To say that the rise of YouTube has come out of the blue would be inaccurate. The website itself has been around for over nine years, and recent statistics carried out by its analysts estimate that over six billion hours of video are watched on the site every month. It is only in the last few years, however, that the people behind the videos, or ‘content creators’ as they have dubbed themselves, have moved out from behind their computer screens into the spotlight. What started off as a niche platform has filtered into the mainstream rapidly, and with startling effect.
With One Direction off the rails and a current lack of sparkly vampires to obsess over, a new generation of wholesome, home-grown YouTubers have stepped in to soak up the adulation of the country’s tween population. The perfectly made-up faces of vloggers Zoe Sugg (Zoella) and Tanya Burr have recently become a familiar sight on magazine covers, and both women have created successful beauty lines and signed book deals in the past year, much to the delight of their adoring army of fans. In this week alone, a photograph of Burr and her fiancé, fellow YouTuber Jim Chapman, garnered over six thousand likes on Instagram in less than six minutes, whilst Zoella’s upcoming novel, Girl Online, is reported to be dominating Amazon’s top-five best-selling children’s novels on the basis of pre-orders alone.
In a blog post earlier on this year, Sugg stated firmly that she was not a celebrity: ‘I just make videos that lots of people like to watch’. Unfortunately, this is an opinion her fans do not seem to share. The biggest internet personalities are liable to be mobbed by hordes of (predominantly female) viewers wherever they go, and many have confessed that they struggle to comprehend the constant torrent of attention they receive.
So what makes these people so special? In part, the origins of the YouTube phenomenon lie in the reality television culture which has made invading people’s lives through the medium of the camera socially acceptable. It’s an addictive pastime, and one our nation is particularly good at. From the outside though, the idea of watching someone else live their life instead of living your own seems faintly ridiculous. There are hours of footage on YouTube of creators such as Marcus Butler and Alfie Deyes (Pointless Blog) doing fairly normal, everyday activities: going to the supermarket, cooking dinner, relaxing on the sofa. Why is it then, that when these things are distilled into a ten-minute video and shared on the internet, they become so utterly fascinating? It is a worrying question, and one which seems to baffle the people who are at the centre of it.
Whether they like it or not, YouTube personalities have become ingrained within a celebrity culture which celebrates invasions of privacy, and which idolises the trivial. The only question which remains is how long will the spectacle last?