If somebody – inevitably over 40 – asked me to explain YouTube, I would instead tell them why I decided to start a YouTube channel.
That decision, immediate and immutable, to answer with a personal anecdote instead of some fully reasoned Theory of Content, I think, is central to what such a Theory would ultimately be.
Welcome to that YouTube channel, by the way, all shiny and new. It’s called The Week I Review, and it is – of course – a review show. But it’s a not a typical review show, focused on one medium or technology. Instead, its reach is broad, driven solely by what I, Alec Kubas-Meyer – nice to meet you, find interesting. Unfortunately for any chance I might have had to find a consistent audience, that’s a pretty wide net.
I have some experience with this, having written about video games and tech for publications like The Daily Beast and Destructoid as well as film for Filmmaker Magazine(‘s website), Indiewire, and Flixist. This thing I’m doing right now I cut my teeth on briefly for the latter a few years back.
I have also directed short films ranging from drama to martial arts psychodrama – with more in the works – and two one-man shows that had a collective audience of thirteen – think I’m done with those. Oh, there was the time I was writing rap songs that wouldn’t have gone anywhere but had novelty long since passed on and honestly it would just make me seem more wanna be than I gotta be considering, well, just look at me, so it’s something I turned my back on.
And now I’m on YouTube. Because it’s the next step.
The inevitable result of our collective obsession with social media is a shift towards platforms – YouTube, Twitch, Instagram – that let us literally scream into the void. On YouTube, more than any other, there is an expectation that the scream be packaged, auto-tuned.
Life, sponsored by Adobe Premiere Pro.
From July 2014 through the end of 2017, I used an app called 1 Second Everyday. The TED talk given by its creator, which I will link in the description below, convinced me to put down $1 and capture a moment from each day for three and a half years. Its two goals:
- Remind you of the life you have lived
- Remind you to go live a life
The first one is obvious. The second, important. When you have to record a second of your life every single day, knowing that you will look back on – and subsequently share – it, you feel a compulsion to something. You don’t want that girl who broke your heart in middle school to think your life is less interesting than hers, do you? So you go to a concert, a party, another country, anything to give your life… meaning? I dunno. But the secret is that you only need to be there for one second; once the footage is on your phone, you may as well have been there all night.
It becomes a habit, and there is some comfort in that habit, but it nags at you any time you think about just being lazy: Hey, Alec, this isn’t fun. You don’t look cool and interesting and unique.
That pressure to perform the daily ritual of Something Interesting eventually wore me down. I’m grateful for the experiences that the app forced me to have, though, and for someone who needs some motivation to get up and do, I recommend it. (Four-point-seven-five out of five.)
This channel will not feature daily videos, nor is it intended to be a complete catalogue of my life’s events. But it follows the same impulse. Each Monday, I will review the most interesting thing I did, saw, played, or otherwise experienced in the previous seven days. Maybe it’s new. Maybe it isn’t. But it will be the thing on my mind that week.
“Interesting,” of course, does not necessarily mean “good.” Some things are interesting precisely because they aren’t good – how a thing fails is often more interesting than how it succeeds, or so says the cynic in me.
A friend who heard the pitch asked if the reviews were going to be serious or if it was some kind of ironic meta-joke. And: they will be serious insofar as I will seriously be approaching each week with a critical eye and scoring things on an alarmingly precise 100-point scale. But I’m a deeply sarcastic person, so, ya know, that’ll be there too.
Much – if not most – of the time, the videos will be a lot of me here talking into the camera; if you don’t like my face, you’re going to hate this channel. Also, you’re so mean. 🙁
Some things lend themselves to more – B-roll, media footage, etc. – and when I have the ability to do more I will, but I’m committing to a posting schedule and have long since committed to the day job that funds this, so there’s only so much I can guarantee.
Actually, while we’re at it, set all your expectations low but one: I will never to lie to you. I might joke about things, maybe even regret them down the line, but it’s going to be real.
I have a fundamental aversion to dishonesty that has caused, um, complications in my life. If I were to lie to you in a YouTube video, I’d be unable to sleep for several days and then have to post a follow-up video detailing the lie. Some folks might find click value in that, but I think all of us would hate it – so let’s just not.
It’s important to me that I be realistic and honest. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it properly – in a way I can feel good about. This whole channel is a legit-in-the-economics-101-sense-of-the-word investment for me.
People aren’t wrong when they say that the barrier to entry on YouTube is approaching zero. Channel creation is free, and if you shoot videos on a smartphone, I guess that might be considered “free” as well.
But I’m not shooting on a smartphone, and the equipment I’m using wasn’t free. Some I had already owned. Much of it I did not. Also new: This website. This all costs money. Perhaps not much in the grand scheme of things, but enough that I feel it in my bank account.
And even if I never make that money back, at least as likely as not, it’s important that I spent it. It proves to me – if not to you – that I take this thing seriously. Plus, while money does not guarantee quality, it helps.
If you’re going to be staring at my dumb face until it haunts your nightmares, the barest minimum I can do is make that scene look kind of interesting – to have a background other than an empty wall, put some light and depth in there. The teleprompter means I can speak quickly without jump cuts – unless I want them for specific effect.
Plus, because this is pre-written, I won’t ever waste your time asking questions I should have just looked up beforehand. I’ll do the research and, if necessary, link to my sources.
I write the way I talk, something that can come off poorly in professional emails and even social texts. Audio ensures my inflections are adequately expressed. The video adds my overly animated demeanor – one that literally half my life ago caused a girl I once called beautiful in a language I didn’t know to make fun of me.
I talk with my hands, my eyebrows; I emote and express and probably look silly, but this is YouTube. Everything is silly.
Increasingly, though, it’s silly in the most serious of ways. YouTube is an equalizer, a place where anyone can find an audience. People all over the world are making their livelihoods here. I am not. I don’t expect to ever be.
Hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. It’s entirely possible there are dozens of shows just like this one that neither I nor anyone else has ever heard of. Nothing makes mine particularly special, but it’s mine.
When I was a teenager, I would look at all the celebrities in their twenties. Though I knew that they had started out younger than I was at the time, I felt some solace in the fact that I had a few years to go before their success made me feel “old” and “purposeless.” Now, the rising stars are all younger, and there’s no way to intellectualize it. I needed to stop complaining and start doing.
To be clear: I’m not looking for celebrity, and maybe that fact alone means I’ll never achieve it. That’s fine. What I, like so many others, created a YouTube channel for was to have this thing that I can pour my creative energy into on my terms and mine alone. I needed to have an outlet – this outlet.
So here I am.
Eight-Point-Five out of Ten