YouTube provides a space for users to provide their own content, with our generation witnessing the sharp increase in video participation online. Jean Burgess and Joshua Green argue that while YouTube has become a platform for amateur users to have democratic access to self-expression, it has proved vulnerable to the domination of corporations in the mainstream media. As it has risen in popularity, YouTube finds itself further integrated into this political landscape, resulting in the “commercialisation of amateur content” (Burgess & Green 2009, p. 23). When amateurs rise to fame through their own talents and video production, we are now witnessing their absorption into “the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Burgess & Green 2009, p. 23). This is emphasised by the fact that amateurs are aspiring to the old “markers of success” (Burgess & Green 2009, p.24) such as recording contracts and advertising deals outside the realm of YouTube.
It seems that most video bloggers (or Vloggers), while starting off amateur, eventually relish in breaking into the mainstream media scene. Moves towards ‘legitimacy’ are celebrated, and the original rough charm of their work begins to ebb away.
The most prominant example for me is work of Melbourne-based YouTuber Kimmi Smiles, who I actually share some mutual friends with. She become an accidental celebrity after posting a ‘Happy Birthday’ video for a friend of ours, and gained many views for her subsequent video blogs. She has deleted many of her earlier and more unprofessional blogs, but you can still witness her endearing, haphazard vlogging style when you watch the early ones that she still has uploaded:
Her online popularity has increased so much over the past year however, that she now had paid advertisements on her page and has created more and more professional videos. She makes frequent trips to Los Angeles to collaborate with her famous boyfriend Dave, who is also a famous YouTuber (http://www.youtube.com/user/davedays), and is currently ‘on tour’ all around America.
Her most recent music video has generated over 500,000 views:
The icing on the cake however is that the track is available on iTunes, evincing the fact that the logical progression in YouTube is to gain amateur fame, and then break into the mass media market. In this capitalist society it is difficult for someone to invest so much time into video blogging without getting any monetary reward, so it is clear that paid advertisements and revenue from mp3 sales is highly desirable for Vloggers.
The influences of the mass media upon YouTube’s amateur video-makers need not be seen as entirely detrimental however. Even though many of the most viewed videos are from corporate and mainstream media sources, YouTube maintains much of an internalised celebrity structure, with its own culture and prevailing amateur culture. Kimmi still makes many amateur and highly personal video blogs, and she is celebrated for her relatable attitude and the contact that she maintains with her viewers through live shows and comments. YouTube celebrities, unlike mainstream celebrities, boost their fame by remaining in touch with their audience, and to become entirely estranged would be detrimental to their appeal. YouTube has then, as Burgess and Green describe it, its “own, internal system of celebrity based on and reflecting values that don’t necessarily match up neatly with those of the dominant media” (Burgess & Green 2009, p. 24).
Jean Burgess and Joshua Green ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ on YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009