The Popularity of Video Essays

The Modern Day Documentary

By Joseph Lee

Backpage Editor

Image source: Studiobinder.com

With the onslaught of free time resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been noticeably more bored. With this boredom, there’s been a reliance on our phones and the popular apps that help distract us and waste our time. More content can be created and viewed as people start to share their common interests.

Through the rise of TikTok specifically, we see an embrace toward trends and personal interests. Not only do these trends cycle through more quickly, but it represents the growing pattern in society of regurgitating the same ideas in different forms. Clothing trends as a society usually cycle through in a decade or so, but we see fashion trends cycle through TikTok almost biweekly. Dancing trends involve similar or repeating moves for different songs that grow popular. Even documentaries, which are still popular, have evolved into a more accessible form that embraces more niches. 

Through another social media platform, YouTube, anyone can watch and listen to a documentary-style commentary about their favorite interests. From movies, video games, and even the popularity of beauty marks, we see these topics come to life, exploring them through the youtuber’s lens and narrative. There are even educational and personal videos these creators make which often speak to more people. 

These types of videos seemed to steadily grow on YouTube, initially having around 10,000 to 200,000 views for different topics. It only really seemed to boom with cancel culture. After the big trend of makeup videos on YouTube, several popular creators had been “canceled,” resulting in videos with over 20 million views by the likes of creators like James Charles and Tati Westbrook exposing each other. After the whole fiasco, several YouTube creators made videos researching the topic and speaking about the whole situation, gaining around 7-13 million views themselves.

It was amazing that with everyone’s shortening attention span, these videos which are usually 20 minutes to an hour long, gained so many views and so much popularity. The praise, however, is warranted. These types of videos usually only last so long because they are jam-packed with great editing, commentary, and researched information. It’s no wonder they are so popular because a lot of them can seem to be at a professional level, with great content that captures the audience’s attention. 

A Howard County senior, Robin Aragon, shared their own story on how they started to watch and love video essays:

“For me it was just background noise when doing art, cleaning my room and various other things to help me do my work more efficiently. But also like my father, who immigrated to America when he was 17, I always liked to learn new things, and I always enjoyed film and tv and what have you. I enjoyed seeing peoples’ takes on films, video games and stories [and] their theories, predictions, [and] opinions.”

 “Perhaps during quarantine we all succumbed to video essays because sometimes, it feels like a conversation, like a friend telling you something they learned…In quarantine I watched a five hour on a YouTuber. I didn’t even know he existed until the video popped up. But I watched it in its entirety. Not because I truly cared but the way the man spoke, the way the man dug his hands into that [subject] – I was enamored.”

“It was like a free college lecture…I see video essays as…frank, college lectures written by amateurs for amateurs. Teenagers live in this age of convenience and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as people chalk it up to be. It makes learning, creating, and connecting more accessible than it has ever been. And video essays are a byproduct of that. Video essays are helping teens and young adults learn to love learning again. As someone with ADHD, I oftentimes find myself breaking things apart and putting them back together, truly trying to understand how something works. And how it does not. Video essays help scratch that itch, that desire…I have to learn. To learn is to truly be free, all knowledge is meaningful even if not seen as such at first glance.”

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