their stories, except for one. Although I empathised with them as fellow women and survivors of abuse, the relevance of the story to me was how someone who I had enjoyed following, whose videos I looked forward to, whose card game I loved, had turned out to be an abuser.

Then I found out that he had cheated on Carrie Hope Fletcher.

And that’s when I got really upset.

Again, this whole fandom/shipping thing is so uncomfortable. Why did I care more about a woman who had been cheated on than several who had been abused?

We relate more to those we feel closer to. Ten thousand people die in a war on the news and we blink. Our sister gets dumped and we want to fly across the world to castrate the man who thought he could do that to her.

All yesterday I felt sick from these revelations. There was no-one I could tell. Where would I start? “People on the internet are being abusive”? “A guy on Youtube cheated on a girl on Youtube”? “My OTP is a lie”? [10].

People probably wouldn’t understand A) What is a vlog? and B) Why I care?

But I do care. I love Sopio. And before this year I thought Alex Day’s videos were alright, but since he’s started this new style of ‘honest vlogging’ I’ve looked forward to the ten-minute missives.

So I called my sister after work and cried to her. She is an interneter. She understood.

I had to get off the phone though, because I was expecting guests. A couple of women came over, and we talked about our work and our lives while eating an afternoon tea feast. It consisted of specially imported from Gove chocolate, an $8 punnet of blueberries, and olive dip with vitawheats. Delicious. I brought out my wool haul that had just arrived in the post, and one of the women’s sons, entertained himself by chasing balls of wool around.

After they left, I didn’t feel sick anymore. Because even though the internet is real, and so are the people on it, I have a real life outside of the internet as well. I guess Sally was right. What I really needed was to have a cup of tea with friends.

 

 

1. At first I thought they were the same person – I think it’s the fringe. Now I can’t believe I thought that, because they look so different.

2. Now that my downloads have a price, though, I probably only watch 20% of the videos that come up.

3. And I’m only a novice in that field!

4. Not like she was my remote assigned chauffeur. Just the person who was driving. She preferred to drive.

5. I know vlogs has come to mean everyday style videos, but I’m using the word here in a general sense because it’s shorter than ‘Youtube video’.

6. A reference to how Alex Day was telling stories about things that had stressed him out the most using pie chart language.

7. Who is awesome, by the way.

8. I am avoiding clichés, but I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase this. Even worse is that I don’t even understand what this cliché is about. Is it a pool reference?

9. So much for avoiding clichés.

10. On second thoughts, it definitely wouldn’t do to lead with that last one.

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