NEW YORK: Over the past few years, this type of commentary — internet-video figures dissecting the output of other, more popular internet-video figures — has become its own small ecosystem. The people doing the commenting often appear on one another’s channels, where they discuss the absurdities of influencers and social-media culture. Their level of earnestness varies, but they are, generally, trying to be funny; even withering takedowns like Taylor’s are laced with quips. Their commentary has become one of YouTube’s more popular genres, appearing among trending videos like Jimmy Fallon clips and James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.”
There is, perhaps, a heartening inevitability to all this: Even in a world with no gatekeepers and limited moderation, a certain savvy will assert itself. YouTube even has its equivalents of tabloids and trade publications, covering salacious online drama or niche interests. But it’s the commentary YouTubers in particular who have become, in some cases, as popular as the stars they react to, leading to strange conflicts between fame and critical integrity — plus literal run-ins in the influencer-infested studios of Los Angeles. In 2019, the loutish influencer Jake Paul posted a video titled “confronting internet bully cody ko,” in which he tracked down Cody Kolodziejzyk, a commentary YouTuber who often discussed his work. Visibly enraged and complaining that anyone could be so full of hatred instead of spreading positivity, Paul recorded himself ambushing his critic — in a video he would monetise for income.
Kolodziejzyk and his comedy partner, Noel Miller, became popular on YouTube with a series called “That’s Cringe,” which mocked not just Paul but other internet celebrities. Kolodziejzyk and Miller’s fans, however, noticed that as the two rose to prominence, they became steadily more immersed in the world of the very media they were critiquing. Soon the subjects of their mockery started appearing on Kolodziejzyk and Miller’s own channel, creating hit videos by performing gestures of reconciliation with the comedians. Fans fretted about a conflict of interest that would incentivise Kolodziejzyk and Miller to pull their punches — a neat mirror to worries about access-based coverage in traditional journalism.
As entertainers in a landscape they themselves are creating, these commentators are free to define their craft; it’s hard to begrudge those who have become friendlier toward internet celebrities, even if their blunted style makes them less compelling. But whether or not the future of criticism on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram lies with these comedians, they have already highlighted just how desperately a generation — people who have heard “What’s up, guys?” since preschool and now hold credit cards and bank accounts — needs and wants critical coverage of what it is seeing. The question is whether such criticism can thrive in a world without structure, where values need not be articulated and glad-handing can always be trafficked under the banner of positive vibes.
Jackson is freelance writer. NYT©2022
The New York Times