Why are all the Youtube stars from LA?

September 2, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

Youtube was supposed to be one of Web 2.0’s glorious havens of user-generated original content. In a world (in 2005) when everything worthwhile was already online and fully consumed, Youtube was supposed to provide us with a new outlet to both create and consume.  I know it is hard to recall Youtube’s original intent as a creative landscape, but keep in mind that the site’s slogan was and is “Broadcast Yourself”.

Most of us don’t broadcast ourselves, or watch broadcasts of other selves. The last time I fired up Youtube, I was looking for a free way to stream James and the Giant Peach.  Any cute skits or beautiful shorts I discovered thereafter were barely bonuses; they were just tasty little incidentals to be quickly forgotten. Most people go to Youtube to view unoriginal creations- movie, TV and music clips or mashups thereof.

Youtube’s most viewed videos of all time are music videos like “7 Things” by Miley Cyrus and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”. My little sister uses Youtube as a combination DVR-Itunes-Pandora player.  Nothing original seeps in unless I send it to her myself- and then it’s usually just a video of a cute animal, not a creative work.

Ah, but Youtube does have some high-caliber producers of original goodies! People who put on elaborate comedy skits with costumes, professional lighting and substantial editing. People who pull in millions of views. People with whom Youtube has formed profitable, advertising-driven partnerships. These people are broadcasting themselves. But they aren’t like “us”. They are all from Hollywood.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you have a favorite Youtube superstar, the odds are large that they are based in the land of bigger, more silvery screens. Allow me to read off a few examples- most of these people are Youtube partners, which means they are paid monthly to produce content.

Shane Dawson. Brittani Louise TaylorMarina “Hot For Words” Orlova (about whom I’ve written before). Celebrity Commentator Michael “What the Buck?” Buckley. Cute With Chris‘ Chris Leavins. Chris “Leave Britney Alone” Crocker. Liam Kyle Sullivan of “Shoes” .  And almost every actor, performer, writer, etc affiliated with each of these Youtube channels.

Many of these Youtubers have IMDB pages, indicating their past or present work as actors. Many came to LA with dreams of real stardom. Chris Leavins was a successful actor in Canada before shooting down south. Liam Sullivan and his fleet of performers all act and keep in close contact with low-level celebrities like Margaret Cho. These people are not like us, thirsty web-consumers who sometimes also produce.

I came upon this disturbing reality while watching a What the Buck? segment particularly laden with Youtube-star cameos. Worried, I tracked down the locations of several of the site’s other stars (most reveal their home base on their Youtube profiles).  Los Angeles over and over. Then I understood: Youtube superstars are not just creative types looking for a massive outlet to better share their art. They are wannabe-actors in worship of fame.

LA culture both attracts and cultivates an unhealthy fixation with fame and celebrity. The city’s industry is based not only in the labors of famous people, but also the labors of the  millions who follow, groom, discover, photograph and trash-talk famous people. The city teaches its inhabitants that celebrity is important, relevant, the center of all things. The city also attracts the fame-minded.  Gen-X and Gen-Yers are particularly fame-minded anyway, suggests this Pew Research poll wherein young adults rank wealth and famousness as their top goals.

Youtube is a perfect place to seek out that fame  because users get to play-pretend they are famous even when they aren’t. The failures still get to prattle on and on about themselves in front of a camera, and they attract enough viewers and commenters to make the process rewarding in a delusional way.  It’s as close to instant gratification as an acting gig can get!

Of course, some  hardworking and talented Youtubers achieve a level of real fame (if making thousands of dollars a month in Carl’s Jr ads and appearing on The O’Reilly Factor count). The ones who make it big provide a support network and a long stream of cameo shout-outs to their fellow creators. The Hollywood-centric-ness of Youtube prevails this way.

I suppose I am thankful for these savvy producers of content- they do entertain me- but the system driving their success I find empty and disappointing.  If all of Youtube’s top creative-types are just aspiring actors and performers, does Youtube have any by-the-people, for-the-people credibility at all? Already most of Youtube’s content is stolen and unoriginal. Will everyday people ever really broadcast themselves? Will we ever stop relying on Hollywood to entertain us?

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Category: advertising, American Culture, Art, Communication, Consumerism, Entertainment, Films and Videos, Internet, Media, Networking, Uncategorized, Videos

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (5)

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Erika-

    Good points. I wonder to what extent LA simply mirrors the "unhealthy fixation with fame and celebrity" that exists in the broader culture? I don't even watch TV, and yet somehow I know more about the lives of some people named John and Kate and their 8 kids than I know about most of my neighbors. I am assaulted at the grocery store with dozens of magazines at the checkout stand, all offering a take on the latest crisis with Jennifer Aniston or Brad and Angelina.

    And so celebrity lifestyles have become common knowledge. I wish issues that really affected people's lives could be granted the same status.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: I don't watch any commercial TV either, and I watch maybe a couple hours of PBS per month. Yet I too know all kinds of things about TV stars–more than I know about many of my neighbors. I know these things because people talk about them on the street, but mostly, because have become a big part of our "news." It didn't used to be this way. We didn't used to have a huge swaths of entertainment posing as news on a regular basis.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    The bulk of YouTube views of mass culture — either pirated or sponsored up-and-comers — pay for those few hundred views of which we occasional uploaders of personal videos can take advantage.

    Videos that I upload to share with local and international friends are fun for our little in-group. I'm not courting stardom; just taking advantage of free storage and bandwidth. The hours it takes me to produce a minute or so of video are good exercise.

    Every once in a while, someone uploads something silly or profound enough to go viral. I don't expect that to happen to any of mine.

    Here's my "channel" if anyone is bored enough to want to see videos that generally garner only about a hundred views.

  3. Erika Price says:

    What are the odds of a video going viral? Slate's Chris Wilson found that 66% of a random sample of new videos only received 50 or fewer views over the course of a month (see here. Only 3% of videos climbed past the 1,000 views mark. Another source (Rubber Republic) says the odds of climbing past 1,500 is "less than" 10%- but it's based on older figures, and submissions are probably going up, if anything. (see here.

    Maybe that's ok? As long as the bulk of those staggering submissions are lovingly homemade, isn't Youtube doing its 'job'? I find it very difficult to separate the concepts of successful creative endeavor and massive popular interest- the internet marries the two so tightly.

    But then look at the virals! "Charlie Bit Me", "What What (in the Butt)", "Sneezing Panda"? Does anyone creative really want to join that particular club of dimwitted entertainment?

  4. Alex says:

    You should edit Michael Buckley – WhatTheBuck – out of your post since he lives on the East Coast.

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