Can YouTube Define YOU?

When you hear the name Tyler Oakley, what comes to mind? If it’s YouTube and over 7 million subscribers, then you’re on the right track! Tyler Oakley is a 26 year-old who became famous through YouTube. Oakley made his initial claim to fame in 2007 when he uploaded his first video as a freshman at Michigan State University. His videos have since gone viral. What is it that makes an ordinary Michigan State college student so popular? Could it be his open nature and willingness to speak about controversial issues? Is it due to others’ ability to relate to a normal college student? Although Tyler Oakley now receives money from sponsors as a result of his amount of subscribers, is he perceived as more authentic than other celebrities simply because he became famous through YouTube and is not actually a paid actor?

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 10.27.09 AMIn his first video, titled “Why Gay Marriage is WRONG,” Oakley takes a satirical approach and provides ten irrational reasons why gay marriage has to be wrong. Despite the title of his first video, Oakley identifies as gay and has obtained a large following from the LGBT community.

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Members of the LGBT community, along with many others, now view Oakley as a role model. Whether or not this was Oakley’s intention, he is largely in the public eye and has now has a profound influence on his audience. In a recent interview with TIME magazine, Oakley indicated it does not matter whether or not he intends to be a role model for others. If people are looking up to him, he has the potential to influence their lives in a positive or negative way, which is where authenticity comes to play. When Oakley uploaded his first video in 2007, he was not following a script. No one was telling him what to say or how to say it. Instead, he was simply sharing his own views. At that time, it likely would have been difficult for Oakley to imagine he would one day have over 7 million subscribers. Now that Oakley receives sponsorship via YouTube, does this make the content he produces less authentic? Or has he stayed true to the values and beliefs expressed prior to receiving money from sponsors?

We live in a commodity culture, which means we define ourselves by the commodities we consume. Although Tyler Oakley’s YouTube videos are intangible, they can be viewed as commodities that help define his audience members. The messages Oakley conveys, whether intentional or unintentional, inevitably influence his viewers. Some may choose to watch Oakley’s videos because they identify with the LGBT community. Others may watch Oakley’s videos simply because they find him humorous or they enjoy his hipster image. Regardless of their reasoning, Oakley’s 7 million plus subscribers have found a way to connect with him and the brand narrative he has created for himself.

Why do you think Tyler Oakley has become so popular? Are viewers more likely to buy in to what YouTubers say as opposed to paid actors? Are Oakley’s videos worthy of over 7 million subscribers? Do you agree that simply watching videos on YouTube help can define you as a person? If so, how? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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2 thoughts on “Can YouTube Define YOU?

  1. I think this topic is so tricky to answer and know if you are right. However, I don’t think it should stop us from trying to figure out these Youtube sensations because each one is different. In Tyler Oakley’s case my initial reaction is to applaud him. He has managed to make himself a marketable, lovable, and relatable brand. He is the perfect combination of what fans love and come back to and brand names see dollar signs all over. Now, like you said he initially wasn’t being paid and his following happened simply because people thought he was funny and appreciated his openness. This was his first step in winning his audience. He made them trust him. Now that the trust has been established brands started to slip in and pay him to talk about their product. How authentic is this? I guess we would have to Tyler himself to find out if he actually likes the products he promotes. From seeing his Youtube channel the hope would be that he would only pick the brands he himself likes. It is much easier to get behind something and promote it if you believe in it yourself. So as far as authenticity goes I’m not sure if we can ever know that answer which is a little scary.

    Overall I don’t think people are more likely to trust Tyler over a paid celebrity because with 7 million subscribers we all know that he gets paid just as much. I think the one thing that Tyler has going for him that a celebrity doesn’t is we feel like we know him. That openness and trust is what might make his opinion on a product more valuable; but that is just an assumption.

  2. It’s crazy how people get famous from YouTube-ing! I “grew up watching” Bethany Mota on YouTube, and now she has her own clothing line with Aeropostale. YouTube definitely helps in defining a person. Viewers get to know the bloggers personality, likes/dislikes, etc. These bloggers use YouTube as a way of expressing who they are. And the reason why they get famous is because the viewers like who they are and what they stand for.

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