Spilling the tea on YouTube’s culture of extremes

Spilling the tea on YouTube’s culture of extremes

If you’re not neck-deep in YouTube drama, then you might not have heard of Shane Dawson’s new series of investigative documentaries that have become the channel’s most hyped video series to date.

The docuseries, which earlier in the year unpacked the disastrous events of TanaCon and then delved into the drama of YouTube beauty guru and multi-millionaire Jeffree Star, is over-the-top, theatrical and plays out like the kind of true crime shows that have been fascinating viewers ever since Netflix’s Making a Murderer.

Racking up an incredible 146 million views in its first two miniseries, the third instalment of the addictive video series explores the mind of YouTuber Jake Paul – with a chance to cash in on one of the most controversial creators on the platform.

Dawson, a prolific YouTuber who’s gone from a lesser-known comedy creator to a multimedia tour-de-force, dives into the secret lives of people who’ve built their careers out of sharing every single aspect of their lives with viewers. In doing so, he has seemingly hit on a subject that gives viewers a new perspective on their favourite influencers and leads the way in an explosive new genre of content for the channel.

What makes a YouTuber?

Over the past few years YouTube stars have gone from strength-to-strength, cementing a new version of celebrity culture where fans get an insight into the lives of their heroes like never before. With daily vlogs, hourly Instagram updates and minute-by-minute livestreams, YouTubers open their doors to give fans a seemingly ‘authentic’ insight into their daily lives, drastically changing the relationship between fans and their idols. This addictive, first-person perspective locks viewers in on a life that looks like reality but is often a carefully scripted and edited video of their online personas.

The biggest creators live their entire lives online, engaging with fans and monetising every point of their day. Everything is about quick-fire engagement with their audience to stay relevant. The more information fans get from this one-sided relationship, the more they begin to believe they know the object of their obsession. The nature of social media, however, plays out like the best and worst parts of reality TV. Yes, they’re real people, but every moment is designed to spin a narrative, doing anything they can to be successful.

A culture of extremes

YouTube culture, whether we like it or not, is based on controversy, drama and sensationalism, where the platform’s most relevant creators are roasting other YouTubers, extreme pranking and starting beef all for the sake of higher viewing figures. Forget double rainbows and cats flying through space. YouTube lives for the drama.

It’s easy to think of YouTube as an ecosystem where only the ruthless seem to survive as they compete for views. Vloggers and influencers spend their entire days with cameras trained on their every move, taking more and more risks to get the attention of their viewers and go viral. YouTube’s algorithms seem to reward this extreme culture too – and even they’re aware it’s becoming a problem.

Robert Kyncl, Chief Business Officer at YouTube, discussed this issue earlier in the year with YouTuber Casey Neistat.

“We’re thinking very deeply — and every single day — on how do we create the right incentives and disincentives for creators to do the right thing on YouTube,” Kyncl said. “That means a lot of different things. That means do the right thing for advertisers, do the right thing for their users, for the platform organically, and not chase sensationalism; not chase views for the sake of views, and not chase drama for the sake of views — and not use drama at our expense for the sake of views.”

‘The Paul problem’

This extreme behaviour is something Dawson seems set on examining, which comes to a head with his latest investigations into claims of bullying, abuse and victimisation in his 8-episode series into ‘The Mind of Jake Paul’.

The first episode asks the question whether Paul is in fact a sociopath, touching on a topic that’s far more widespread than one man’s behaviour. Dawson wants to find out why a young crop of creators are taking part in dangerous activities and spilling the tea on a phenomenon that I like to call: ‘the Paul problem.’

Dawson has spearheaded an entirely new kind of video on YouTube that makes it feel exciting all over again, but also brings YouTube’s sensationalist culture to light to question how far creators will go for those all-important views. Even if we understand what makes this behaviour so prevalent on the channel (sociopathy or not) there’s not really a solution. Dawson’s fixation with one man’s individual story may miss getting to the heart of YouTube’s real issue – which is much darker than the just mind of Jake Paul.

As this series unfolds it will be interesting to see where it takes us and what conclusions will be made. Will Dawson continue down the route of humanising and sympathising with Jake Paul like he did with Tana Mongeau and Jeffree Star? Will he expose the toxic behaviour of Paul and his YouTube squad? Or will his series just feed into the sensationalism around YouTube’s culture of extremes to make it even more prolific than ever?



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