YouTube is often celebrated as a creative platform where there’s something for everyone: wacky vlogs, music videos, and Attractive White People Doing Things; but what happens when you’re a creator who can’t find anything to watch?
Jack Howard returned to his personal channel this week to open up about his recent dissatisfaction with YouTube; particularly the fact that he can’t get invested in some of the most successful content on the site.
“I am not interested in, or stimulated by, any of the stuff that’s deemed ‘popular’ these days,” admits Jack. “It doesn’t interest me at all, I feel very very out of the loop”.
But before you dismiss this statement as another veteran YouTuber pining for the old days, it’s quite the opposite. Jack is fully aware of the “adapt or die” ethos that comes with such a fast-moving community and industry; but like many other before him, doesn’t necessarily feel prepared for it.
“Because I don’t like the content that’s on here, does that mean the content I make isn’t for YouTube anymore?” he ponders. “Does that mean that what I make isn’t… ‘good’?”
“It can be a little disheartening at times…[to] put a lot of effort into sketch comedy, or short films… to see something that I know can be done in an afternoon, if less than that, succeed so highly”.
As we all know, Jack isn’t the first YouTuber to have a creative crisis like this. Nowadays, it seems as though every couple of weeks, somebody voices their concerns with the direction YouTube is headed – with the most simple, unchallenging content taking the lion’s share of viewer retention, promotion and even press coverage, leaving the creative experiments and passion projects in the dust.
But despite this mindset, Jack still does a tremendous job of trying to be critical of the nature of YouTube’s most loved content, without treading on any toes; which, after recent events this week, has proven a tricky conversation to have. A handful of members of the UK YouTube community have recently been up in arms, after critics of certain more popular YouTubers sparked rabid cries of “jealousy” and “spreading negativity” in retaliation. And when people react so defensively to any legitimate criticism from their peers, it’s hard to be open about your own creative struggles when they tie in so tightly to this issue.
What makes YouTube different from a lot of other creative platforms is that for the most part, a creator’s content is steeped within their identity and personality; some of the most popular lifestyle vloggers, beauty gurus and would-be authors’ entire brand relies on their life choices and existence as a person. All of this means that, on a somewhat subconscious level, the success (or failure) of a YouTuber can often have a much bigger impact on one’s self-worth. Which is why we so frequently see YouTubers have existential crises when the success of their creative endeavours only pales in comparison to the mainstream and/or the banal.
Jack references some creators he loved in the past, such as BriTANick and GoodNeighbourStuff; the latter of whom have since moved on to exciting new endeavours such as writing for Saturday Night Live.
“These people go on to do other things off of YouTube,” Jack points out, “and maybe there’s not new people like that because they can see that the platform’s not for them.”
This observation sparks a big question for those of us who do struggle creatively with YouTube: is that the answer? To find our validation elsewhere? To leave YouTube to its easily-accessible content train, and pursue fulfilment in a different platform?
For all its flaws, the safety blanket that is YouTube’s built-in community, industry and history make it feel very, very hard to let go of. But maybe for some of us, this is the problem we can’t face head-on: that while we feel safe in our home, we’re being slowly smothered.