We eat your words

The Personal Vlog: Where Narcissists & Voyeurs Meet

Although they have been around for years now, the increasing supply of personal vlogs has made me start wondering why they are so extremely popular. Yes, I quite frequently consult YouTube myself for life struggles such as fixing my laptop, cleaning resistant bathroom surfaces or even advice on how to find some inner peace. I also thoroughly understand the purpose of product reviews or educational videos – they are informational and offer support. It’s the pointless vlogs however, in which random people talk to their cameras about absolutely nothing, but still hit a million views, which I’m flustered about.

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I feel like it’s important to say that I’m writing this because I’m genuinely curious about the phenomenon – not because I feel the need to hate on anyone. When I watch a vlog like the one above, I just can’t help but wonder how narcissistic one has to be in order to become a successful vlogger. It must take a lot of self-involvement to record a video in which you show complete strangers what you’ve bought, what’s on your phone or what you eat.

The funny thing is that, in this case, the narcissists are clearly laughing last. Although it might seem a bit overconfident to think the world is waiting for your daily recordings about your not-even-that-interesting life, the extreme numbers of views show that people absolutely love it. There are over 2 million people watching Zoella doing her make-up everyday, more than 1.5 million people gazing at ThatcherJoe doing stupid things and nearly half a million people following ItsJudyLife, while she publicly raises her little children. So what is it that makes people love these videos so much? After doing some research, I found out that people mainly watch for entertainment and life advice. Apparently, they feel like they build up a true connection with their favourite YouTube stars as they can interact with them via comments and get to know them better with every new video.

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I guess that makes sense, but it doesn’t really answer my question as to why people spend their time watching other people doing pointless things. A lot more helpful were the findings from a study on self-awareness in the context of webcams. Here it said that modern society is getting more and more focused on individualism, which results in people attaching a bigger importance on privacy, while still trying to maintain a social life. This explains the popularity of social media communities such as Facebook and Twitter, as they allow for people to come and go whenever they want. Personal vlogs offer similar possibilities: There is a leader who kind of feels like your friend, and via comments you can ask questions and even interact with fellow followers. A new trend in the vlogging world confirms this even more: it’s called chatting while (insert any kind of action).

From the same research, I learned that we all seem to have a bit of voyeurism in us (of a non-sexual kind, that is). People love to watch others, but often don’t because it can make the observed person feel uncomfortable – this is why your parents told you not to stare at people when you were young. Personal vlogs offer the perfect solution for this; we can all observe someone for as long as we please, without worrying about being inappropriate or rude. I would even argue the opposite, as it is precisely a vlogger’s intention to be stared at.

So besides being a form of easy entertainment, vlogs actually seem to have a more serious purpose. But this raises a new question for me: If it is observing people that we like so much, isn’t that because we’re intrigued by someone’s natural movement and behaviour? What’s the point in watching someone that has complete control over the way he or she is presented – be it from the way they look, to the way the video is edited (I mean, I doubt embarrassing or boring bits are ever being kept in). It was for this reason I was very surprised when I stumbled upon a vlog in which a certain product was explicitly promoted. I would personally have thought followers would know their favourite YouTube stars are not always being their genuine selves, but the comments showed otherwise. The fans thought it undermined the vloggers’ authenticity and clearly felt a bit betrayed. But as Canadian sociologist Ervin Goffmann once said, ‘the aim of the performance is to create an appearance of reality for oneself’, and I feel that’s exactly what goes for most vloggers. Although they might be a version of themselves in front of the camera, I don’t believe they show who they really are. And what’s the fun in observing people who don’t even show any of their flaws?

As I’m writing this, popular Australian blogger Essena O’Neill is coincidentally causing quite a lot of attention by speaking out about her fake life as a social media figure, which is the perfect example to illustrate my argument. She admits the image she created of herself is not real and that the last thing she wants to be with her social channels is a role model – as it is simply an act. An amazing revelation if you ask me, which is hopefully the start of a new, more realistic trend.