During Term three I have been discussing popular culture and its impacts on society over the last century with my yr 11 Modern History class. In particular we have been looking at the creation of the teenager and how this group has developed over time and in different contexts. In talking about this in the staff room a friend passed on a survey she had created using the popular website ‘Survey Monkey’ that she had used with her Year 9 students. I was so pleased with the information that I gained from this survey. Not only did it give me a relevant and real world insight into understanding the teenagers I teach, it provided the students also with a valuable understanding of the range and effects of popular culture on teenagers such as themselves – not just young people in books or on web sites in other places and other times.
Despite all the benefits for the students analysing and interpreting the data, what I found most intriguing was a frequent referral to the term “You Tuber”. Unfortunately, as the survey was anonymous I was unable to interrogate students as to their exact meaning of the term; therefore, I contacted my ‘digital native’ nephew to get the low down on this term that was so common but so unfamiliar.
My understanding of U-Tube relates to me using it as a supporting tool to show videos in class. Some times in the depth of my memory I remember having heard a topic, an interview or having seen something on … and if typed into the search engine inevitably something will appear – everything from BBC dramas and science shows to procedural clips on wall papering and boiling eggs there is no doubt a clip to demonstrate or a video to show you how to do it. But, it would appear that the You Tuber craze is anything but watching reruns of David Attenborough documentaries – it is quite different!
Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has had a profound impact on popular culture. The up loading of clips and media has had a massive impact on the development of social media and its connectivity and collaboration with people around the world. U-Tube clips now have the potential to go viral in a matter of minutes as friends forward and upload their latest finds from cranky cats to cupcakes and crashes let alone scandalous material. The online tracking firm Tubular Labs reported this time last year that there were now nearly 20,000 You Tube channels with over a 100,000 subscribers. Of these, nearly 2000 had more than a million signed up. Media sharing is now common place as digital formats over take print and sensationalism seems all important.
Brown (2012) discusses the participatory nature of popular culture online and highlights the complex relationship between the internet and U-tube and media outlets. This is clearly highlighted with Channel 9’s Today Show having a segment on trending clips. While this is all very interesting what is often not known and understood by unsuspecting viewers is that there are often commercial benefits to the creators of the U-Tube sites who end up this lots of freebies and products due to placements in trending clips and promotions.
Felix Kjellberg or PewDiePie as he is known in 2013 earned over $4 million from game play videos – this is some pretty serious cash (Smith 2014). As a U-Tubers goes, he is royalty personified, with more than 42 million subscribers in 2015. The popularity of this YouTuber appears to be his ability to build a rapport and familiarity with his viewing audience without getting tied up in technical jargon. While UK vlogging superstar Zoella, has now finally cracked to 10m subscribers with her girl-next-door status is a key part of her appeal to fans.
So I pose this question – What does this all this mean for our students and our interactions with them? Well for one, I believe that U-Tubing provides an innovative low cost, low effort approach to establishing a connection with Generation Z. The fact that this group of teens and young people generally are so absorbed by this medium highlights our need as educators to embrace this genre and as an instrument for both learning and assessing.
Chau (2010, p73) argues that strongly about the relevance of this medium when he says,
“The ever-growing youth subscription to YouTube is evidence of the pertinence and relevance of this kind of medium in their lives. Youth are attracted to YouTube because the barriers for them to participate are low, their creation is easily circulated and shared…and they feel socially connected to peers within the community.”
It would appear that in this reality and vanity driven society people are trying to find a fast track to fame and fortune. With a pedigree of internet fortunes being made by the owner and designers of the big tech companies in addition to social media sites like Facebook, people still believe that they can make their first million or even billion sprooking their wares to the masses. Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that many of these self-made millionaires did not set out with a business model to conquer the world, it happened often through passion for a topic or issue and a consistent profile to build up a base of followers and in time, endorsements and contracts.
The allure of U-Tube is that it offers the self-absorbed, opportunities for self-promotion and voyeurism. This view is supported by Brown (2012) who defines the modern U-Tuber as a “vaudeville variety act”. He goes even further arguing that this medium is one where,
“digital buskers perform for spare change on the busiest corner of the Internet; where millions of pennies rapidly add up to thousands of dollars. To get noticed, they must be loud and tacky. Nobody would confuse what they do with art’ (Brown, 2012, p. 34).
However, Stuart Dredge (2016) from the Australian edition of the Guardian believes that the rise of the U-Tuber within the millennial generation is due to their fixation with their smartphones. Consequently, this group are more likely to watch short videos online rather than sitting down to watch traditional television programs and the influence of the presenters exponentially increases when they combine show biz credentials with entertainment.
Dredge (2016) quotes directly from survey results obtained from the entertainment industry survey carried out by Variety in 2014 and states:
“YouTubers were judged to be more engaging, extraordinary and relatable than mainstream stars, who were rated as being smarter and more reliable. In terms of sex appeal, the two types of celebs finished just about even,”
The popularity, success and appeal of watching clips and subscribing appears to lie in the apparent authentic and intimate approach to the posts uploaded. The more candid, humorous and real the presentation the closer the affection and commitment to follow.
Now with my head a little bit more around the topic, I feel I can now re-enter the classroom and discuss the U-Tube revolution and its impact on the teens within. I am curious to discover whether my class in down town BrisVegas shares the same sentiment as teens in the Variety survey. Either way I will no longer be looking at U-Tube clips in the same way again – Perhaps I should go online? Flip my classroom and create my first million?
Main featured image: http://youtuberslifeinfo.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/perxitaa-canaljpg.html
Brown, J. (2012). Meet the YouTubers. Toronto: Toronto Life Publishing Company.
Chau, C. (2010). YouTube as a participatory culture. New Directions for Youth Development, 2010(128), 65-74. doi:10.1002/yd.376
Dredge, S., (2016). Why are U-Tube stars so popular? Guardian On line, Australian edition. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/03/why-youtube-stars-popular-zoella
Smith, A. (2014). The World’s Most Popular YouTuber Makes $US4 Million A Year. Business Insider Australia, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com.au/popular-youtuber-4-million-year-2014-6