I follow a few Youtubers, well Vloggers, really. I can list them off for you since it is in fact so few: Hannah Hart on occasion, Mamrie Hart on occasion, Craig Benzine for sure, Hank and John Green (Or John would prefer: John and Hank Green) and the rest of my Youtube activity is split between Crash Course, The School of Life, Good Mythical Morning, It’s Okay to be Smart, PBS Idea Channel (Mike Rugnetta is like my spirit animal) and videos of cats. Cats wearing hats. Hats filled with cats and sloths oh and the occasional prehensile-tailed porcupine. Vlogging is a strange thing for me and I have very severe usual opinions on various Youtube ‘celebrities’. I don’t understand Tyler Oakley, Michelle Phan or PewDiePie (by all means feel free to ask about my rants on PewDiePie). I don’t understand how people can make literally millions doing something so innocuous as posting their daily rantings, ravings and nonsense but the few vloggers that I follow do remind me that it can and is a full time job and I’d love to thank Craig Benzine (WheezyWaiter) for showing me that being a personality is a lot of work.
But today we’re here to talk about people. Because there’s a strange cognitive dissonance between seeing an online celebrity and recognizing them as human. I know John Green not as an award-winning author but as the Nerdfighter behind French the Llama. This comes really from a very central thing: Hank Green recently announced that he and The Katherine were about to have a baby. I noticed in all of the videos where Hank mentions the new human child that’s about to enter his life that in my opinion he seemed terrified and miserable. I went to judge him as I would a comic book character before I realized this is a human being. This is a man who wakes up every day just like I do and is about to add to his family. Anxious, worried, scared, mortal: he was a human being and had every right to feel that way and I have no right to judge him.
Vlogging is in fact a rather voyeuristic thing. You do in fact open yourself up to be no longer a person but an object. When you put every single thing you say and do and start to monetize those things and build a community it does feel a bit like a forfeiture of your personal humanity. You are then not a person but a personality. Think of Oprah. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always resisted posting too many videos from convention or my panels or even of my costumes: those memories are personal, private and mine. I know what happened 2 AnimeFests ago. My friends do, too. The rest of the Internet? They don’t need to know the whole story. But the clips, vignettes, intimate glimpses are more than enough to share with the unwashed masses. As a blogger, writer and social media professional, I am keenly aware of what is appropriate to post and what is not and I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my personal and private lives in check but also managing my online footprint pretty decently. But because I panel and cosplay there is a little bit of Stage!me and Everyday!me: those two people are very different and wear vastly different amounts of make up.
It’s interesting coming from someone like me who is a writer, cosplayer and general nerd. My friends and I talk rather casually about comic book characters, anime characters, novel characters like they’re people: like they’re real people. If you ever get in the middle of a Harry Potter conversation between friends and I, you will hear us talk about Potter as if he was right there and we were still equally annoyed and displeased with him. And if you sit with us further to hear conversations of headcanons you’ll come to find that even characters have idealized versions of themselves.
What’s even more interesting is that glimpsing into these people’s lives can reveal plenty of curious things. For a brief moment I found a person annoying based on a Let’s Play video. Think of how very shallow that is. I was willing and able to pass judgement on another person based on a video that completely out of context showed nothing about this individual or their life. And if anything I find that I am more sympathetic to John and Hank Green and the choices they make of who to show in their videos. John’s wife is famously in known in Nerdfighteria as “The Yeti” because she is often spoken about and rarely seen. He kept his son, Henry, out of many videos because he wanted his child to have agency over what what kept of him in the digital archives. And when clips, and snippets and soundbites are taken out of context: well, doesn’t that change how we’re all viewed? If someone pieced together a simulacrum of me based merely upon old anime club meetings and things I said while I was in costume: then you’d scarcely know the me that’s witty, charming, bookish, entirely too smart for my own good and frightfully introverted.
And what’s more important is that we forget to in these moments see these people are mortal. We put them on pedestals. We assume the wealth they’ve amassed from advertising makes them monoliths. But they are human, just like the rest of us. John Green goes to bed every night with his wife and family and if anything his open discussion of his anxiety to me makes him even more human. He worries about his existential life. He openly discusses mental illness and admits to the struggles he has had with faith. He admits to being an insufferable teenager ( I was, too) and he admits to being normal. Well, aside from the awards and stuff. I think it can all be summed up very well by another quote: “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.” said so wonderfully by Michel de Montaigne and illustrated beautifully in this video.
The moral of the story? Context is key. We’re all human and the internet is a scary place where we try to put our best foot forward only often to have our kindness used against us. So stay kind. Stay human. There’s a fine line between personality and persona.