Chloe May discusses the rise of the ‘YouTube Family’ and questions whether you can really make a career out of filming your day-to-day life.
Home videos: every family has them. The thought of my parents deciding that my rendition of ‘When Santa got Stuck Up The Chimney’, aged six, was worthy of being posted on the internet is a bizarre one. An even more bizarre thought might be the prospect of thousands of viewers tuning in the following day to see what my six-year old self had been up to.
We are living in a world obsessed with reality TV shows. There is an increasing demand for shows where the audiences witnesses ‘real’ people living out their lives and seeing how they change and develop as time passes. It is therefore no surprise that families can make an income from posting daily home videos of their lives on YouTube. Making a career from social media, or even YouTube, is not a new concept but earning a decent wage simply through documenting your day-to-day existence is a career that seems almost too good to be true.
As I write this, I am checking the clock. At 6pm, Jonathan and Anna Saccone-Joly, a young Irish couple who post fifteen-minute snippets of their daily lives on their channel LeFloofTV, will be posting a video announcing the gender of their second child. The couple have already announced that they have taken a video of the moment the sonographer tells them the sex of their second child, which they will be sharing with all 250,000 of their subscribers. Their approach to sharing intimate and precious moments with so many people has been criticised in the past, particularly when they chose to film and upload the birth of their first child. Despite the film being taken in a very tasteful way (no blood or gore), the couple were criticised by an Irish newspaper for being ‘disgusting’ and were sent threatening messages by Internet savages who claimed they hoped the baby was stillborn.
Although it is difficult to believe, there have been many examples of Internet trolls targeting their 13-month old daughter for being ‘fat’, ‘ugly’ and ‘slow’. Although the parents may be able to develop a thick skin, is this stream of constant criticism a suitable environment to raise a child?
Jonathan Saccone-Joly commented on the relationship that a person who chooses to make a career out of YouTube, or ‘a Youtuber’, has with their audience in an interview with an Irish newspaper; he claimed ‘There [in mainstream media] the creator doesn’t feel the direct impact of the audience, whereas a Youtuber you’re criticised for everything you do, you’re vulnerable in that sense’. Whilst looking through a selection of LeFloofTV’s videos, I came across a multitude of critical comments. One viewer claimed that because the family chose to document their lives, their audiences were free to judge and criticise them as much as they wished, in the same way that one would criticise a bad television show or a movie. The difference is that a movie director would never receive a torrid, unfiltered stream of abuse from a reviewer, claiming that the actress he hired was ugly.
Whilst the criticism aimed at the family is obscene, critical comments are almost an accepted part of being on YouTube, particularly as your audience increases. Although they have a seemingly huge amount of subscribers, the Saccone-Joly’s is a relatively small channel when compared with the massive following boasted by the ‘Shaytards’ channel. With a massive 1.6 million subscribers, the Shaytards, or the Butler family, is arguably the driving force behind this massive surge of families choosing to document their lives, having reached celebrity status through posting videos of mundane day-to-day events as well as key moments in their lives over four years. They are also the brains behind the new documentary in production, entitled ‘I’m Vlogging Here’, which explores the lifestyle of those who choose to make a career out of YouTube.
The Shaytards are probably the most distinct example of celebrity culture moving into the online world. Their viewers begin to admire and see the family as their role models, in the same way that people admire film stars and musicians. Whilst researching for this article I stumbled across a blog dedicated to the Shaytard channel. One viewer claimed that the Butler family helped her through her depression and that they were ‘lifesavers’. Another discussed a difficult relationship with her mother and said that the female figures on the show felt like mother figures to her. The audience for these shows tends to be quite young, and many of these young and vulnerable teenagers and young adults invest a lot of time and emotion in these families.
Earlier this year Charles Trippy, one half of ‘YouTube Couple’ CTFxC was diagnosed with a brain tumour, after struggling with seizures for over a year. He and his wife Alli decided to continue on with their daily vlogs and share everything from brain surgery to chemotherapy with their massive audience. In an interview Alli said that they felt a duty to share this with their audience and claimed that they ‘had a responsibility towards these people who had become their family’. Despite criticisms that the couple secretly hoped that documenting Charles’s brain surgery live would boost their subscribers past the one million mark, the couple claimed that they were doing it to commend the hard work of the doctors and nurses that deal with this every day. Charles also confessed in one of the vlogs, whilst he was in hospital, ‘I know I’m talking to hundreds of thousands of people here and it makes me feel a little better’. It is clear that it is not only the audience that feels an emotional attachment. Many of these Youtubers give an impression of welcoming viewers into their family every time they post a new video.
By involving other people so intimately within your own lives there is a massive scope for celebrity culture. At a recent convention for Youtubers in Los Angeles, the Shaytards were welcomed to the stage with a roaring audience not dissimilar from that at a One Direction concert. But a celebrity lifestyle surely requires a celebrity wage?
Making money from YouTube is not a new, nor a particularly complicated concept. As the number of subscribers increases, so does the creator’s potential earnings through the advertising revenue that Google, YouTube’s parent, creates on the site. Obviously gaining an audience takes time, but there are rumoured to be many six-figure salaries lurking amongst the amusing animal videos. This therefore creates conflict between the creator and their audience. How can you be seen to be the Everyman whilst making extraordinary amounts of money from your audience?
Although YouTube has massive scope for creating a steady wage, the consistency and reliability of using it as a career has to be questioned. As one viewer of LeFloofTv pointed out in the comments, the views on the Saccone-Joly’s videos dropped dramatically a few months after their first baby was born, and since Anna announced her second pregnancy, the views have been gradually rising once again. But how long can this last? What happens if you decide you don’t want any more children? What happens if your children decide they don’t want their every waking moment to be documented? This is without even beginning on the safety issues. The Internet is a bigger place than most of us would care to imagine and without any filter as to who can watch your content there are many risks for all the family. The Shaytards have already announced that this year will be their last year as daily vloggers as they wish to focus more on the production of their documentary and no doubt they desire a break from constant documentation. With 100 hours of footage being uploaded to YouTube every minute, it is clear that the potential for creating a career out of YouTube is only going to get larger. As much as I admire these Youtubers creativity in earning a steady wage from simply existing, constant exposure of children to the internet through regular documentation is something, call me old fashioned, that makes me feel uncomfortable.
However there is no denying the entertainment value of these programmes. Despite the fact that most television channels appear to be inundated with so-called ‘reality’ TV shows, these programmes provide more of a ‘real’ insight to somebody’s life than the scripted, frozen personalities on ‘Made in Chelsea’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’. The official title of the programme run by CTFxC is ‘Internet Killed Television’, which seems to act as a premonition for the potential YouTube has as a genuine entertainment platform. Having watched a few of these vlogs in preparation for this article, I can vouch for the fact that, in the same way you care for your favourite characters on a TV show, you begin to care for these people because they are distinctly and definitely real. In a world of airbrushed Facebook profiles and edited photographs, I commend these families for creating raw and real entertainment in a world that is so lacking in it.