It’s crazy, for me, to see these articles, and hear that people and fans still don’t fully grasp the situation. The majority is adverse to fact checking and to listening, and those habits coupled with jealousy have perpetuated inane stereotypes about internet celebrities and a supposed correlation with increased wealth. People honestly believe that popularity can make you rich when that’s the further from the truth.
Following Issa Rae, Black & Sexy TV, Natalie, Anna Akana, Gaby Dunn, Allison Rankin, Wong Fu Productions, Franchesca Ramsey, CGP Grey, Akilah, Wendy, LaToya, and Maya (though I abandoned the last two about a year in) from the beginning saw the benefits of those burgeoning fan bases, by the way of more consistent and frequent content, and, a decade ago, better cameras and other forms of product placement. Though we were ecstatic to be heard – when Issa would feature and post links to the music we wanted to hear, or Wendy and/or Franchesca would take requests and display a certain look we needed help with – there was also a huge backlash. People would constantly complain about how “You had time to post a product review, but you won’t put up a new episode. And by the way you’re three days late”, which prompted YouTubers to inform us of their oftentimes horrifying employment and financial situation. I forget, now, that not everyone was around ten or even six years ago to view those interactions and the sharp decrease in the critique and outrage YouTubers face in their quest to eat three to five meals a day.
It’s doubly frustrating in the YouTube economy because its workers can’t even admit that these dynamics exist. Even though it correlates with American economic trends, it plays by the social norms of the internet. Online culture has often placed emphasis on both social justice and purity—or at the very least, humility. While watching makeup tutorials by a YouTuber named Jaclyn Hill, Beggs noticed a pattern of apologizing in Hill’s videos. Every time she gets something nice, like a Valentino purse in one video, she offers caveats like “I know it’s a big splurge! Sorry!”
In other economic realms, “it’s the opposite,” Beggs said. “Rappers are bragging in music videos.” Elsewhere, the trend is to show off wealth; that would be a major faux pas on YouTube. Whereas we’re used to a CEO being a millionaire, a popular YouTuber’s “business is predicated on ‘hey, I’m just like you.’”
That means fans don’t want to see that you’re explicitly on the hustle. Whether they realize it or not, they dictate our every financial move. Every time Allison and I post a branded video—a YouTuber’s bread and butter—we make money but lose subscribers. A video we created for a skincare line, for instance, drew ire from fans writing “ENOUGH WITH THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT,” despite this being our third branded video ever. One dismissively chided us, “Gotta get that YouTube money, I guess” with no acknowledgment of the two years of free videos we’d released prior. Another told us they hated ads because they had “high expectations of us.”
Between how difficult it is to find sensible, relatable content in a flooded market, and how so many personalities have signed their entire lives away, the understanding should, regardless of your experience with YouTube, be there by now. Too many people see YouTube as a platform that exists outside the spectrum and as an unaffected competitor of mainstream film and television. That’s never how it really worked though. YouTube suffers from the same exact problems that plague a “regular” 9-5 job ( wage discrimination, lack of diversity, sexual harassment, high underemployment). It might actually be worse because there’s no Human Resource department, no Diversity seminars, and the big five in television are constantly stealing the ideas of YouTubers and facing absolutely no consequences for their actions.