New media, new medium

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E-celebrities the next generation of artists?

By Adam Tatelman, Arts Editor

It would be difficult to find any western millennial with an Internet connection who hasn’t at least heard of YouTube personalities like Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, Mark “Markiplier” Fischbach, or Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla of Smosh fame. The swearing Swede, the red-haired raconteur, and the suburban sketch comedians all have one thing in common: these seemingly pedestrian figures have captured the hearts of millions in a culture suffused with limitless disposable entertainment, forever changing the face of the Internet in the process.

At first glance, their methods are identical to that of an improv comedy show. It begins with the creation of an idiosyncratic personality, and the mining of comedic potential which arises from putting that personality in bizarre situations. Advertisement and self-promotion of that personality creates a viewer base, and the viewers’ loyalty provides ad revenue to the creators of the show and their distribution partners. That is where the new media’s similarities to film and television end, however.

Community is the watchword when it comes to new media presentation. Without any multi-billion dollar film production companies in their corner, internet personalities must rely on word-of-mouth advertising and self-promotion to push their shows. These methods have more power now than ever before in history because of the internet’s worldwide accessibility. Anyone with presentational skill can likely accrue viewers provided they is able to fill some kind of niche with their content. This creates audiences who feel connected to the material, and thus are loyal. The trick is to then parlay niche appeal into mass appeal.

This is why the most successful e-personalities focus on the latest pop-culture trends, recording content in bulk and publishing bite-size chunks day by day. In a media-saturated culture like our own, so much disposable entertainment comes down the pipe that no one can possibly afford to keep up with it all without making a full time job of it. The brilliance of the e-personality is to do just that, offering a vicarious experience of all the latest popular films and games in easily digestible comedic chunks that fit the pace of urban life.

This early adoption poises each monetized YouTube channel as its own small production company, requiring e-personalities to take on the roles of advertiser, producer, editor, director, cameraman, and actor. This balancing act could never be accomplished without the internet’s democratization of media. Now that anyone can publish anything at any time with very little regulation, users of new media are free to adopt filmic advertisement techniques with entirely new methods of distribution.

That is the secret behind the rise of the e-personality; although everything they generate is entirely disposable, the sense of community they create ensures their viewers will always come back for more. So, perhaps “new media” is a misnomer. After all, video has been around for over a century. Perhaps instead we should refer to this phenomenon as a “new medium,” one which transcends the limitations of film and television and embraces a new method of presentation.

Hell if I know what to call it, though.