Opening Argument: What You Watch, You Get More Of, And Other Hard Truths
There’s a YouTuber I like watching whose name is Jessica Kobeissi. She’s a professional photographer, and I came across her channel when my interest in photography returned to me during the pandemic. She’s got what I would describe as a kind of a relaxed millennial vibe, sort of funny and dry, and I’ve watched some cool videos from her where she does stuff like challenge her photographer friends to shoot the same model with her and then they compare results, or challenge someone to work with a toy camera. I also love her retouching videos, where you can see how she adjusts the color and toning of portraits to make them look great — without the classic weird retouching habits of making everybody’s neck thinner or making all their moles go away.
These videos have wildly different view counts, obviously, in part because they’re of all different ages. A lot of her technique and «challenge» videos (like photographers shooting the same model) have millions of views. And you can’t make much out of recent trends, because photographers were obviously limited by the pandemic as much as everyone else, in terms of what they could shoot and who they could see.
But I’ve been interested in watching her do more and more reaction videos, and watching those really roar when it comes to view counts. (If you’re not familiar with the reaction video world, those are the videos where the YouTuber brings something up on their own laptop and watches it, pausing to offer commentary.) Kobeissi has been doing a lot that are about America’s Next Top Model photo shoots, and don’t get me wrong — I enjoy them. But as I see them do so well so quickly, racking up views like crazy, it’s really interesting to think about what it must be like as a YouTube personality who has a lot of expertise and whose fans want to watch you react to America’s Top Model as much or more than they want to watch you demonstrate your skills.
In a way, it’s extremely … democratic? What I mean by this is that audiences speak to what they like and want, and it’s understandable that if you rely on sponsors and those sponsors rely on audience size, you would make more of what they’re watching. But when this happens, it’s also a very raw demonstration of how you can watch the priorities of a creator change over time based on blunt statistics. (Again, she’s not a clear example of this because of all the caveats; she still makes technique and retouch videos. I don’t want to call out people who seem like they are clear examples of it, because … it’s unnecessary.)
And it’s true of television creators and authors and film directors too, of course. It’s easy to see that as strictly about gruesome pandering to audiences, but when you see it play out on YouTube, with creators who started channels for niche audiences who really wanted information, the role of the audience deserves consideration, too. As always — with television, with movies, with books, with YouTube — you will get more of what you choose to support. And no amount of «this is good, this is bad» commentary on Twitter or Instagram or elsewhere is more powerful than the act of choice. To some degree, on YouTube and everywhere else, if you pick it, you support it.
(P.S. As I sat down to write this newsletter, I accidentally put my arm on a cicada that was inside my house. As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, they come down my chimney. I felt like you, as a subscriber and reader — thank you! — needed this update.)
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I’m only a few episodes into the Apple TV+ adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, starring Julianne Moore and Clive Owen, and I’m not honestly sure if I like it! It’s nearly impenetrable with mythology in the early going, but it’s directed by Pablo Larrain (Jackie), and I’ll say this for it: It’s stylish.
If you ever enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, even if you’ve drifted away from it as the story (in my opinion) got stuck, the eighth episode of the fourth season, which dropped this week, is one you might want to check out. Just read some recaps until you’re caught up, and then check it out. For me, as someone who had long found the show frustrating, that episode was satisfying.
I finished Will Leitch’s bookHow Lucky, which needs no help from me since it was recently recommended by, uh, Stephen King. But! While it’s hard to tell from the cover that it’s a tense thriller, it’s very much a tense thriller, and I recommend it.
A couple things we’ll be talking about soon that you might want to check out: Sweet Toothis on Netflix, and the new Conjuring movie is in theaters and on HBO MAX.
What We Did This Week:
I dove into the finale of Mare Of Easttown, trying to answer as many questions as I possibly could. Does it contain spoilers? Of course.
On Monday’s show, we shared an episode of It’s Been A Minute in which our friend Sam Sanders spoke to Patti Harrison, one of the stars of the intriguing comedy Together Together.
On Wednesday, Aisha sat down with Tre’vell Anderson and Sydney Baloue for a long-overdue PCHH examination of Pose, which wraps this weekend. Also! Look out for a very good essay from Aisha on Sunday that will ease you into that finale.
Thursday was a perfect day to talk about Jean Smart, as there’s no bad day to talk about Jean Smart, so Glen and Danielle Kurtzleben talked about how great she is on the HBO MAX series Hacks.
Friday’s show is our summer preview, which this year includes not only movies but also television and music. We absolutely encourage you to get out there in the world this summer, but when you come home, there’s a lot of great stuff you’re going to be able to enjoy.
I wrote about the Bo Burnham special Inside, which is now streaming on Netflix. Made during the pandemic by Burnham working largely alone, it’s a combination of silliness and despair that captured, for me, what the last year was like. We’ll be covering it on the show next week, so give it a shot.
What’s Making Us Happy (and our Summer Picks!):
Every week on the show, we talk about some other things out in the world that have been giving us joy lately. Here they are: