One week ago today we were in California attending the 4th VidCon convention in Anaheim. In 4 short years, VidCon has gone from a few die-hard YouTube video makers/watchers gathering in a hotel ballroom to over 11,000 attendees in the Convention Center in Anaheim.
We bought our tickets last December at the insistence of both my kids, and I didn’t really know what to expect. The only YouTubers with whom I was remotely familiar were Jenna Marbles (who could not attend the conference due to her brother’s wedding) and Destin of Smarter Every Day. Jenna is funny, but the content is sometimes borderline for young teens, and I’ve found that is the case with many of the ultra-popular YouTube channels. Destin’s videos are awesome and educational, but I wasn’t even sure he would be at the convention. (He was.)
So I went and to be honest, was expecting a bunch of kids/teens/young adults who had more attitude than charm, more in your face comments than real communication and whose interest was focused on themselves and their YouTube status than on any consideration of those around them.
I mean, isn’t that kind of the line we’ve been fed about video crazy, screened out kids who adore people with names like “LohAnthony” or “Glozell” and spend all of their free time making their own videos in the hopes of hitting the YouTube viral video jackpot?
Let me tell you, I have never been more wrong.
The line for registration was an hour long by the time we arrived, at about 7:50am. By the time the doors to register opened at 8am, several hundred additional people were lined up behind us. During the long wait and in the slow moving line, I saw not one person lose their cool; not one person was rude; not one parent (and there were many like me in attendance) snapped at their kid; not one. Instead there were random high fives and people running by videotaping it all to the cheers of the crowd. There were people giving Free Hugs and several times I saw someone on their way to join the line spot a friend who was already in front of us, say hello (usually with a hug) and then dutifully go to the back of the line instead of trying to stand with the friend and get in sooner.
This went on all weekend. Lines were everywhere; for signings, for meet & greets, for the mainstage -and people continued to be unfailingly polite and generous to those around them.
Oh and those famous YouTubers with the borderline content and attitude? Yeah, in person they are just about the sweetest, happiest people you ever want to meet. I guess having success doing exactly what you enjoy doing has that effect. From Destin (who is an awesome guy with content appropriate for anyone) to Glozell to Daily Grace, oh and not forgetting Hank and John Green (yes, John Green who this week has FOUR books on the NY Times YA Fiction Bestseller list!) who were the rock stars of the entire event, except that instead of rock star attitude they were unfailingly funny and kind and generous. Just like every other person there.
Then there were the countless occasions where someone would shriek, “Oh my god!” and run up to another attendee and say “I love your videos! Do you mind if I take a picture?” At which point I would turn to Maya and say “Do you know who that is?” She’d look, shrug and say no. Many of the people in attendance make videos and have their own channels, and it was apparent that they all have fans to a greater or lesser degree. No matter to what degree, it was basically a love fest.
One of the most popular groups in attendance is the YouTube equivalent of a boy band. They call themselves O2L for “Our 2nd Life” and last year they were sitting the the crowd as friends who’d met through their various YouTube channels. Now they have a joint channel – O2L – and are sponsored by Taco Bell and have hundreds of screaming girls following them everywhere they go. Their signing was so overrun that they had to move it to a more accessible location (we were in that line) and despite the change of venue and jumbling of line order, nobody complained. Just nobody.
I mean seriously, have you ever been somewhere like that? (Religious conventions don’t count. People have to be nice to each other at those. )
So what did I learn?
Well I learned not to judge all “media” as greed infused blather. Whether you like the content of these YouTuber’s videos or not, the people involved are great people. They are making their own niche and being successful at it, and they want everyone else to do the same.
I also learned that these kids will make the world a better place. They don’t know borders and boundaries like those of us who grew up pre-internet. To them, the kid in Japan making the hilarious spoof commercials is only a click or a comment away. Not only that, but they have common ground with that kid, as well as British YouTube punk rockers and Brazilian cover singers. Where we tend to see differences, they see similarities.
I can only believe that this will lead to good things in the years to come.