A few weeks ago, after another giant media conglomerate announced that it was laying off the bulk of its editorial staff to accommodate the people clamoring for MORE VIDEO, someone tweeted a rhetorical question: Who is this person who watches so much branded content that it’s changing the way we consume media in strange and unpleasant ways?
It was a good tweet and I hated it. Not because it quickly became popular and earned its author followers, but because while everyone was speculating from whence this focus group–spawned monster came, I was trying to hide my shame. You see, I’ve been keeping a terrible secret; one that’s darker than a terminal illness you don’t tell people about until it’s too late and only slightly (slightly) better than a second family in Tucson you’ve been concealing for the past twenty years. I know that video-starved monster. Worse, I married him. And I didn’t sign a fucking prenup.
My husband is 35, lives in San Francisco, and, by his own admission, looks really great in purple. His favorite animal is the baby elephant (although he’ll readily admit that he likes the adults, too) and his least favorite animal is our rabbit, who is named Ms. Cleo and who bites. For six months last year, he took ballet, quitting when his instructors merged two classes together in what he termed a “shameless cash grab that will ruin Adult Beginners for everyone.” He wrote an email urging the company to reconsider because “many students are struggling with the waltz, not just me,” but when his polite queries fell on deaf ears, he decided that maybe the dancing life wasn’t for him. So he picked a different hobby. Now, when he’s home from work or relaxing on the weekend, he watches a never-ending stream of branded content on YouTube.
My husband hates the Try Guys —“well, not hate,” he says, because he doesn’t like to use strong language when he doesn’t need to—and loves Ladylike (although he can’t quite explain why he watched a fifteen-minute video of strangers trying out dogs). He’ll watch Zagat when there’s nothing else on, is partial to Business Insider, and loves the gang over at College Humor (especially Katie Marovitch, whom he’d follow on Twitter if he had one of those). His favorite content comes from a channel called MiTu and he thinks the Buzzfeed hot plate isn’t such a bad idea. When I sent him Mashable’s story on it, the headline clearly negative, his response was an immediate “hmmmm,” followed by a terrifying “Did you see you can connect it to video? That could be really useful!”
You’d think it’d be impossible for one person to watch enough branded cinema to change the course of the internet forever (I thought it, too), but you’d also be wrong. Because you haven’t met my husband, a man who will relax with a two-hour stream of recommended recordings each night after dinner. And now that we’ve cut off cable and he can no longer watch movies with the commercials (“otherwise, what’s the point?”) he’ll pull double duty on Saturdays and Sundays, often choosing videos that haven’t yet hit the million-view mark, because “they’re going to need some help.”
Is this psychopathic behavior? I asked my therapist, but his response to such concerns is always, “Let people enjoy things” which is unhelpful when all I want to do is knock the remote out of my husband’s hand and hiss that he needs to stop before someone gets hurt. On a large scale, people are looking for him on twitter. On a smaller, more household-specific level, there are only so many sick royalty-free house beats a man can take before he’s driven to do something drastic.
I see video as an enemy, although not THE enemy (THE enemies are the lizard people who have taken over the government) and as a full-time blogger, I’m frightened by the way it’s slowly choking the internet. My husband, on the other hand, welcomes it, embracing the future and emitting small sounds of delight when he sees that his favorite contributor has posted another two-minute snippet of entertainment—the same way some of us used to when there was a new blog to read and hundreds of comments that agreed with your point of view and not the writer’s.
Though I’ll never agree with him (text forever!), I’ve begun to understand my husband’s point of view. As editorial content written by full-timers decreases, editorial content in general is becoming a bigger and bigger market, expanding each time someone who has bought into portfolio culture tries their hand at another piece on Marie Claire or Seventeen. And as more and more voices desperately scream over each other to be heard while delivering the same message, turning to video, where information is presented in bright, easy-to-digest chunks that can be easily consumed, bookmarked if they’re good, or forgotten is comforting, and, as my husband points out, essential in a time when the pressure to have an opinion on everything feels untenable. There’s a preponderance of video out there—each day another site decides that three autoplaying reels are just the right number to launch upon entering—but the content isn’t yet so overwhelming that you can feel your own mortality within its swell.
For all his villainy, my husband actually appears happier. There’s no pressure to comment on video, no reason to drag it kicking and screaming through the mud on Twitter. When I want to castigate someone for writing something (I’ve decided) is stupid, he asks me whether I might not be happier watching a sketch he’s just seen instead. It’s not that he doesn’t read, it’s just that he’s now more mindful of his time. There’s only so much anxiety he can take in a day, and after perusing the day’s most terrifying headlines, he chooses not to act upon the desire to dig further and further. For me, that means pausing live comment updates on The Washington Post while I get my bearings and decide what to scream about next. For him, it means a visit to the top-rated videos of the day, where he can get a mix of news and entertainment without feeling like his head will explode. And, at a recent dinner where he and his friends discussed their favorite videos of the week, I learned that he’s not alone. And despite reasonable requests, he shows no signs of slowing down.
We’ve reached an uncomfortable detente at home. He won’t stop watching videos, but he’s agreed to hold off on buying Buzzfeed’s hot plate. He’d like, he said last night as we were washing the dishes and watching a mini-doc about a woman trying weed to ease her chronic pain issues, to see some reviews.