Analysing online reviewers
When does tubing become criticism? Do the online reviewers on YouTube present a new hope for the democracy?
One of the workshops in this year’s summer school in Riga – the theme of which was the highly topical “grassroots cultural journalism” – discussed the emergence of the so called “new reviewers” in the online environment. Here is an extract from the workshop description:
Nowadays, popular culture is central part of the consumption and mass mediated evaluation of culture. The workshop explores forms of content production in the social media that show similarities, although considerable differences, too, to the traditional arts criticism. In the workshop, we will analyse aesthetically and critically oriented tubing, blogging, instagramming and communication on similar platforms in terms of their critical functions.
In our workshop, we wanted to figure out how the new and emerging forms of criticism might look like. What kind of criticism, often in the realm of popular culture, is carried out on YouTube and in blogs of different categories, or even possibly on Instagram, Pinterest and Periscope? To which extent can it be regarded as criticism? What makes criticism or reviewing criticism, and when is it just entertainment, or a response or reaction? Do the new reviewers make criticism more democratic and accessible as well as contribute to a wider awareness of arts and culture?
The most well-known tubers who can be considered reviewers in the digital era reach hundreds of thousands subscribers; some of them, like Pewdiepie and other “YouTube millionaires”, even a million or more. As a great deal of these type of content creators intend to reach wide audiences by “making people to laugh”, as pinpointed by the online film reviewer Jeremy Jahns, criticism is subjected to mass-audience-oriented functions of entertainment. Humour is a typical tool for drawing people’s attention and making them to share links. Reactions to these kinds of contributions do not maybe reach a deep level of a cultural debate, especially as trolls and ads make an overview of most commented channels and entries impossible.
We also found out that many of the most viewed videos are very similar to each other within the genre they represent. If you think of the reviewers’ vlogs or gamers’ playthroughs (let’s play videos) with the largest reach, they all include a strikingly kind of setup, structure, and language to address their audiences. Developing practices that content creators follow may be a way of professionalising the activity for the young community of pro-ams who in some way need to legitimate themselves as reviewers of the new era. However, this development also notoriously remind us of the Frankfurt school’s critical theory of cultural industry, where the cultural products face homogenisation of content instead of diversity. The new reviewers of popular culture may reach million-audiences, but it still happens on the precondition of mass cultural principles of the cultural industry. Marginal voices remain at the marginals. And, as they are located there in the marginals, they continue being difficult to find and access.