The beauty of the YouTube video essay

A meta genre of the YouTube community, video essays came from criticism of the platform

Tiny Meat Gang, a podcast, came from the success of the duo’s video essays.

Tiny Meat Gang, a podcast, came from the success of the duo’s video essays.

Adam Coil, Contributing Writer

At the depths of my memory, I remember a drastically different YouTube. An awkward era of Youtube, where the site played out more like America’s Funniest Home Videos, rather than a place where individuals created diverse, compelling content.

In the beginning, YouTube was defined by its most popular videos, “The Duck Song”, “Charlie Bit My Finger”, “Annoying Orange” and “Gangnam Style”, to name a few. As the app matured, it became a lucrative profession for many, and weekly or daily uploads became a commonplace practice amongst the top personalities. YouTube became increasingly inclusive, as there was content for nearly everyone to interact with — spurring the engagement of various communities.

Around 2015 or 2016, YouTube entered its dark age. Inspired by the success of the FaZe House, many YouTubers started to form large groups to reach new audiences and create increasingly extravagant content. These groups put forth brainless, mediocre content depicting exorbitant wealth and manufactured beef that captivated the hearts and minds of adolescents everywhere.

As the quality of videos continued to decline, there became an increasing need to criticize and make fun of said videos — giving birth to new content: the reaction/commentary genre. This is where comedians such as Cody Ko and Noel Miller come into play — a counterreaction to this devolution of creativity.

YouTube became hyper self-aware, during this time, and content concerning other YouTubers or YouTube videos frequented the explore page. This phenomenon helped bring about the modern video essay. In these videos, information and entertainment are thrown at us in such a rapid and unrelenting manner it is difficult to fully digest anything. In the era of streaming, the next movie or television series is only a click away. Why give that movie you just watched a second thought when you could be watching the new Outer Banks season right now?

Video essays and explanatory journalism are so essential when there are so many stimuli and so little time to absorb them. Granted, just because someone says something on the internet, does not necessarily mean it is true, but seeing how other people analyze art, politics and culture can help you be intelligent and vigilant as a consumer, too.

Channels such as The Nerdwriter, Shiny Reviews and Cinema Junkies have helped me interpret film and television, while channels such as Solar Sands and Art History with Travis Lee Clark have made it easier for me to appreciate and connect with paintings, sculptures and physical art. There are great YouTubers who teach about the intersection of culture, race, gender, history and expression, as well, like Amanda Maryanna, Madisyn Brown and Mina Lee. These content creators generate fantastic resources that educate individuals on the forces that dictate daily life in the 21st century. Becoming familiar with the perspectives of those who do not necessarily hold the same worldview as you is a crucial practice.

Video essays do not always have to be serious, either. Drew Gooden and Kurtis Conner make hilarious, witty critiques of everything from old movies and TV shows, to consumer culture and misogyny in America.

For those who are interested in refining their outlook on the world around them, there will always be a video essay to shed light on and bring clarity to the aspects of life that are difficult to navigate on one’s own. In this era of overstimulation and mass media, it can be helpful to slow down and make sure that what you are consuming is of any value to you.

It is impossible to be an expert on everything, so don’t be afraid to let people challenge your preconceived notions and expand your horizons.