The Serial of YouTube

If you were already a podcast person, listening to podcast newbies drone on and on to you about the podcast Serial was pretty rough. I knew Podcasts were great before Serial. But the truth is that Serial is sort of different from most podcasts. It is highly researched, produced, and it unravels in a much larger narrative arch than even its forefather This American Life. But if you listen to say, The Slate Culture Gabfest, you were unsurprised by the intimacy of Serial’s format. The way a certain voice in your earphones becomes like a friend you walk around with.

Youtube, like podcasts, is also a cultural medium that only a committed (and younger) audience consume. Old people are boggled by the appeal of amateur videos about people’s makeup hauls and voice-overs of video game sessions. But I have been waiting for the Youtuber (Youtube content creator) who can actually cross over the way that Serial did for podcasts. I have found him! Behold Casey Neistat:

Casey Neistat is basically a professional ad director, but he actually follows the conventions of Youtube pretty closely. He rarely uses a camera man, instead opting for his own point and shoot. He has DIY’s, travel vlogs, and windows into his banal life, but most importantly he makes videos about consumer objects that feel like a intimate conversation with a friend instead of a manipulative sales pitch. These are all classic Youtube sub-genres. The only difference is that he is an actual film maker and thus he brings the sly finesse of a professional to this intimate form. I think this breaks Youtube wide open. Many people have tried making traditional tv shows on Youtube, but Youtube is a medium with its own formal logic (much like podcasts), and Neistat has embraced those limitations. On top of all that, Neistat is a very fancy person. I want to buy all the products he casually destroys so that I can be just like him. And I am hooked into the product videos by the tear jerking over shares.

Like Serial, Neistat’s videos draw on a much longer history of “research” than most creators in his medium. Because he has been making videos since he was a teenager, his new videos contain old footage that extends the temporal arc of his narratives back in time–making the fragmentary and spontaneous element of his Youtube videos feel more “important.”


This is how Youtube will take over your eyeballs.



3 thoughts on “The Serial of YouTube

  1. “My Kid and Me” gutted me–it was so sweet. But then I watched one about hacking $500 luggage to hold a skateboard and I died a little. His family/relationship-oriented ones are so great, but the rest of his oeuvre makes me think he might be a wee bit evil. The podcast analog for me would be “StartUp,” which is something we also need to discuss.

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