YouTube Video Essayists – 2018 Fall Final Stories

Ever since the advent of the video hosting platform YouTube in early 2005, numerous different genres of user-generated content have emerged in its wake and proliferated over its almost 15 years of existence. The ‘information age’ of the 21st century to which YouTube belongs has meant that these genres of content are extremely easy to access and, in some cases, easy to produce.

 

Among these genres of content that has flourished in the open marketplace of digital information, the fusing of education and entertainment, or edutainment, has found itself a wellspring of creators with an equally large and boisterous audience to boot. For example, Michael Steven’s channel VSauce, a channel created in 2010 that produces videos on a multitude of topics including science, philosophy, sociology, etc. in an essay-like format, has amassed an audience of over 13 million subscribers in just 8 years. Stevens was able to gain a staggering audience that has provided him with an above-stable income, over one-and-a-half billion video hits, a live tour with Mythbusters’ Adam Savage, and a YouTube Red original series that recently entered its third season. This is one of the most outstanding indicators of the audience that consumes for this “new age” form of edutainment existing on YouTube.

Michael Stevens was an early example of the audience that existed to be both entertained and educated simultaneously, but during his career other facets of this newfound edutainment medium began to spawn. In particular, the genre of the “video essay” has flourished.

What is a video essay exactly? The most common and colloquial definitions tend to define it as a long-form, script-heavy videos that aim to analyze, inform an audience about, or critique a certain topic. Common Sense’s Tanner Higgin puts it as such: video essays are “usually meticulously narrated and edited, juxtaposing video footage, images, audio, and text to make an argument much like a writer would do in a traditional essay.” Video essayists began emerging onto YouTube during the early-mid 2010’s, particularly around 2014 with creators such as Evan Puschak (of Nerdwriter1), Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou (of Every Frame a Painting), and the media corporation Vox pioneering this new brand of heavily-edited, essay-like videos.

It was made apparent almost immediately that an audience was there to consume content of this caliber. For instance, the channel Every Frame a Painting, despite only uploading a total of 28 videos in two years, garnered over one-and-a-half million subscribers and 65 million video views (SocialBlade). Other channels that appeared in this wake of creators, such as Gregory Austin McConnell’s eponymous channel, still have amassed audiences in the hundreds of thousands in the span of only a handful of years. This proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the voracious audience that exists to consume this particular brand of content.

These numbers and statistics, although concrete proof of a consumer, doesn’t speak specifically to the value that these channels bring to this YouTube edutainment genre. Why have these channels, especially those that speak so heavily about pop culture and entertainment, so popular? To understand this, I talked with two video essayists, Houston Coley (of HoustonProductions1) and Alex Hunter (of HiTop Films), to try and ascertain what role video essays play in this information-age medium.

“I create video essays on mainly superhero content right now- comic book movies and films,” describes Alex Hunter, main contributor and producer of the YouTube channel HiTop Films.“What I consider a video essay is just an opinion piece or basically an editorial on said film or movie. I’m a visual storyteller and I use YouTube as the medium to convey what I’m feeling.”

HiTop Films currently sits at 90-thousand subscribers, and has been producing content since 2016, beginning with Hunter’s short, independent films. It wasn’t until 2017 when Hunter began creating more traditional video essays on topics such as the Sam Reimi Spider-Man films, Daredevil, and Logan.

“I think before video essays existed,” Hunter explains,“to learn about film or to learn about popular subjects or to get opinions, you had to read newspapers or you had to go to film school or you had to have someone who knew their sh*t tell you sh*t. But now with video essays, anybody who knows anything about film or has an opinion can broadcast that to the Internet, and I’ve been doing this for a year and we’re almost at a hundred-thousand subscribers now.”

Hunter goes onto explain how fulfilling the ability to express himself and inspire others to do the same through his content is.

“I think the best thing part about the whole thing and about the invention of the the video essay is [edutainment]. I think that’s just so cool that- I would have loved that when I was 14-15. I’m only 19 now, but when I was 14-15 I would have loved to see videos like the ones I’m making now, and that’s why I started to make them because there are Nerdwriter videos and Vsauce and those are incredibly talented, smart, and brilliant people that I could always aspire to be, but I just didn’t see a niche on YouTube for, I don’t know how to describe my content- I guess “‘punk-y’? It has a style to it.”

Houston Coley describes the new niche that video essays fill in similar fashion.

“I think for sure that video essays have changed the game- and the Internet in general- in terms of educating people and learning about new subjects and everything,” he explains.“The interesting thing about the Internet is, of course, that everybody has a voice now that you can click a few buttons and make an account on social media to tweet your thoughts or upload videos about your thoughts on ‘X’. So that is, in many ways, a very good thing because the power is back in the people.”

Coley’s channel, HoustonProductions, began back in 2011 as channel dedicated to reviewing and showcasing Lego toys. However, similar to HiTop Films, Coley made a transition with his channel into the more traditional, long-form video essay format around 2016.

“You could get similar insights from a video essay or a college professor’s speech about why ‘X’ book is amazing or whatever, but a college professor doesn’t have to make things entertaining,” Coley continues. “The thing about video essays is that if you want to be popular on YouTube, you have to have something entertaining. You have to have an entertaining way of conveying information.” In short, Coley describes the balance between an entertaining presentation and legitimate information to be the key element to the archetypal video essay.

This balance is one that is almost unique to the video essay genre, and signifies it’s importance on our digital entertainment landscape. The fusion of appealing visuals and presentations fused with both objective and subjective analysis of a certain topic is something that’s almost an extension of creators like Roger Ebert, who stood out in the 80’s and 90’s by being a film critic that made his opinions entertaining to consume. The delicate edutainment attributes of the video essay are just as invaluable now as they were then, especially with their new technological and creative capabilities.

Go and watch a video essay- learning is best when it’s fun.


VSauce’s YouTube Channel Statistics

Every Frame a Painting’s YouTube Channel Statistics

Austin McConnell’s YouTube Channel Statistics

HiTop Films’ YouTube Channel Statistics

HoustonProductions1 YouTube Channel Statistics

The Effect of the Internet and Social Media on the Young Electorate


“Young people are the future” is a phrase you see touted by journalists, researchers, political pundits, and the general populous. The youth and young adult population of our country is one to have much effect on a variety of sociopolitical factors, such as the economy, the spread of information, and especially our political landscape. As older generations come to pass, more of the younger population become activated voters ready to participate on the political battlefield and this, combined with their generally fiery and somewhat indiscriminate nature make them a surprisingly powerful section of the American electorate.

 

Haphazard as they may seem, young people are more connected than they ever have been. The advent of social media within the last decade has catapulted the political process into an entirely new realm, as the speed at which information travels has become lightning fast where it was once comparatively slow. Social change can happen instantly, people can have their emotions and ideologies changed at the drop of a hat, and political careers can be built and destroyed overnight. Social media’s easy-access and user-driven format has created a unique environment wherein a user has the power to access and spread whatever information they like as well as communicate and discuss with other users on the information that they both consume. As the University of Arkansas summarizes: “Social media has helped increase communication and information travel internationally and across borders (All Too Easy: Spreading Information Through Social Media).”

 

With information being so easy to access and share, the question must be asked: are young people- the primary users of social media and the internet- more inclined to participate in politics because of how easily they can learn about it? Common sense would dictate that it is; if individuals are able to consume information and political knowledge in a matter of minutes, there’s less reason than ever that they should refuse to participate in our country’s politics. Little excuse remains in terms of “ignorance” on the part of the young electorate if you can access your politician’s policies and history with a few clicks. Not only that, but young people can interact with views opposing their own and have the ability to compare and contrast their previously held beliefs with their peers. On paper, it seems both knowledge and power are handed to young people on a silver plate…but some ideas on paper don’t leave the page.

 

A large problem with young voters, one that has existed for a long time now, is something called “political disaffection”. An article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Masahiro Yamamoto and Matthew J Kushin (More Harm Than Good? Online Media use and political Disaffection Among College Students in the 2008 Election) defines political disaffection as “negative dispositions towards politics.” The article continues describe that cynicism, apathy, and skepticism all contribute towards the disaffection of young voters towards politics. Cynicism is represented by young citizens’ mistrust in the political system, apathy by the view of politics as “irrelevant” towards them, and skepticism by the multiple ways they can deep-dive into numerous different facets of a topic or current issue and learn more information about it than ever. Is there a string that connects all these unfortunate truths? You guessed it- social media and the internet.

 

Constantly stories and leaks of political corruption and cantankerous politicians flood our virtual airways on an almost daily basis, providing constant example that our political system is flawed and its flaws are only exacerbated by its frequency of failing. This is sure to breed cynicism in the minds of the developing youth, is it not? Cynicism itself leads to apathy; if our political system is corrupt and screwed up, what is the meager participation of a single young voter going to do to fix that? Finally, the mistrust of the political establishment is bound to create skepticism. A healthy skepticism is desirable for any voter but a deep-seated mistrust of the powers that be is arguably not. It’s not a stretch to think that a political system is more inclined to have a more accepting electorate than one that regards it with an air of suspicion and disbelief at every turn, especially when all of your actions can be subjected to being picked apart to the most minute of details.

 

This has all been framed within a lens of the internet being a harmful force towards the young populous’ desire to participate in politics. While it’s true many of us young people can feel disenfranchised by a system that we believe not to care about us, some of us find ourselves to be more inclined to participate in politics due to the massive amount of knowledge and information at our disposal. Researcher at the Appalachian State University Department of Communication Hongwei Yang conducted a study following the 2012 presidential election to see social media’s psychological and behavioral effects of young voters’ political participation. In his article, Social Media Use and Online Political Participation Among College Students During the US Election 2012, a total of 4,556 US college students were surveyed following the presidential election. The survey found that things like Facebook group participation, “political self-efficacy”, and “online social capital” were all positive predictors of political participation. They found that the “general” use of Facebook and Twitter had a positive effect on student political participation, however “extensive” use of these social media platforms had a negative effect. This could be a further indicator of social media’s ability to breed political disaffection, but the point is the general usage of these platforms encouraged more students to be politically active. Circling back to the JCMC article, it’s even described that political disaffection can create a unique outcome wherein a voter becomes more motivated to become involved, and of course this is due to information they’ve consumed via the internet.

 

So, what exactly is the answer to the internet’s effect on youth political participation? Like most things it can be boiled down to being predicated on a case-by-case basis- every young person behaves differently, after all. What nobody can disagree with is that young people are more versed than ever, and can store, process and even manipulate the vast swaths of information given to them through digital tubes. With this ability they can either be motivated to make their own impacts on the political landscape, or they can develop a negative disposition and mistrust towards it. History and progress moves at the speed of light in the 21st century, and the growing knowledge of the youth is something that is bound to create an even more unpredictable environment heeded by each of their uniquely-structured ideologies.


 

SUNY Oswego: Disintegration / Restoration

SUNY Oswego has existed since 1861, making the university 157 years old. Like with any location that’s existed for such a long time, constant renovation is employed to restore chunks of the school gnawed out by time or the forests of moss and vines growing on the sides of the decades-upon-decades-old buildings. Oswego is akin to an old monument- a monument to education – that has aged and been weathered gracefully. Yet those who care for it don’t allow it to fall into disarray, and are committed to keeping it a functioning organization to mold the minds of children.

Thatcher Dickason

 

Name: Thatcher Dickason

Year: Freshman

Major: Journalism

Hometown: Williamson, NY

Thatcher is a freshman currently attending SUNY Oswego with a major in journalism. Since an early age, he has had a penchant for both writing and music, which culminated in the creation of The Frying Pan, a webzine he created in 2015. Thatcher intends to pursue a career in music-related journalism, and possibly in audio engineering/design.