How Youtube Has Changed The Way We Gossip

by thethreepennyguignol

I’ve written a lot about Youtube before. As one of the primo video streaming platforms on the planet, it’s an almost unavoidable part of popular culture. And, for my money, it’s been changing the way we interact with major facets of the media – from Petscops’ horror to Shane Dawson’s, uh, we’ll call them documentaries, Youtube is hacking its way through the undergrowth of the curious, still relatively new place it holds in pop culture.

And this weekend, Youtube and the drama therein has been all but omnipresent if you have been anywhere near the internet. In a plot with finer twists and turns than the final season of Game of Thrones (but really, though), a feud  between Tati Westbrook, OG beauty guru legend, and James Charles, a recent approach to the throne, has gone viral, emerging from its small corner of beauty-guru e-community (a community which I, with my patchy highlighter and unwashed brushes from three years ago, am proudly a part of) into the real world.

The actual details of this feud aren’t something that I’m particularly interested in dredging through again – there have been dozens of thousand-comment megathreads, drama videos, and even news articles from legitimate outlets covering everything that’s happened. But the way that it’s unfolded has really intrigued me, and that’s what I want to take a look at today. the way that Youtube has allowed for this gossip (and, to be clear, there are some very serious allegations being thrown around as part of this) to turn into international news, and what it says about how we connect with modern-day celebrities of internet video fame.

Youtube has, for a long time, been a place for people who purport to be “real” to publish their work on. The lack of a strict overseeing creative control meant that people could just, ostensibly, be themselves. People grew attached to their favourite Youtubers, seeing them as friends, people they might follow through their day-to-day lives for years on end. But we’re seeing now this shift, wherein Youtubers are becoming legitimate celebrities in their own right – James Charles and Tati Westbrook are just a couple of the names who have found enormous real-world success off the back of Youtube careers. While many of them do now work with PR teams and various other behind-the-scenes staff to maintain their image and videos, it’s the notion of this authenticity that often underpins so much of their work and their appeal.

And that focus on authenticity is what encourages this kind of drama to flourish – if these people are our friends, or purport to be, then we as viewers feel more entitled to the vulnerability that comes with revelations like this.

In the era of the Youtuber, gossip has shifted right out from underneath us. We’re hearing this come from the horse’s mouth(s), often in multiple videos, in social media posts and comments. The cultivation of vulnerability and openness with an audience, of a direct connection with their viewership, leaves all of this even more open to interpretation, because we feel like we have an understanding of the people involved. We can read what they really mean, how they really feel, because we know them. Everything is raked over with a fine-toothed comb, every detail and turn of phrase used to analyse further, from every angle.

I think the thing that struck me most about all of this was both how it felt so huge and so small at the same time. Huge, because it seemed like the entire world was talking about it, and yet small because it was unfolding in videos directly from the people involved themselves. James Charles posted a bleary video which appeared to be coming straight from his bed, in which he spent a lengthy amount of time addressing his mother directly.; Westbrook, whose now-legendary Bye Sister video which kicked off this whole affair, was sitting hugging her knees in her beauty room and addressing the audience. There’s an intimacy to this kind of drama, even though it took place in front of literally millions of people and involved commentary from dozens of other Youtube creators in the process. The people involved are communicating with each other, to some extent, but it’s translated through a huge audience of everything from die-hard fans to hate-watchers.

And this is fundamentally how Youtube has changed the way we gossip. By allowing this intimacy with these creators, they make it incredibly easy to invest yourself even as an outsider in a serious way in what is unfolding. This isn’t exclusive to the beauty community, of course – only a few days ago, the Youtube gaming community was shaken by similairly enormous revelations – but the way this has unfolded has been a reminder that Youtube has had an enormous impact on the way these stories circulate. From the major players, watched by millions, to the minor ones sharing theories on Reddit messageboards, the platform has allowed for a new era of unrivalled gossip to spread – everyone’s got an opinion, and everyone has a place to share it. But most of all, everyone’s in on this – or at least, they feel like they are. And that’s all that matters.

I also run the film site No But Listen, where you can find my musings on movies along with writings from my brilliant co-editor. If you liked this article and want to support me, you can do so on Patreon!

(header image via Youtube)