Wednesday, 25 June 2014

YouTube celebrities and their viewers.

This is an abstract I wrote for a recent CFP. It's something I've wanted to write about for a while so I'll write it up soon, even though I'm pretty sure I haven't been selected!

The wonderful collaborative community of YouTube is losing its shine after recent revelations have surfaced about several male Vloggers and their relationships with young female viewers. This has sparked much discussion with both high and low profile YouTubers sharing their thoughts of unease in the nature of their community. Vlogging has become a lucrative career for many young people, who have now amassed thousands or even millions of viewers. The ‘meet ups’ of days past have now been replaced with thousands strong conventions where barriers literally divide the (often screaming, young and female) viewers from the creators. The balance of power has clearly shifted in the YouTube world and this could be causing serious damage to the community bringing what Lawrence Lessig calls the “commercial” economy into their “sharing” economy.

What used to be a relationship between ‘creator and viewer’ has now become ‘celebrity and fan’. As YouTubers sign contracts with ‘social talent management’ companies and endorse products, they find themselves suddenly in positions of wealth, power and influence over their vast young audiences, who in turn can now no longer easily relate to their jet-setting lifestyles.

The nature of YouTube has allowed a very open discussion. The phrase “imagine complexly” has been used by both sides of this with viewers asking to been seen as more than a screaming mob and creators asking to be taken down from pedestals. This ‘us’ and ‘them’ relationship could be problematic. I will explore this growing tension drawing on Lessig’s theories as well as referring to Jenkins, Ford and Green’s work in Spreadable Media to understand how damage to the ‘moral economy’ can be repaired.  Examining whether the community has truly lost its ‘grassroots’ position I will also ask what lessons can be learned from recent scandals in keeping the community safe and regaining the balance of power in interactions between creators and their audiences.

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