A few Saturday nights ago I sat through a binge of a lifestyle blogger on YouTube. This YouTuber focuses on unboxing an item, house tours and general flotsam of his life. Watching it is an act of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). The question I ask myself is why I am so fascinated with the seemingly ordinary of day to day living?
To provide one answer, I have always been interested in ‘fly-on-the-wall’ TV documentary or the direct cinema of Albert and David Maysles. Observing someone else’s life could be a past time for me, a reason that most of my academic study has a sociology focus. While the fly on the wall and direct cinema documentary style is curated by a team of people the YouTuber is now Producer, Writer, Editor and Director. There are, however, some commonalities with fly-on-wall style productions. Everything, no matter how real-time it may be in content is fashioned to create a narrative. Produced and packaged to enable a beginning, a middle and an end.
Like any work, the editing is important. The YouTuber has to have a flow, there has to be a purpose or something happening. The difference, the formal documentary had a purpose of reflecting a life rarely seen on TV in that decade. For example, BBC TV’s The Family (1974), A Change of Sex (1980) or the Maysles brothers classic Grey Gardens (1975). These documentaries offered a window to experiences of family life in poverty, an experience of transitioning and gender reassignment or eccentric American women living on past glories. Trailblazing in a media with a lack of representation, presented as the opinion of a production team to portray an image. For example, women as eccentric and needing ‘rescued’, as is my view of Grey Gardens.
I am sure that in the initial stages of YouTube and social media many users were presenting an ordinary life made extraordinary by the presence of video camera. Indeed, it could be argued that the documentary presented ordinary life as extraordinary. The difference now is that you can commodify your ordinary life. For example, how many unboxing videos happen from a purchase made by the YouTuber? It seems that, as a marketing tool, the rated YouTuber with the most or growing influence can be their own marketing tool to promote a product. It is like:
“Here is my life today which is made so much better with this product I received!”
The direct access of production and publishing on YouTube should give autonomy to a person to produce. Now though, with content production on YouTube, now well into its fifteenth year, there is much more stylised versions of life. The rawness is lacking from many. The ordinary is no more. Did the ordinary rhythm of life really ever appeal?
To escape from the ordinary was to move elsewhere. To live like Rhoda or Friends. Senior years were The Golden Girls! Life was stylish and exciting, everyday a step towards the perfect life. It was never where I was but always where they were. It was not an unboxing!
Perhaps this is the reason I revisit old episodes of favourites. To check what I wanted to be and if I am there yet. Jane Birkin, The actress,singer and inspiration for Hermès Birkin Bag, being interviewed about her own Birkin bag reflected,
“They (the bag) wear really well. I love things that wear well!”
All those old shows and the aspirations I discovered in them have worn well. I may still happen across an unboxing, but for me as an aspiration, they don’t wear well.
We can all be more than a name on the door!