For reasons I can’t quite comprehend, a number of the organizations from which I get my news feel it’s critically important that I stay informed about the antics of a colossal douchebag named Logan Paul, who has apparently attained infamy as a YouTube star. I’m not linking to the stories or his stuff, because life is too damn short. Really, the only reason I’ve typed his name at all is that seeing this come around yet again made me realize that I was right about an old argument, and that it kind of sucks.
Way back in the early days of blogging, there was a lot of chatter about how This Changes Everything, with lots of invocations of how blogs were displacing the mainstream media and completely overturning the existing order of the commentariat. I remember seemingly endless discussions and debates about the changes blogs and other emerging media would bring, almost exclusively focused on the journalism aspect.
My take at the time was that the effect of new media on journalism was actually far less significant than the effect of opening up space for other forms of expression. I thought then– and mostly still do– that the specific form that political punditry would take was less important than the way that free and easy creative tools would change the relationship between people and culture on a wider scale. It was much less significant, to my mind, that the Internet offered everybody a chance to be a political columnist than that it offered everybody a chance to create stuff and share it with a potentially huge audience with minimal effort. The idea that anyone with access to the Internet could create anything they want and share it with the world instantly seemed to me to have a greater transformative potential than anything going on in the political-commentary space.
And, to a large extent, I think that’s been borne out. Some political punditry has sifted to new-media spaces from more traditional outlets, but more than that, the brave new-media world of bloggers mostly got co-opted into fairly traditional pundit channels, drawing regular paychecks for writing vapid opinion pieces in a form that would be more or less recognizable to a journalist from the 1970’s, though he might need his grandkids’ help in getting to the columns in question.
The changes to arts and entertainment, though, seem vastly greater to me. SteelyKid has a cheap Android tablet of her own, and most of her evening media consumption is not from TV networks (though we go through phases where she’ll get fired up about some show for a while), but rather a dizzying web of YouTube channels of young-ish people making videos that I often find nearly incomprehensible. There are whole categories of “shows”– video game play-throughs, “unboxing” shows where people show themselves opening gifts and putting toys together– that I don’t think anybody would’ve conceived of prior to YouTube making it trivial to put video online for a mass audience. And yet, this stuff draws huge audiences of kids.
Of course, the down side of making it easy for anybody with access to the Internet to create and share whatever takes their fancy is that some people are unbelievable douchebags, and unfortunately their douchbaggery makes them more inclined to make and post nonsense. Which leads inevitably to the steady trickle of “YouTube stars” who turn out to be thoroughly awful human beings. Connecting these people to a receptive audience might be considered transformative, but not in a good way. Which is why I say it sucks that I was right about this aspect of new media…
(That said, I don’t think the fraction of YouTube stars who are walking piles of hot garbage is any higher than the fraction of celebrities created through more traditional movie-TV-and-music channels who turn out to be hot garbage. It’s just that the space of potential YouTube stars is much bigger, and the concept remains somewhat novel, so the absolute number of them who get news coverage for milkshake-ducking themselves is large.)