My friend Eric is what you might call a YouTube connoisseur. His playlists of videos are carefully crafted to fit his unique style of humor and individual tastes. The man has a refined palate for videos, and he selects each subscription and favorite’d video like a sommelier chooses a fine wine. My taste has never been quite as refined as Eric’s but I when I need an opinion on what to watch, I go to him.
For years though, I never quite understood the appeal. Of course everyone like YouTube, but I never delved too deep into it. For the most part I used it to watch old scenes from movies and listen to songs that I didn’t want to purchase. I didn’t even have an account until a couple of my high school friends started their channel and asked me to subscribe. It wasn’t until around 2012 that I started to watch YouTube more consistenly and became interested aware of a YouTube community. All of this changed when Eric introduced me to PBS Idea Channel.
PBS Idea Channel, for those of you who don’t know, is a program created by PBS Digital Studios dedicated to plumbing the deeper meaning of popular culture. The host, Mike Rugnetta, introduces an idea every week and explores it at some length to discuss the philosophical ideas inherent in different media. I was drawn to the show because it not only analyzed content that I enjoyed, but also because it introduced me to things that I had never heard of before. For example, I knew nothing about Homestuck or Ulysses by James Joyce before watching the video “Is Homestuck the Ulysses of the Internet?” Someday I hope to finish them both.
Years later Eric still continues my YouTube education, but this was the first time that I found myself anxiously awaiting new uploads from a channel. Moreover, because PBS Idea Channel encourages the viewers to comment to discuss the central idea it was my first opportunity to really engage with other viewers and with the host. It was the first time that I began to think of YouTube as a kind of social media, and although to this day I am hesitant to look at comment sections, this is still how I view it as a platform. I look forward to new videos as I used to look forward to weekly T.V. shows, and each new piece of content is a little treat.
My newfound love for the medium can also be traced back to an excellent YouTuber that I will shamelessly plug: NerdWriter1. Nerdwriter is a former film student, whose name I think is Evan, who produces some of the best video essays I have ever seen. Tackling a broad range of topics he discusses art in all its forms, from poetry to painting, and brings infectious passion to each piece. He takes each topic seriously, and brought me nearly to tears with his video on Superman. Nerdwriter’s content made me begin to seek out video essays as an art form, and made me keenly aware of what I enjoyed about them.
Assuming that you might also be completely be oblivious to YouTube, allow me to explain a bit about the video essay. The host of the video, usually the star of the channel, introduces an idea and explores it to some length. He/She discusses their feelings on the subject, presents their evidence, and finally reaches a conclusion. Video essays come in all shapes and sizes, although video essays on film tend to be very common. The video essay is ultimately what drew me in over the past year, and made me genuinely look forward to opening up YouTube every day to see what might have been added.
As a history major, the most important thing that I learned was how to construct an argument. It seems like a simple task, since we argue so often, but it can be difficult to do well. The formula is simple but many struggle to put together a clear argument: laying out evidence, presenting it in a concise, persuasive format, while building the argument on sound logical principles, and not resorting to emotion. I am by no means a master of arguing, but I enjoy hearings people’s thoughts on issues and I can appreciate when someone is doing it well. For this reason, video essays are incredibly entertaining for me.
In somewhere between five and ten minutes, the host of the video must present the argument and convince his viewer of his/her opinion. It is a unique challenge for the video essayist, and presents specific challenges. He/She must present their opinion and evidence without seeming didactic or condescending, and must sometimes summarize complex subjects in relatively few words. I cannot imagine the amount of work that goes into editing and scripting these essays to make them seem comprehensive but also digestible. Yet in addition to being concise and persuasive, the video essayist must also make the audience feel his/her passion.
I just really wanted to put a picture of Lindybeige in here.
No one wants to watch a video of someone rambling about a topic they don’t particularly care about. To really engage with the speaker we have to feel that they genuinely care about the issue at hand. That is one of the reasons that I love channels like NerdWriter1 or Lindybeige, who bring tremendous energy to every video that they produce. Even if I am not particularly interested in the video I am likely to watch it anyways, just because I want to hear them talk about something they care about. They can help me to discover topics and media that I never would have known about otherwise.
Video essays have drastically changed the way that I consume content on the YouTube, and on the internet in general. Whether they are thought provoking or simply silly, video essays are a chance to peer into someone’s mind and appreciate their thinking on a subject. And although normal essays do roughly the same thing, the level of extra work that must go into the creation of a video essay to make it digestible and entertaining is fascinating to watch. Moreover, the video format allows creators to share their passion with people who might otherwise never think to consider them. In short five-minute chunks, these videos let me step inside another person’s thoughts on a subject and broaden my own perspectives on it.
Thanks again Eric.
Eric’s YouTube Channel: