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Behind the Scenes of “Behind the Scenes” (II)

Part Two of my thoughts on vlogging.

I do not judge, let alone condemn any Youtuber for the decision to be untruthful in what is declared to be a documentation of everyday life. I am aware that there might be personal reasons for hiding or disguising whatever is really going on. I also reckon that commercial aspects might play a decisive role: Whilst a certain level of untruth in beauty reviews is due to a Youtuber’s role as an advertiser, private life masquerades can ultimately be explained as a form of image cultivation and advertisement for a product that is the youtuber itself. After all, Youtubers work so brilliantly well as advertising media because of their large audience, their “street credibility”, but also beacuse of their classic, advertising icon qualities: beauty, success, wits, an overall immaculate life. And whilst the Youtube audience might even appreciate a bit of everyday drama, uglyness and failure, high-end companies – as advertisers – would not: Basic rules of advertisement don’t spare Youtube. A product sells better if promoted by a relatable (hence the vlogging…), but also talented young allrounder casually writing her debut novel en passant, than by a girl who is just pretending to do so; kids’ clothes or trips to Disney Land sell better if they are presented by a loving young mother and wife rather than by a single mother going through a divorce.

So whilst there might be a couple of understandable reasons for the occasional distortion of truth in vlogs from a Youtuber’s point of view, let me just point out a few aspects that bother me, as a viewer:

  • Contrary to Instagram and main channels, vlog channels still explicitly claim full authenticity for their content. A video of a young mother living with her husband and daughter is neither flagged as fiction by a title, nor recognisable as such by means of a platform’s common consumer-producer-knowledge.
  • In summary, the professed goal of every single big Youtube beauty guru and vlogger is to empower women; and millions and millions of followers full of love and praise impressively prove how a whole generation does indeed feel inspired and encouraged by the beauty and fashion videos, but also by the vlogs.
  • So far, vlogs used to add a bit of normality to the unattainable, unreal perfection of a Youtuber’s high-end beauty review and Instagram flawlessness: They were comforting and reassuring real women in that they showed what’s possible in life and what is not; in that they allowed for a bit of non-glamorous daily routines and a glimpse of real life they could relate to.
  • All these aspects combined might explain why I consider the distortion of truth in daily vlogs to be highly problematic: In a medium that by definition excludes major elements of mise-en-scène or narration (or else a daily vlog would become a daily soap) and whose self-proclaimed function is to show the normality of error-prone human life behind the glossy facades, altered versions of the truth are not empowering, but frightening. Whilst we’ve accepted the transformation of honest beauty reviews into cleverly disguised advertisement campaigns that use Youtubers as mere actors, performers and incorporations of a certain life-style; whilst we have learned to deal with photographs that pretend to just show a random glimpse of everyday life, but really are the most condensed form of self-publicity you could ask for in a picture; active misleading and misinformation in daily vlogs goes beyond the acceptable as long as they still hold up their claim for authenticity. Empowering women stands in sharp contradiction to selling them whitewashed vlogs as an achievable, “real” version of your picture-perfect main channel and Instagram life, if you know yourself that your reality is a different one, and that what you claim to be just a normal life is not even achievable for yourself.

I am not saying that vlogs in general have turned into just another platform for glossed over self-publicity, and I really hope that the recent case of playing happy family for seven months to distract from a divorce stays an exception in it’s brazenness. But if Youtubers really want to assume responsibility and be empowering – as they constantly claim to! –, they should start by setting an example in their approaches to their own lives. You cannot preach self-love and self-acceptance in life whilst producing daily vlogs that focus on nothing but the cherries on the cake and eradicate every trace of (more or less) substantial failure. Also, the occasional “no make-up” appearance or cheeky eating in vlogs does not make up for cases of serious misinformation: They just make the distinction between acceptable and non-acceptable imperfections even more visible, and act as mere alibi for the disguise of what really matters, and what is going wrong. You cannot encourage women to embrace their own lives – and everything they hold – with supposedly off-screen, private video documentations of your life beyond the glamour if they turn out to be mere whitewashed bullshit; by giving melodramatic, tearful life advice, conjuring up a community of “Sprinkelerinos” and telling women about the oh so serious struggles we all go through, except you – apparently – don’t! Retouched vlogs that completely disguise their own disguise game set the bar even higher than main channel and Instagram content, identifiable as partially ficticious. Untruthful, misleading vlogs are not empowering, but frustrating to those unlucky few of us out there who cannot “cleverly edit out” (quote: Louise Pentland) failures, break-ups and the general mess that life can sometimes be; to all the viewers who – so far – cannot know what is a down-to-earth, well-intended glimpse of a Youtuber’s real life that can serve as inspiration, and what is just sugarcoated self-display and wilful misrepresentation.

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