Let's Talk

It’s not just on Twitter, it’s for Twitter,” sounds a little bit too much like “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom” for me to take it entirely seriously, but it’s not a bad summary of the idea behind Buzzfeed’s new morning show, AM to DM. It’s streaming live on Twitter every weekday morning at 10am, and strives to be a new kind of morning show: one for the internet.

And yet, as Slate pointed out, most morning shows and late night talk shows are already effectively made for the internet. AM to DM doesn’t have anything particularly groundbreaking in format yet. Two hosts have on guests and discuss current events, a tried-and-true formula. They have segments in which they read “Fire Tweets” and decide on a “ManCrushMonday” (#coolmom), but these bits not yet engaging enough to stand out, nor do they distinguish themselves from from late-night talk shows that do segments in the same vein.

AM to DM does have a significant advantage in courting a young audience, however, in their choice of medium. In an age when many people are cutting their cable subscriptions, or opting never to get one in the first place, online sites become a much easier way to tune into news and entertainment. There’s no friction to watching AM to DM, as long as you have a Twitter account—and as that’s their target audience anyway, this strategy bodes well for potential viewership.

While there are initial flaws and possibilities, it’s too early to see if AM to DM can grow into a unique morning show. It’s also not the only entry into the field of new media talk shows. Director and producer Kelly Kitagawa is leading a new show called Think About It, a “late night styled think piece show for millennials.” The production team is all college-aged women, most of whom are women of color. The teaser was released on Sunday, but the team is currently raising money to produce a full 9-episode series. Similar to AM to DM, the focus of the show is on presenting a different perspective than is usually seen in mainstream media.

There’s definitely a stronger sense of scrappiness with Think About It than AM to DM: it’s produced by independent college students rather than a multimedia company, it’s lower to the ground in terms of audience engagement (especially with funding needs), and it’s focused on exploring specific questions relevant to young people instead of a general look at the news. However, it won’t start streaming until November, so it’s too early to judge what the final product will look like.

Like I’ve written about before, I have a particular love for projects made by and for young people. It’ll be interesting to see the way the talk show and news landscape will be changed by an influx in younger creators, especially since these shows have had a recent surge in popularity and relevance. Right now, it’s unclear if it’ll make much of a difference at all, but I doubt it: new voices have the power to make chance, and they always use it.

Copyright Weaponization

The internet is still trying to figure out its relationship with copyright. On one hand, copyright protects people’s hard work. It prevents others from selling work as their own, consequently encouraging people to produce art because they know they will be able to protect it. On the other hand, stealing is absolutely rampant. “Meme accounts” pick up viral content of the day and repost it without attribution, sometimes even placing their own watermarks on it as if they originally created it. There’s a non-insignificant number of YouTube channels devoted to “reacting” to popular videos, which is often little more than making a few remarks while playing the entire video.

On the other other hand (I have three hands), there is nothing the internet does better than a good remix. Content is continuously repackaged and repurposed to entertain, amuse, and educate. Sometimes it’s an actual musical remix, sometimes it’s a visual essay featuring clips of a movie, sometimes it’s a clip or screencap used in a humorous way. Some of this clearly falls into the realm “fair use,” which roughly means that it is transformative and its consumption does not replace the consumption of the original content. There are more specific rules about monetization (generally a no-go) and details, but that’s the general overview.

There are some genres, however, that don’t qualify as “fair use” but are still usually allowed by the copyright holder. One example of this is a “Let’s Play” video, which features a YouTube personality playing a game, reacting to it, and talking about their experience throughout. By all legal standards, it’s definitely copyright infringement: it’s often just blatant footage of the game with minimum commentary or additional value. However, there is very rarely any harm to letting YouTubers upload Let’s Play videos—if it’s a popular channel, it often boosts sales of the game and essentially serves as free advertising.

That is, until the channel becomes something you don’t want to associate with. Campo Santo, the creators of the critically acclaimed game Firewatch, filed a DMCA takedown of PewDiePie’s Firewatch video after he used a racial slur in a livestream. The video was swiftly removed, which made sense: Campo Santo has the legal right to take down any Firewatch Let’s Play videos at any time.

In another case, the creator of the meme Pepe the Frog has starting sending takedown notices to alt-right blogs. Pepe, once an innocuous comic character, transformed into a meme last year. However, the original neutral meme was claimed as an alt-right symbol and used to promote the Trump 2016 campaign by many of his supporters. The creator of Pepe, Matt Furie, already took down an Islamophobic book that featured Pepe and donated the settlement to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Now he is widening his reach, insisting that his character should not be used for hateful ideology.

Both of these cases are interesting because they demonstrate a conflict in the online world. These creators have the legal right to take down infringement on their work, and feel the moral drive to target a particular usage of it. However, what does it mean for the future of copyright when ideology is used to dictate legal actions? If people want to take down one usage, should they have to address all infringement on their work? It’s not that I don't understand their reasoning, but what happens if (when) a conservative artist doesn’t like the way a liberal artist has repurposed their work and chooses to target them? We could be looking at a new era in copyright on the internet: weaponization. The lines are blurry, but we may see them come into focus soon.

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, prolific creator Tyler Oakley uploaded his first video to YouTube. Now he has an audience of nearly eight million people, who have supported a podcast, book, documentary, various charitable campaigns, and a national live tour. Today, Oakley reacted to a surprise video of his friends (mostly other prominent YouTubers) sharing their favorite memories and congratulating him on ten years.

When I watched this video, I was thinking about a simple truism: in order to reach the kind of longevity, you have to keep working. Furthermore, in order to reach success, you have to keep working for long enough to reach it. Those sentences don't mean anything, they're just repeating themselves—and yet somehow, they're a good reminder for all of us.

Regular articles for my September writing project come back tomorrow.

A Response to the Comments Section

I am as frustrated by the perpetual negative portrayal of YouTubers and YouTube culture as the next person, but some things are too egregious to even try to defend. Felix Kjellberg, more popularly known as “PewDiePie,” is the most popular vlogger on YouTube. He’s ascended to incredible fame, power, and success through his “Let’s Play” videos, and has branded himself as an “edgy” comedian who isn’t afraid to swear and cause trouble. If you even have a passing interest in online video news, you’ve probably already heard that he is currently under fire for using the n-word in frustration to insult a Playerunknown’s Battleground player during a livestream. He then said “sorry,” repeated the sentence with “asshole” instead, and then said he didn’t mean it “in a bad way.”

Yes, he did indeed interchange it with “asshole” and then attempt to claim it wasn’t “in a bad way.”

Like many other people, I am already tired of this story and generally fatigued with talking about Felix. There’s so much good that comes from YouTube, and the focus on people like Felix is demoralizing. However, he is the most popular personality on the platform. That means that even if he represents a poor side of YouTube, anything he does holds huge sway over how the community is represented overall. Also, people never cease to amaze me with the way they will bend over backwards to defend and justify the terrible actions of fully grown men. So here we have a list of excuses I’ve seen, and my arguments against them:

1. “It’s not that big of a deal.”

Come on, you aren’t even trying. Answer: no.

2. “He’s young, he made a mistake.”

It’s always funny to me when people use this excuse, because the person they’re talking about is almost always older than me. Also: no.

3. “He’s Swedish, and it doesn’t carry the same weight in Sweden.”

I’m not familiar with Swedish culture, so I don’t know if this is true or not. However, Felix has lived in the United Kingdom since 2013, and is definitely familiar with both English and American culture through his audience. The odds that he just didn’t understand the weight of the word are next to zero, especially since he immediately tried to correct himself on the livestream.

4. “(insert YouTuber here) says the n-word all the time, and no one cares”

This reminds me of the people who tell feminists that women in Saudi Arabia have it so much worse than them whenever they talk about an issue. If the only time you bring up another example is to try to shoot someone down, it’s not an effective argument. Now, if this was brought up as an argument that there should be a greater backlash for use of racist language by all people, not just Felix—I can agree with that. That brings me to:

5. “Calm down. People say that all the time when they get angry playing games.”

Who are you hanging out with??

A few points here. One, commonality does not equal morality. Horrific things have been common throughout history, and while we try to push our society towards more just social norms, there is never a point when “lots of people do it” is the only goal post that must be passed for something to be “okay.”

Also, I get angry when playing games, and I have never once in my life shouted a racial slur. I’m not trying to suggest that I’m somehow morally superior, I just think that should be the baseline for human decency. I’ve never yelled the n-word in frustration because I’ve never once said the n-word, and so it’s never the word that comes to mind. When people are angry, their reaction isn’t going to be a word they never say, it’s going to be something that’s in their vocabulary.

6. “This isn’t a big deal.”

I agree that there are more important things out there—climate change is worsening our natural disasters and causing irreversible damage, millions of children live in poverty, and the risk of nuclear war seems to be slowly ticking forward by the day. However, there’s also been a resurgence of racism and white nationalism in the mainstream culture of the United States, and that has very real and dangerous effects. It’s not “just words.” It’s contributing to a system of violence that enables people who truly believe that Black people are inferior, and causes real life harm in innumerable ways.

It matters because everything that contributes to a system of white supremacy matters, but it’s a big deal because Felix is the most popular vlogger on YouTube. I keep saying that because it is important, because he does have a huge audience, and because he commands a lot more power than most other people. A lot of people are complaining that Felix is receiving this attention when other YouTubers who say the n-word aren’t, but there’s a very good reason why he gets more attention: because, well, he gets more attention.

7. “He’s not really racist.”

I don’t know and I don’t care. “Racist” isn’t something you are, it’s something you do, and he’s doing it. I don’t care what’s in Felix’s heart of hearts, I care what’s coming out of his mouth, and it’s not pretty.

International Women's Day 2017

Happy International Women's Day, everyone!

To celebrate, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite lady YouTubers and podcasts. I really encourage you to check them all out because they are all incredible.

YouTube:

Dodie Clark. Beautiful music, incredible videos ranging from the silly to the heartbreakingly vulnerable, and my total queer crush.

Just Between Us. Speaking of queer crushes, Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin's comedy sketch channel is one of my watch-every-single-one channels.

Tessa Violet. Another musician (I highly recommend her video for Not Over You, it makes me so happy) and delightful vlogger.

Rosianna Halse Rojas: One of the backbones of the YouTube community, and a quietly brilliant vlogger.

Sabrina Cruz. Absolutely hilarious. I'm amazed at how consistently she makes quality entertaining and educational videos.

Anna Akana. Speaking of consistent quality, no one inspires me to make better videos like Anna does. Unbelievably creative and hard-working.

Hannah Witton. Sex education, advice (some to follow, some to definitely not), and an unbelievably charming video maker.

Taylor Behnke. I'm inspired by her every word. One of the strongest people out there.

Akilah Hughes. Brilliant social commentary and hilarious sketch comedy.

Alison. I just think she's so funny. I want to hang out with her.

Kat Blaque. Absolutely fearless with fantastic educational social justice videos.

Kelly Kitagawa. Again, please hang out with me. I feel like she's going to be huge someday.

Podcasts!

Call Your Girlfriend. My forever fave, the original inspiration for Mixed Feelings, and just fantastic conversations about news and pop culture.

Another Round. Who doesn't love Another Round? Another brilliant show that tackles contemporary issues.

Buffering the Vampire Slayer. I love Buffy so much, and I love this rewatch show that features an adorable couple and an original song every episode.

Friendshipping. This show is so helpful and so cheerful! Ultimate pick-me-up with genuine advice.

The Ladycast. Alex Laughlin (an inspiration herself) interviewing different cool women every episode and encouraging you to #dothething

Bad With Money. Gaby Dunn hosts a brilliant show all about money, featuring interesting guests on every episode.

Roboism. Robots and feminism! This is my brand!

Rocket. Smart, enthusiastic tech show that's not afraid to tackle tough topics.

Bonus! Writers:

Roxane Gay. My favorite writer, just read her books, please read them.

Felicia Day. Huge role model in my life and her memoir is precious to me.

Maureen Johnson: Insanely talented, bizarre, creative, and dedicated YA author/twitter personality.

Thoughts on Vlogs

I filmed my first vlog last week. It was… Well, you can see how it was.

As you can definitely tell, I’m not very comfortable on camera. I think it ended up being unintentionally harsh to professional vloggers… I promise I don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with them. I just felt so awkward that I was wondering what makes a person enjoy being on camera. I had filmed a “first vlog” in my dorm room several weeks ago, but it turned out terrible because I was uncomfortable and kept my voice so low the camera didn’t pick it up very well (I was worried about people in the hall hearing me). At least this time, I actually got a video out!

Beyond my general awkwardness, here are my thoughts on my first vlog.

1. What’s up with audio recording? I originally captured external audio on my Yeti microphone, which I use to record podcasts. However, when I put my audio and visual files together, the sound was completely off the picture by the end. I genuinely do not understand this. How could they be recording them differently?! Unfortunately, I will just have to figure that out later. To spare myself the headache this time, I just used the audio from my iPhone.

2. The lighting turned out surprisingly well, especially considering that I was using an iPhone. I sat directly in front of my windows and the natural light looked fantastic on my phone.

3. I didn’t want to use my room as a background because I just don’t think it looks very good on camera. Instead, I taped a sheet to my ceiling fan to make a background in front of my windows. I’m not kidding…

In a few weeks, I move into my summer housing, and I’m determined to unpack and decorate with appropriate video backgrounds in mind.

4. I’m looking forward to recording more videos. This is a weird medium, and having my face out there is weird on a level I don’t even understand yet, but it’s one more way to put content out in the world. I’m the happiest when I’m creating more than consuming. I don’t know if making videos will ever go anywhere, but I’m excited to go through this journey for as long as it lasts.