The Incomplete Nostalgia of Youtube Rewind

I follow a lot of Youtubers; have for years. It can be a shock to some that I am quite well-versed in pop culture and celebrity news. Being a social media manager means keeping up with what’s going on in the world and that means being able to speak on and know a lot about what’s happening in the world at all times from memes to who is dating who. The Youtubers part may be less of a shock. From Jenna Marbles (please, come back to us); I’ve followed the journeys of many of these online celebrities and enjoyed their content and their personalities. John Green helped me come to terms with having OCD, Crash Course taught me new things, Mike Rugnetta helped me see the world in different ways, Hannah Hart taught me to check my cheese for poison. 

That’s to say, when Youtube Rewinds are released at the end of the year as a bit of a jaunt through the year’s events I look forward to them. I love seeing all the trends, the dancing, the mix of pop music and all the celebrities I’ve spent so much time with and I get a kick out of recognizing names and faces. 

I started really taking notice of the Youtube Rewinds in 2016 when we had one of the best rewinds ever made since they began nearly two decades ago. It was the perfect blend of the memes, humor and tone of 2016 as we mostly ignored the election and thought on all the neat things that happened before the election and our lives and country would be changed forever. In 2016 while canceling and #MeToo was a thing, most were firmly in the camp of either denial when celebrities you cared about or to just chalk it up to a messy he said/she said. Which is why people like PewdiePie who is a literal racist being in the video isn’t so strange: he was still the biggest name on the platform and even though we had heard him be awful and racist before 2016, we accepted me; I accepted it. 

Since then, there’s only been two more rewinds including 2017 which has a montage of all the bad things that happened that year but the world coming together (and it does make me cry) and 2018 which is where things had fallen off the rails.We now knew and could not ignore the problematic elements in the Youtube community from racist stars to ignoring and suppressing LGBT voices and yet the 2018 Rewind displayed not only queer creators and many of the problematic creators that we by the time the rewind aired knew were problematic. It was almost like the rewind was meant to have us ignore all of this for a candy-colored view of the world. 2018 also had its fair share of issues mostly relating to a racist president that was bent on ruining the world but Youtube Rewind was determined to be upbeat to the point of being tone deaf. There’s something to be said about trying to choose positivity in the light of what was an objectively bad year but seeing a bunch of millionaire celebrities wax philosophic about equality and things being better and that Logan Paul wasn’t a terrible person. Even in 2017 it was starting to feel a little tired when we had people who were objectively better off than the millions watching the Youtube Rewind were continuing to insist that we just keep our heads up and dance because things are okay even when they aren’t. 

But now as I find myself sequestered inside, I found the older Rewinds so comforting or at least I want to. The 2015 Rewind that focuses on back then what was a decade of Youtube and meme culture nearly brought tears to my eyes as I saw viral videos and memes that were so much part of my teenage zeitgeist that they have imprinted on my heart. The 2016 Rewind may still be one of my favorites even if it does start to feel incomplete in comparison to what else was happening that year: 2016 was not just Pokemon Go and Justin Bieber music but it is nice to think of it that way. Even more so, it’s strange going back and looking at a year like 2015 or even 2013 which feels like it was approximately 1000 years ago. It’s almost strange now to see the tone of the world be so positive or different in comparison to how I feel now in 2021; a strange mix of desperate optimism atop of intense ennui, malaise and fatigue. At the same time, some of the earlier rewinds are nearly impossible to watch as they feature memes or songs that have been played to death or have been banished from the current social and digital lexicon. No one does the Harlem Shake anymore and if one more damn person asks “What does the Fox say?” I will fling myself into traffic. But to go back and think about a time where the world cared slime

Nostalgia is a strange thing: it does in fact distort the past into a comfortable and often linear narrative. It’s much easier to think of the past as a series of one-off events rather than think of the building tension and hostility that had been brewing under the surface or the terrible acts that happened during those years while others got the luxury to just play games and listen to popular music and revel in meme culture. It’s easier to ignore the complexities of men and the horrible things they do while the camera is running or when the camera isn’t running. It’s much easier to ignore the systemic issues that have plagued creators of color both online and in the real world to make them cheapened tokens of diversity amongst a sea of white creators. It’s much easier not to think about the racist demagogue whose reign of terror during those years would change the lives of millions while simply indulging in the hedonistic ambrosia of slick remixes and references to a thing you may or may not have liked. But for a piece of corporate-driven capitalistic nostalgia, it has been a strange sort of balm in these trying times to cast my mind back to a time that at least on the surface felt simpler. 

The Channels I Stopped Watching

Youtube is a fixture in my media diet. Before I sold my soul to Hulu Live, Youtube and Netflix were my only sources of video entertainment. With Youtube being such an important part of my media consumption, it would only make sense that my tastes would change. So I briefly wanted to talk about a few of the channels I recently unsubscribed from. 

To start, let’s talk about the types of channels I do like. Honestly, I love video essays and media criticism. Lindsay Ellis is one of my favorites. I love everything ContraPoints does. I love Dan Olson, Patrick H. Wilhems, Entertain the Elk, Super EyePatch Wolf and Screen Junkies. I love thoughtful discussions on media, social issues and more. I also like channels that teach me things like Crash Course, Religion for Breakfast, It’s Okay to be Smart and The Brain Scoop. There are the mindless entertainment channels like those that sait my lust for information and gossip about drag queens and I love makeup tutorials and cooking videos. I keep up with a few news channels like Vox and Vice and I follow some video game content and some mangatubers because of course I do. My media diet is, I suppose, fairly varied but also very me if you were to take a peak at those I subscribe to. Comics, food, travel, politics, drag queens, media and more. My Youtube feed is a simulacrum of me. And like more digital facsimiles, that image has in fact changed over time.

The first big channel I left was CinemaSins. Now, for those of you who don’t know, CinemaSins is a channel of mostly dude bros who like to write sin counts for movies, television shows and more based on tiny little nitpicks and an utter lack of knowledge. They claim to be cinephiles but they’re mostly just annoying men who think they know best. I did used to like their podcast more because it seemed to be less about dumb nitpick comments and more about movie theater stories but the channel just got to me. Honestly, I was pretty done when they dinged Avengers Age of Ultron for the absolutely stupid reason of “Well, if Tony Stark has the Hulkbuster armor, why doesn’t he just use that?” literally read any comic. Look at any comic. There’s an answer. And while normally I have no issue with bad faith criticism as entertainment, the problem is that CinemaSins has a platform, millions of viewers and many of those viewers just don’t have the tools to realize that this is not real media criticism. Look at modern movie reviews. Look at literally anyone who thinks all that being a review is having a camera and “opinions” and you’ll see the poisonous influence and dumbing down of media that CinemaSins has perpetuated and made standard. It frankly makes me sick as someone who criticizes media and is a student of writing, communications and media studies. And CinemaSins will say that this is satire and not to be taken serious but if you read the comments, you can see people are clearly taking this stuff seriously. It’s just careless and in a world where carelessness seems to run rampant, I rather enjoy thoughtful criticism of movies. If you’re looking for a good alternative, Screen Junkies is a great group of intelligent, diverse and thoughtful reviewers and though not all of their videos are the best, I find their criticism valid and entertaining. 

Next up is another media review channel and for long time followers of my blog, you may know where I’m going with this. I used to love The Nostalgia Critic. And while I could never fault those who found the persona of the Internet grating, I mostly found the mix of reviewing newer properties and older properties with a humorous, sarcastic lens with a shocking amount of heart in places. I used to really like the mix of reviews that fell under the brand that was Channel Awesome. I used to like Channel Awesome. Now, I’m not here to discuss the litany of claims against the Walker brothers, the CEO of Channel Awesome, their horrible employees and the frankly unsafe and illegal conditions that their reunion movies were made under. I’m not here to discuss the fact that a rape scene was written into a script as a joke. I’m not here to discuss that. What finally got me to turn was their absolutely tone deaf response to a multi-page released document that clearly outlines every atrocity with the needed receipts. Victim blaming, deflection and gaslighting are things I just can’t support. It ended up tainting videos that I really enjoyed. I like Nostalgia Critic when he was thoughtful and admitted that things could be bad but still be fun. They were what I always sort of wanted from CinemaSins, admitting it’s a nitpick but then accepting it because for the people in the back: movies don’t always make sense, and that’s okay.  But after the whole fiasco, it was easier than I thought to delete the Nostalgia Critic from my life. 

Similarly, Screen Junkies faced a whole fiasco as we discovered their lead creator was a trash pile but it was Screen Junkies’ quick and prompt response that saved that relationship for me. It was handled, the bad man was fired, discussions were had out in the open and things moved on. 

I’m sure I’ve unsubscribed to plenty more channels, mostly due to changing beliefs, changes in closeness or affiliation and similar reasons and I’m sure I’ll add more channels to the list of things I watch on a regular basis. It’s curious as well that the channels I mostly follow and have the most ire with are media criticism based channels. I think that may be one of the most concerning part about the death of discourse has been the death of valid criticism and that lack of thought, that lack of reason, that lack of tact honestly is why I’m so frustrated by modern…well, existence. We should hold our media accountable. We should be able to argue our points. We should be able to accept criticism. 

So those are the channels I’ve recently unsubscribed from. If you have any suggestions for channels I should follow: let me know in the comments below.