YouTube Controversies: The Truth Behind Commentary Channels

November, 2020
Sabrina Saber, Blog Correspondent

Prior to writing this, my YouTube history page consisted of videos of near impossible workout routines, influencers promoting healthy morning habits, and “self-improvement” products that I’d mindlessly convinced myself to be beneficial. I was never the type of person to watch “commentary” channels on YouTube—channels that often criticize and make fun of other videos and Youtubers. That is, until I started writing this article.

Commentary channels are becoming increasingly popular. With this being the case, it’s important to consider how this popularity reflects the minds of popular audiences, who seem to have a greater interest in the riffing off of content than the content itself. Is our attraction to commentary channels a problem? I sought to answer this question with this mindset: yes, there are many reasons this is a problem. But, after binge-watching Cody Ko until 3 am every day for a week straight, I have constructed a list of why, on the other hand, it is not:

  • First, there’s a lot of agreeably horrible, and often unnecessary content being produced each day. We’ve all complained of people that have risen to fame for needless and questionable reasons. Commentary channels on YouTube not only complain about this phenomenon, but also provide a few laughs out of it for their audiences. Moreover, constantly questioning content and placing it under scrutiny teaches us to be more critical. We mustn’t fall for everything we see behind a screen.
  • We like hearing others say what we can’t put into words. More importantly, watching commentary channels provides a well-deserved break for our alternate egos—the sides of ourselves we inhibit and hide, in an attempt to be the nice, non-judgemental people we like to believe we are.
  • We don’t feel like commentary channels are trying to sell us anything when we watch them. Most of the content I watched prior to writing this would talk about “amazing” ways to motivate yourself to work out, only to model Gymshark clothes for the next five minute. Commentary channels make fun of, but also critique, these types of people.

Across social media platforms, we’re constantly bombarded with mainstream messages of flawlessness. These images of perfection are broken down by commentary channels, and exposed to reveal series’ of embarrassing moments that remind us that we’re all human. This content is honest, relatable, and funny. And, it takes courage to stand up to the overpower messages we find online. 

 A really helpful, albeit dangerous feature on YouTube, is the site’s automatic suggestion of relevant and similar videos, because it just so happens that after watching dozens of commentary videos, response videos start coming up. These videos come from  different YouTubers’ responses to being featured on commentary channels. As far as I watched, it appeared that while some were thankful and honoured to be featured, others—for disappointing, yet blindingly obvious reasons—didn’t seem to take the criticism all too well. We laugh at home, but the public criticism we are driving clearly impacts these victimized content creators and their work. 

 The response videos I watched acted as a reminder that, at their core, commentary channels can be a gateway to the normalization of bullying. As viewers, we take this very lightly, because what’s behind a screen can’t hurt us, right? This idea becomes increasingly worrying when we consider the number of children and adolescents who have access to this content. Not only do these channels model cyberbullying (and wrap it up in the guise of comedy), but they teach that this behaviour results in fame, money, and success. Commentary channels inarguably come with countless implications. There are many, however, that would defend the opposite argument, in view of the channels’ positive impacts.  

Let’s look into one of the most noteworthy examples of this controversy: the videos released by Cody Ko, criticizing fellow YouTuber Jake Paul. The reason that these videos have gained so much attention? Jake Paul chimed in with a response video that, well, had its own issues. In his response video, Jake Paul confronts Cody Ko for being a “bully,” and then ironically proceeds to bully him, making personal attacks and belittling his platform, career, and character. The self-righteousness and hypocrisy in Jake’s response discredited his entire argument, and is perhaps why some refuse to support his claim that Cody is a cyberbully. 

YouTuber Jarvis Johnson was one of numerous influencers that voiced his opinion on the issue, bringing to light two valuable points: 

1. By definition, the term “bullying” is only applicable when the person being intimidated/harmed is perceived as valuable. Jake Paul, in all his wealth, power, and influence, is not vulnerable.

2. Criticizing the behaviour and actions of public figures is necessary, to a certain extent. People need to be held accountable for their actions. These influencers hold a lot of power in their hands; criticism is inevitable and essential in assuring that this power is not abused. 

We can, therefore, argue this issue either way; commentary channels can be both right and wrong in principle. Choosing one side requires a lot of discernment. But human beings have never been exceptionally good at discerning right from wrong, and so we often find ourselves continuing to watches these (admittedly hilarious) videos either way. 

Our judgement, or more specifically, the ability to act upon our judgement, is flawed. But perhaps that’s why we’re captivated by the content of commentary channels: there’s something about embracing flaws instead of striving for perfection that draws us in, and speaks to us.

It’s important to consider how this popularity reflects the minds of popular audiences, who seem to have a greater interest in the riffing off of content than the content itself. Is our attraction to commentary channels a problem?

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