A few weeks ago I was talking to some friends about how much time we all spend watching YouTube. “I’d hate to know how much time I waste on it,” I said. “I bet it’s awful.” Then someone told me that you can actually check this in the app. I immediately declared that I was never, ever going to check because sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Today, I gave in and looked. On average, I spend more than an hour a day watching YouTube. This was kind of sobering. An hour is a good chunk of my time, especially my leisure time. It’s more than I spend doing any other hobbies, like cooking, reading, playing games, watching films, or exercising.
So, what exactly am I watching?
10 years ago, most of my time on YouTube was spent wandering aimlessly through whatever junk people had decided to upload – cute dogs doing cute things, VHS ephemera, etc. I might spend a few hours on it here and there, but it was easy to ignore the site entirely for long periods of time.
But the game has changed, and so have my watching habits. People are less likely to be uploading random home movies and more likely to be producing entire series of content on a particular theme. And it’s my subscriptions to these channels – and the resulting parasocial relationships – that keep me coming back and frittering away all that time.
(That, and film trailers. Does anyone else just chain-watch trailers? I know that watching dozens of trailers instead of a single movie is like eating a giant bag of Doritos instead of your dinner, but sometimes I just can’t stop myself.)
Anyway, while I ruminate on whether that hour is actually time well spent, here are some of the channels that keep me coming back.
Lindsay is probably my favourite creator on YouTube – her videos are consistently thoughtful, well-researched and entertaining. Her incredibly thorough series about the making of the Hobbit films is so good that it was recently nominated for a Hugo. And I’ve learned more about film theory from her series on Michael Bay’s Transformers movies than I ever did in my Media Studies class.
My favourite work of hers has to be her teardown of RENT, which educates viewers about the AIDS crisis and the history of pseudo-counter-cultural musicals – all while explaining why RENT is such a frustrating and exploitative mess. It’s so well done that I accidentally watched all 45 minutes of it again while I was writing this.
I found Dan’s channel because he also had a video about RENT being bad (I guess I really have it in for RENT) and have been enjoying his analysis of film and games ever since. Many of his most popular videos focus on failures of film-making, but he’s never unfair, even going so far as to offer a “lukewarm defence” of the Fifty Shades movies which shows how they could have been much better than their end result. He also often provides a focus on editing which I’d missed since the wonderful Every Frame a Painting went under. I have a special place in my heart for his piece on Annihilation, which provides a spot-on analysis of the movie’s themes while tearing apart those lazy, overly literal “ending explained” videos that “treat plot like a puzzle to be solved”.
HBomb hit the headlines at the start of the year for that Donkey Kong stream. But before that, he was haunting my dreams with this surreal video essay about the infamous webcomic Ctrl+Alt+Del – a magnum opus deconstructing gamer culture, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, and the whole video essay format. The rest of his channel is similarly eclectic, with topics ranging from speedrunning video games to woke brands on Twitter.
Jenny has made me cry with laughter more than anyone else on YouTube. She could be doing basically anything – sharing deranged Josh Hutcherson fanfiction, describing the worst reality show of all time, trying on Halloween costumes nobody wanted – and I will always have a good time. And while the average production quality of YouTube videos has risen a lot over the years, it’s kind of nice to see that some of the best stuff on there can still be someone goofing off in their bedroom.
The Try Guys
On the opposite end from one person goofing off in their bedroom, we have four people goofing off in an entire production company spun off from Buzzfeed. The Try Guys is my YouTube comfort food. If I’m having a crappy day, I know I can put one of these on and Ned will always be talking about his wife, Keith will always be gurning, and Eugene will always be inexplicably better at the task than everyone else, whether it’s baking bread or getting makeovers from little girls. (I guess that makes Zach the wildcard.)
I may dress like a teenage boy on laundry day, but fashion is an interest of mine, and bestdressed is my favourite channel about it. Ashley’s outfits are always great, her commentary is funny, and she’s introduced the term “picnic bitch” to my fashion lexicon. Her thrift flips may even persuade me to buy a sewing machine. Does this channel sometimes make me feel old as hell? Yes, but I’m still faithfully tuning in (especially because I’m still waiting for Ashley to tell her parents she’s got almost 1.5 million subscribers).
I occasionally dip my toe into minimalism YouTube, but its tropes – extreme decluttering, “50 things to get rid of” lists, people living in vans while keeping piles of junk in their childhood bedrooms – can be a bit… monotonous. Lefie’s channel stands out, even though it’s only been around for a few months. I love the concise length of her videos, her playful editing, and that little clicky sign-off thing she does at the end. I might not be ready to wear a uniform or practice extreme minimalism, but I still enjoy hearing her talk about it.
The 100 Baby Challenge
While I’ve previously written about my love for The Sims 2, I never got into The Sims 4. But what I am into is this Let’s Play series about trying to have and raise 100 children in the game. Throw in the spinoffs and I’ve spent… 10 hours of my life watching this. That’s more time than I’ve ever spent playing The Sims 4 myself. I could have watched Sátántangó or something.
Damn. Maybe it’s time to log off. Go outside. Sit under a tree, read a book, feel the breeze on my skin.
Nah. Impiccishmays for life.