I just spent nine hours watching an analysis of Disney’s 2000’s sitcom, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. The day prior, I rewatched Jenny Nicholson’s infamous video essay on The Vampire Diaries for the 7th time as it has become my ultimate comfort viewing to fall asleep to. On the way to work, I watched Mike's Mic explain the plot of Lost — a TV show I have never seen, nor have the desire to ever watch, thanks to Mr Microphone’s in-depth discussion. The length of some of these video essays is greater than the length of the series they are discussing (Quinton Reviews, I am looking at your series on Victorious).
Instead of watching a TV show nowadays, I will instead find an “appropriately unhinged” (a la Mike's Mic) video essay on YouTube that will summarise the show and analyse it within an inch of its life. And I am far from the only one.
In recent years, video essays have slowly grown in popularity, becoming one of the major genres on YouTube. Gone are the days of Bye Sister and the 100 Layers Challenge — we are in the commentary era now.
These videos are not limited to television show recaps, and actually, it’s the contrary. A video on the Disney Parks’ now defunct ‘Fast Pass’ system has amassed 18 million views despite its length being almost two hours. Femcel Feminism and Transgressive Girlhood by Shanspeare is a critique of postmodern feminism and questions what women really mean when they say they are in their “Fleabag era”. It seems as if there is a video for any topic your heart desires.
And for Gen Z, not only is it popular, but for many, video essays are now the preferred form of media consumption.
A generation that has solely existed online, Gen Z has never lived in a world without the Internet and has been consuming online content from vast corners of the Internet their whole lives. This is the generation that would go into Wikipedia rabbit holes about Greek Mythology at 2 a.m. on a school night, only to forget the majority of it by the morning. With knowledge about almost any topic at their fingertips, they’ve become used to educating themselves online.
There's also the fact that most video essays have elements of intertextuality. As a generation of chronically online people — to the extent that most people could detail why “chronically online” is a mildly problematic phrase — we have a collective knowledge of internet culture and niche humour. When Mike’s Mic states that Emily’s dad in Pretty Little Liars is a BTS stan, the audience can infer that he is in the army (a term used for BTS superfans).
Intertextuality is the language of Gen Z, as it incorporates many elements that we have been raised on: intricate memes, viral moments in the pop culture zeitgeist and famous quotes from the media we consume. There is a large reference pool that has been attained by being a generation that was raised primarily online.
Gen Z embed online culture into their everyday talk. From saying people's outfits are “giving Portia” (in reference to the iconic The White Lotus character), to when something happens to annoy them and they state that it is their “thirteenth reason”, we are constantly referencing the pop culture that surrounds us. These references are a way of forming connections with the people around us as we have created communities that derive from having a shared reference pool.
Video essays can be seen as this generation’s equivalent of podcasts. There was a millennial podcast boom in the early 2010s, with seemingly every single topic having a podcast that would follow a similar formula of summary, analysis, joke and conclusion. It’s very similar to the video essay format (though, admittedly, these podcasts usually didn’t veer as heavily towards Internet culture as video essays do). Podcasts from the millennial era like Gilmore Guys and Stuff You Should Know were all about unpacking topics and educating their listeners in an engaging way. Video essays are a repackaged form of audio analysis that suits Gen Z’s preferred method of digesting information.
The popularity of these videos is an argument against the common claim that Zoomers’ attention spans are shortening. This new art form is one that is so distinctly Gen Z, and unabashedly so, as these creators know their audiences and how to appeal to their niche interests. The media we consume is such a large part of our identities and the significance of watching people give those subjects their due online cannot be understated.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to decide if I will watch Jane Mulcahy’s Degrassi recap video or Mina Le discuss Lana Del Rey and the pitfalls of having a persona. Or perhaps I should chuck on Mic the Snare and watch him analyse the music that defined the 2010s. OR should I watch Sarah Z’s take on the Mean Girls Musical? If I can’t decide, I may just rewatch ‘INFLUENCER-19’ by D’Angelo Wallace.
I guess there really is a video essay for everything.