Erik Rutherford

Me, The Vlogger, & I

The Why-I-Make-Videos Confessional is an illuminating genre in the ever-expanding vlogosphere. It seems every dedicated video blogger must eventually perform this painful rite of passage before returning—chastened—to business as usual (though it sometimes marks the end of a vlogging career).

While these tender defenses of vlogging can be revealing, they can also betray a shallow self-awareness. “I don’t make videos for viewers or subscribers or comments, I make videos for me. If you don’t like it, too bad.” Huh?

Most will readily concede they seek an audience, but the reasons offered are not always terrifically illuminating. We are told, “vlogging is fun,” that it provides a “creative outlet,” and that it’s a chance “to share views.” You could say the same about dancing, cooking, or sounding off at a party.

At least there is this effort from Terroja Kinkaid, a young fellow who names his online persona “the Amazing Atheist.” His Why-I-Make-Videos video is astute and entertaining. You sense he is genuinely uneasy about the artifice vlogging demands of him, and he expresses nicely the anxieties that underlie the whole enterprise.

TheAmazingAtheist, “Why I Make Videos” (2009)

TJ dismisses his previously held belief—though showing wobbly conviction—that he puts up videos simply to “voice his thoughts” and gain approval among YouTubers. Instead, he says: “I’m searching for who the fuck I am.” He tells us that by disclosing himself to the invisible audience beyond the camera lens, he will “peel away the layers” until he has access to his true, authentic self.

Well, why not? Surfaces are essences, the camera doesn’t lie, blah, blah.

But then almost immediately, TJ admits that the whole vlogging-as-path-to-self-knowledge thing hasn’t really been working. If anything, it has led him further away from the elusive Self he seeks. Try as he might to show perfect candor, to allow contradictions in his personality (like a real person), and to refuse the hypocrisy of a focused narrative, he always finds himself in yet another posture, behind another mask—just one more version of “the Amazing Atheist.”

And so the question TJ has to confront is no longer: Why do I expose myself in videos? It is the altogether more enigmatic question: Why can I not expose myself in videos? He succeeds in sharing his most intimate thoughts, his most visceral passions and fears, only to find that he has fed parasitically upon these thoughts and passions to simulate them for the camera. Which is why he can only put “dings in the armor.” The “real me” is once again absent from the consumable caricature of his video blogs.

“Is it futile?” he asks. What’s the point if vlogging is no more meaningful than duty to a compulsion, or the enactment of another communal subjectivity?

Significantly, it’s at this point TJ slips into platitudes about “our world” and our uniqueness as individuals. He declaims speciously: “There is nothing that can make you any less of an individual.”

The reality is that there are all too many things that can dilute our individuality, and despite appearances, vlogging may be one of them. However various the backgrounds and approaches of vloggers, there is a strange homogenization of identity among them, largely, I think, because they are faced with the same narrow range of predicaments, all of which tend to encourage feelings of shame, paranoia, frustration, and disproportionate gratitude.

Vloggers might be better off setting their sights on humbler summits than self-knowledge. Minor celebrity will have to do, but then their principal concern is once again the numbers.

For advertisers, falling numbers mean falling profits. For vloggers, falling numbers mean falling popularity. And the “you” out there—the reified audience, the “fan base”—is as fickle, unforgiving, impatient, and voracious as the cruelest kids in high school.

Which is why even the most popular vloggers eventually announce their departure, not without a little feeling and a little reproach—”I call and you don’t answer.”

sxephil, “Meh, Goodbye” (June, 2008)

Of course, vloggers like sxephil are soon busy posting again, trying to recapture the audience that’s moved on with little more than a shrug.

In a short video appendix, TJ sends best wishes to a fellow vlogger who is giving up the monologuing to make pornos. Any fans who feel concerned by the earnest introspection they have just witnessed are reassured. Nothing to worry about. The Amazing Atheist is back!

– Erik Rutherford

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Erik Rutherford is the creator and editor of Ryeberg and a sometimes contributor. He's written for radio, newspapers, magazines, and the big screen. More about him here.