Originally, this post was going to be a long, thoughtful look at a single topic. I then realized I wasn’t as knowledgable about the topic as I wanted to. Before I could actually dig into the research, a Youtuber made a far more thought-provoking and in-depth video than I ever could have done in my writing. And so, I’m undertaking a hybrid project here, which can only exist because of the better work of others.
A few things I’ve been considering before we dig ing: I am not famous on the internet. I have never been famous on the internet and, unless I happen to publish a very successful novel, I will never be famous on the internet. There was a time in my life where I very much wanted to be famous on the internet because I wanted an easy way to make money, feel like I was valuable to society, and receive love and attention I was woefully devoid of in my personal life. I am very much concerned for the person I used to be and will discuss that at length later (likely in a following post).
I write all this to note that writing on the internet about the internet is weird. Social media and communication on the internet is all about intent – there is some reason to be using this medium over others. I write on a blog because it allows me creative control and instant publishing ability. Yes, the quality is inconsistent and my audience is limited to people who know about the blog, are searching to read about topics and a search engine’s ability to connect my blog to those topics, and the relevancy of blogs compared to other mediums is a big old question mark. One day I’ll move into a podcast format but until then – y’all are stuck with text.
First, the video around the issue that started it all: the Internet’s relationship with three podcasting brothers. This video is long, but worth it. (Also, it probably goes without saying that I don’t necessarily agree with every opinion shared in these videos but I’ve selected them because I greatly appreciate the perspective, agree with the YouTuber’s overall message, and probably also subscribe to their channel.)
The Podcasting Brothers
I was introduced to the McElroys (their content, not them personally) by my now partner, Avery. They mentioned a couple of D&D podcasts they listened to, highlighting that The Adventure Zone featured a wizard named Taako, and I knew I had to listen. Previously, I didn’t listen to a lot of podcasts. I’d dabbled in a few when I spent a year walking to and from my theater job and stopped listening when my headphone cord froze in the winter. But at the beginning of 2020 I was starting an office job where I wanted to occupy my brain with something interesting while I did data entry and course transfers for a higher ed institution. I plowed through a couple of podcasts, Bombarded and The Adventure Zone, admiring how an audio medium could tell such rich stories. I was hooked.
Then the pandemic hit and I was working from home, not socializing with anyone, and feeling pretty lonely. What did I do? Filled my time with podcasts. After I wrapped up with the newest episodes of The Adventure Zone in their new arc, “Graduation”, I dove into My Brother, My Brother, and Me (henceforth known as MBMBaM), going back in time to episode one hundred something. I listened to all of Shmanners, Sawbones, and Wonderful, the podcasts the McElroys do with their relative spouses. I watched the short-lived but very funny TV show of MBMBam. One could say I’ve spent the last year becoming quite the connoisseur of McElory products (and boy, there are a lot of them).
I could write an entire post about why I enjoy their work, but for now I’ll keep it short. The three brothers have a lovely, wholesome relationship you don’t often see between adult family members mixed with an irreverent, ridiculous humor that mixes improvisation with reoccurring themes as well as a certain amount of playing with language that makes the most of puns and colloquialisms. They also have a knack for creating memorable, heartfelt characters that make you laugh as much as they make you cry. That sort of creative power is something I yearn to be able to do.
Seeing the critiques of their work as well as the struggle they have with their Internet community and balancing being a small family podcast while also being entrepreneurs with a marketable brand is something I keep going back to. I’ve been working on my “personal brand” at my day job and it’s something that’s been a large part of my writing. Every query letter I write and any project proposal I wrote in my playwriting days required a certain amount of branding. We live in a complicated world and every choice we make can reflect upon our characters – especially if the Internet is watching.
Lindsey Ellis is Cancelled (Again)
I’ve been watching Lindsey Ellis videos for probably about a year now and her film theory videos (which I would have loved to have had during my time as a Cultural Studies major at the U), reviews, and reflections are really marvelous.
I’m really going to let this video just sit on its own and speak for itself. The strength it takes to voice the mistakes you’ve made and admit them to thousands of unknown viewers and to be vulnerable like this… it’s incredible. It’s also a really good look at what cancel culture has morphed into. What was something that was meant to be used by the less privileged to address issues of white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, is now being used to silence advocates and allies. Why? It’s the Internet. Nothing gold can stay.
Daddy Made You Your Favorite; Open Wide
At some point in processing all these thoughts about Internet fame, my partner and I found Bo Burnham’s new special on Netflix. It deals heavily with creating in the pandemic, feeling responsible for creating content for viewers, struggling to make comedy in our current world and with mental illness, and the ways in which the Internet has completely changed how people interact with one another (as shown in the above video, a song which has not left my brain since I heard it). There’s a lot of layers to this show and a lot of insightful discussions out there about it, so I encourage you to find them.
I feel like these videos are all linked by common themes – obviously, creating content on the Internet. But there are also themes of vulnerability, parasocial relationships, criticism, and misunderstanding. All of these things are enough to write a dissertation about. However, I’m going to try to wrap things up here.
What Does it Mean to be Internet Famous?
“Hi, I’m Hank Green, and I’m famous on the internet.”
There’s an essay at then of the edition of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing I have where Hank Green, scientist, YouTuber, podcaster, and author, discusses a podcast he created with his wife in which they discuss tweets he’s posted. Green’s novel focuses on a young protagonist who becomes famous overnight after posting a video about a strange sculpture she stumbles across that appeared out of nowhere and has replicas across the world. It’s a sci-fi story but it’s also a powerful look at the powers and dangers of social media.
Being famous on the Internet is different than other kinds of fame. You may not be recognized walking down the street by most people but the people who know you expect the most of you. I have been one of those people, who simultaneously yearned to meet their heroes and were terrified of being disappointed. But everyone on the Internet is a person – we all have our flaws and quirks and wonderful qualities. We are all going to make mistakes. But in a space where content piles up like snow in a blizzard, it can be overwhelming for both content creators and content imbibers to deal with this onslaught. It’s hard to humanize the billions of characters in each Tweet, in each Insta post, in each Tik-Tok. Part of social media is resistant of that kind of humanization – building a performance, a curated idea of what each person is. Being any kind of authentic requires inconsistency and understanding that you will lose followers or have a low number of them. And when money is the bottom line, often users choose or are persuaded to do things that will conform to more hits and more likes.
I believe there is a way to be human on the Internet. However, I’m not very good at it. It’s something I am continually working at and struggle with continually (hence this post). As I continue these reflections as I go forward in my work, I want to leave you here with a quote from Jonathan Van Ness from his memoir Over the Top: “Would you still be so excited to meet me if you really knew who I was? If you knew all the things I’d done? If you could see all my parts?” JVN goes on to discuss researcher Brene Brown and that these feelings come from shame. JVN advocates resisting shame and being vulnerable with those who earn it. I can only endeavor to do the same thing here.