Today I watched a video of an Old English Sheepdog getting a haircut for perhaps the eighth or ninth time. It's one of my favorite videos from my favorite channel on YouTube: a vlog named WayOutWest that captures life on a smallholding in Ireland. Before you watch the video yourself, I should warn you that this is Good YouTube. This is real deal, the raw shit, the sticky icky. It's a direct window into someone else's life through which you will be dragged to watch in childish awe as strangers you've never met pet their fat pigs and make homemade sauerkraut. Viewers of a certain mindset may even be tempted to quit their job and move to the country.
Now, I know most people's definition of Good YouTube is more often cute animals or well-timed pratfalls, but I think it's most meaningful as a sort of low-level, long-term escapism. Finding some Good YouTube isn't like watching a film or reading a book, but instead, it's like peering occasionally and affectionately into someone else's experience of the world. It's a magic porthole that you keep in your house and idly gaze into when you're brushing your teeth or washing the dishes.
from smoking your own mackerel to making a fox trap out of a shopping trolley
WayOutWest offers exactly this, with its videos (views mostly in the low thousands, a couple breaking through the 150K marker) covering all manner of farmyard chores, from smoking your own mackerel to making a fox trap out of a shopping trolley. Some are narrated in quiet tones by a gently accented woman, some by a gently accented man. Others are silent apart from background noises of animals and machinery, with subtitles in each one explaining what's going on. The information itself might not be directly useful (e.g. How To Make Steel Cog Wheels Without A Metal Lathe, 2,723 views), but as you watch the videos you pick up clues about the couple making them: about their day-to-day lives, their annual rounders match with friends, their love for their dogs. There's no hardcore exposition, no baring of thoughts and feeling as with YouTube's best-known vloggers. Instead, the whole channel just gently hums with the low-key vibrations of someone else's life.
It's fair to say that my enjoyment of WayOutWest includes a good amount of bog-standard authenticity tourism. I live in London and although I grew up in the countryside and have relatives who farm, it's unlikely I'll leave the city anytime soon to take up my plough and shovel (more like life on the content farm amirite?). But I think there's still something inescapably internet-y about how video channels like this present themselves and worm their way into our interests. It's the same way we can see a blog or a social media profile and automatically intuit the character of the human behind it — that automatic transference of humanity that means brands can be your friend on Twitter.
I think people who have grown up on and around the internet are really good at reading these sorts of background-level semiotics, using their skills to not only interpret corporate content like adverts and trailers, but also the architecture of internet personhood; everything from someone's choice of profile picture to their use (or lack thereof) of txt talk and punctuation. These sorts of interpretations add depth and meaning to what we absorb online the same way that things like sentence structure and vocabulary articulate character in a novel.
more persuasively human than television
This means that the format of WayOutWest — a YouTube channel — is far more persuasively human than if the same footage appeared on TV. We know that the TV is a machine that turns people into content, and although the internet unquestionably does the same, it's more subtle about it, and when people have control over their own platform this person-to-person communication feels more immediate. The cinematographic cues of WayOutWest's videos all add to this. The hip-shot footage, the hand-drawn intro sequence, that time the dogs nearly knocked over the tripod — they all compound the feeling of watching real life in 5 minute clips. It also helps, of course, that the couple running WayOutWest seem like genuinely nice people who care about each other and enjoy making their videos. Like I said: this is Good YouTube.