The seductive world of YouTube frivolity

What tabloid gutter press was for older generations, YouTube is nowadays for the younger generations.

  • About 98% of surveyed pupils follow a YouTuber.
  • On average, they spend 2-3 hours a day on this social network.
  • 45% have YouTube on all day long.
  • 85%  prefer to follow YouTubers whose channels are mostly of entertaining character. 

By Anes Osmić 

Numerous YouTubers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia serve as idols for thousands of young people who consume their contents, from funny videos to educational campaigns. Some of them, such as Sarajevo-based “High school hooligans” (Huligani iz gimnazije) publish their observations about school and do not insult other influencers from YouTube as that seems to be a thing for popular content creators.  

Braco Gajić (Serbia), High school hooligans (Huligani iz gimnazije) (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Baka Prase (Serbia), K1ka, JoomBoos (Croatia), Janko (Serbia), Full burazeri (Serbia), Adnan Bro (Montenegro), Stuberi (Serbia), Anđela and Nađa (Serbia), Choda (Serbia), Crni and Laura (Serbia), Mudja (Serbia). These are but a few names that children nowadays identify themselves with and socialize with on YouTube. Media content of YouTubers is founded on development of different challenges, cracking of jokes with other YouTubers, and receiving of threatening but also supportive messages from fans.  YouTubers wage wars with other YouTubers, so that there is frequent occurrence of various YouTube dramas and rows; they record songs, and help their fans in trouble.

I took classes of media culture in an elementary school as an opportunity to talk to pupils aged 12-15 about what is so tempting within their favourite social network – YouTube – and how they use the Internet.

Out of all the media present nowadays, they follow only electronic. Out of all electronic media, they follow the Internet, and on the Internet – as you may guess – YouTube and Instagram. If these facts are turned into statistics, all the 92 interviewed pupils said that they use the Internet as, they say, it gives them freedom to choose the content which they will follow by themselves, while YouTube makes it possible for them to take an active part in the created content, by giving comments and thumbs up. What they like most is to follow public personalities and jokes, as well as contents which offer practical advice on how to do something by oneself, for instance, how to make a new pen out of an old one, or how to make a hair ribbon out of sponge.

About 98% of them follow a YouTuber. On average, they spend 2-3 hours a day on this social network. With 45% of them, YouTube is on all day long. Even though YouTube features various educational programmes, 85% of them prefer to follow YouTubers whose channels are mostly of entertaining character. They find YouTubers funny; YouTubers address them in the language they understand; and they do not assume the position of authority, which is why 65% of the surveyed pupils believe in what YouTubers say and do.

However, the world of YouTube has clear rules. You must be original and witty, and keep creating media contents for your audience to win new subscribers and thumbs up. The more subscribers you have, the greater the possibility of better earnings. Thus, quite a lot of YouTubers make good profit on this network. It is especially so as they sell T-shirts, cups, and various other objects with their faces on them to their fans. The primary aim of YouTubers, according to what one of them said, is as follows: I would like to ask you never to try and do what you see in my clips. My channel features contents posted only to entertain you, not to teach you stuff that you should do in your everyday life! I am here to entertain you, not to teach you bad things. If you have any comments or if you disagree, you can lodge your complaint to me personally to any of my contact options!

Space to discuss violence, radicalization, and extremism?

The discussion with my students about YouTubers was one of my favourite classes. Names of different YouTubers were pouring in. The pupils were keen on explaining why certain YouTubers were their favourite. They kept stating some unfamiliar terms, such as strike, diss track, and content. They were fanatic in defending their favourite YouTubers and justifying their actions to other pupils in the class. All this prompted me to take a step in the world of YouTubers myself and try to answer in this text the question whether YouTube, as a medium, opens up space for discussion on important current social issues such as violence, radicalization, and extremism.  In the text to follow, I will analyze some of the most popular YouTubers to see what content they offer to children and whether they tackle some of the topics mentioned.

Stuberi is a group of young people who publish every day on YouTube their adventures and challenges which they successfully overcome. They bring their audience, the rounded figure of 816,000 followers, challenges such as: how to ride a bicycle with 1000 layers of adhesive tape, how to drive a car for the first time, and how to cook miniature meals. They pull impossible tricks on skis, transfer the experience of the first pancake making, they stowaway their friend in a cinema, or make the largest Snowman. To differ from others, they explore haunted buildings in the city centre, meet face to face with a psychopath, eat dog food gone off, paint Bosnia red in field vehicles; guys swap lives with girls for 24 hours; they teach a Chinese girl Serbian, explain what a war between a brother and sister is like, or spend a day as construction workers.

From all the videos they recorded, one seemed especially interesting to me. It is entitled „Pulling a body out of fire” (Izvlačenje tela iz požara), so I thought at least that one might have some educational potential, as none of the other videos mentioned any violence, radicalism, or extremism. In this video, a group of young people simulates a fire, and tries to pull a body out of it. The video lasts for 17 minutes, and has no educational potential whatsoever. The group of youngsters keeps draggling from point A to point B, pulling and pushing each other and rolling on the floor. They do not provide a single concrete instruction or piece of advice on how to really pull a body out of fire. They end the video with the following words: We all got burnt more or less, that’s as far as the fire is concerned. Buy our T-shirts. See you in our next clip. Thus, the Stuberi take serious life situations just as an opportunity to be different and entertaining rather than to offer young people practical solutions and advice.

The channel Braco Gajić was viewed 98,681,343 times and has 497,479 subscribers. The whole message this YouTuber has for his fans may be condensed in the following words: Please be nice and press SUBSCRIBE:D because this is little for you, but it means a lot to me!:D #BaciSub #bracomajiceThe media content this YouTuber publishes for young people is more or less based on his words – spending of hard-deserved money. Thus, Braco Gajić calls random people on the phone, spends his savings, breaks phones, makes a pizza cake, tastes Japanese cookies and baby food, babysits for a day, and makes a doughnut milkshake. He is not sorry to pay enormous money for various trinkets that will make him different from other YouTubers and facilitate him with visibility and attention. Thus, for the purpose of wearing women’s clothes, he bought a fake bottom, which, as he says, women use to attract future husbands.

As a matter of fact, YouTube nowadays provides numerous young people with much needed visibility and valorization by their peers, which leaves an impression on them and shows that they are valuable – within contemporary value coordinates of likes and subscribers. This is why they do not even mind spending their hard deserved money to win a portion of needed attention, visibility, and validation – some of basic human needs.

Discussion on important social topics

I analyzed content of YouTubers from Bosnia and Herzegovina called High school hooligans (Huligani iz gimnazije). The description of their channel reads: Hi, we are YouTubers who record various sketches. The team includes: Emerald, Adis, Amer, and Dženan. We come from Sarajevo, BiH. Their content is different as they tackle topics which mostly relate to school, but different life situations, too. Their humor is considerably healthier and more mature, and does not rest on insulting and mocking other YouTubers, which is not rare on the YouTube scene. Through their videos, High school hooligans tell us about going to the hairdresser or the dentist, different types of teachers, students during the long break, differences between high school and university, and Balkan songs in real life. They ponder over what would happen if everyone were saying what they thought, and offer young people advice what they must not do as a police officer, taxi driver, or at a job interview. In an ironic and witty manner, they present types of neighbours, students, and things which annoy every high school student. They also talk about different types of students at tests, a day of life of a hater, things you must not do when a guest or during a first date, types of friends, or the last day of school. These YouTubers also recorded a video which speaks about inclusion and importance of equality among young people and observance of differences. It is dedicated to every elementary and high school student with a message about equality and inclusion of all students. Together we are stronger! I am limited only by your attitude – the message of the video states.

Thus, some YouTubers use their power and influence over their subscribers to sometimes mention an important social topic. While other YouTubers record diss tracks mocking other YouTubers and games of supremacy, the High school hooligans published a diss track with a critical overview of water reduction in Sarajevo. They are a rare example of YouTubers who use this social network to speak about important life situations in a witty manner, thus using the potential of YouTube in the segment of specific social rebellion.

One of the most popular YouTubers, Baka Prase, with millions of subscribers, speaks about violence in one video only. The video is entitled Stop violence; on this occasion, Bogdan Ilić speaks about a friend of his who wanted to separate some young men who were fighting and got the worst of it – he might lose his eye. His message is that everything should be settled by talking. If someone attacks you, it is OK to defend yourself, but it is not OK to mock others only to be interesting to others. Baka Prase sends the message to his fans that issues should be solved with words, and that they should not get into physical conflicts, as these can end in a disaster. He speaks about peer violence in the following manner: I hear a lot of stories about peer violence at schools. Don’t. I believe that even those who bully others follow me. So I will ask you not to do that. There is no need for you to bully or beat anyone. What are you? You do not appear any more alpha or hotshot because you’ve beaten someone up. You just appear a moron. At that moment, you might appear as a hotshot because that’s kinda cool when you are a kid. But then you realize you are a big time moron. I participated in fights a lot when I was a kid, but now I find it rather ridiculous. I was never in a serious fight. I was not the one to bully people, but I did fight. Now when I look at it, it’s ridiculous.

Bogdan Ilić is moderate in his criticism of violence, but his words that young people trust may be used at school. For instance, at a class treating the topic of violence, you can listen to his message and deepen the discussion on violence. YouTube may thus serve as good teaching material, which may be used to initiate serious discussions about violence, extremism, and radicalization, at school or at home.

When we asked him why he does not use his YouTube channel to talk about topics such as violence, radicalization, and extremism more frequently, Baka Prase did not answer. We also did not get the answer to the question if he has so few of such clips because he thinks that his audience might not find it interesting, or for some other reasons.

The media space of YouTube is not homogenous; it is versatile and motley. In this text, we analyzed into more detail but a few of the most famous YouTubers mentioned by my pupils. After a cursory view of others, we may say that besides these YouTubers who generally do not tackle the topics of violation, extremism, and radicalization, there are numerous other channels based on personal testimonies and confessions. Among popular ones is Mudja, young man of Roma nationality, who told young people his life story from rags to riches. I believe that such a format may encourage numerous other young people to tackle their differences more successfully. There are also YouTubers who, through personal confessions, talk about issues relating to mental health (depression, anxiety), partner relations, gender, and sexuality. A large number of YouTubers speak about books and offer young people practical advice on how to be better at math, biology, drawing, or grammar. In this sense, YouTube bears a significant potential of informing and educating young people, showing them that they are not the only ones who are faced with a certain type of issue. Also, numerous YouTubers offer practical advice in relation to nutrition, exercise, clothes, and make-up. It is important to mention that all this advice is offered to young people not by professionals, but from an authentic individual experience of a young person.

In the era of Internet euphoria, the YouTubers we analyzed here present all current values. They are young; they care about their physical appearance, money, and expensive stuff. People adore them. In terms of identification, numerous young people would consume such content rather than discussion about violence, extremism, and radicalism. In general, YouTube does not open up sufficient space for socially important topics, as its primary objective is to entertain and profit. What tabloid gutter press was for older generations, YouTube is for the younger generations nowadays.There are certainly many YouTubers who use this space to tell a personal story treating an important topic, but I am afraid that this practice also comes from the need to be seen and noticed rather than the intention to start serious discussion. Thus, YouTube may definitely be used as a material – familiar and close to young people, so that we could initiate a more serious discussion about violence, radicalization, or extremism with young people, using examples of personal confessions of young people from YouTube in controlled conditions, say, in a classroom.

Finally, YouTubers could be regarded in the manner in which Michael Rush regards a contemporary artist in his book Video Art. The goal of the artist is not to make the world a better place for living anymore, but to provide an answer to the universal misery of the human being from the verge of history and degeneration of the political into intentionally produced mass apathy as a consequence of cultural depression and narcissism. Only, all this should be placed in the context of children who have not acquired the ability of critical thinking yet. Thus, the challenge of approaching the broad media space of YouTube seriously is becoming even larger.

The article was translated from Media.ba, website of the Mediacentar Sarajevo, our partner and member of our network.