Hard News by Russell Brown


First-person media and the kids your kids are watching

This week's Media Take, which you can watch online here, looks at a form of media which, if you are older than a certain age, may be a bit of a mystery to you. The kind where the camera looks in, rather than out.

Our guests included teenage Aucklander Liam Wavewider, whose remakes of photographs of mostly female celebrities – from Nicki Minaj to Miley Cyrus – have won him two million followers on Instagram. And 18 year-old Benny McNugget, who has 35,000 subscribers to a YouTube channel where he basically talks to the camera about being Benny. His Kiss Me I'm Desperate video has been viewed mre than 230,000 times.

They're not messing about. Liam's pictures take up to a week to execute and Benny's videos are clever and thoughtful. Late last year Benny was part of a Coca-cola promotion modelled on the one the company ran in Australia with Jamie Currie, the Napier schoolgirl whose Jamie's World Facebook page has 10 million likes. All three share an agent.

But they're also quite open about being oddballs. They reach out. Benny's most recent video is about how sucky it is being a teenager and having no friends:

The video pinned at the top of Liam's YouTube channel page is a remarkably frank, honest account of his own struggles with anxiety:

I put it to them that there's a Freaks and Geeks character to what they do, and Liam said: "I don't understand the question." Of course.

But it's not hard to see the value in kids talking unmediated to the camera. That's what made Attitude's Hey There campaign really sing. Young people with disabilities got to give their own account of themselves. Blake Leitch's video, which serves as a demonstration of the voice-recognition software he uses to do his writing, is quite a profound piece of work.

My own son, Jimmy Rae Brown, also made a popular video for the project, clearing up misconceptions about autism. I now just show people his video when they want to know. It wasn't a leap for Jim to start talking to the camera, because it was simply a matter of taking up a media form he's grown up watching: the vlog. There has been a lot of Angry Video Game Nerd and Nostalgia Critic seen (and heard!) in our house. Lately, Jim watches Repzion and Erika Szabo. He also, of course, makes his own film and video game reviews.

Our third young guest on Media Take, Vicki Makutu, the producer and director of the Te Mangai Paho-funded Hahana webseries, might not seem to belong in this category: Hahana is not a vlog. But she's pretty clear about the influence first-person media had on what she made. She's a working TV editor, but she didn't make Hahana like it was TV: its jumpcut editing style is consciously modelled on on vlogs. That was, she says, essential in in making something her audience would relate to. It's also worth noting that Ep 2 of Hahana features the sweary young Maori comedian Jimi Jackson, whose career, as he puts it, "started from a Vine".

There's some useful comment in the show from Pani Farvid and Jade Le Grice about how how first-person media – from selfies to vlogs – offers its creators control over their images: its point of view is the subject's own.

The question, I guess, is how this creative form shapes conventional media, which are produced on quite a different premise. Selfies are a part of celebrity and political culture and form the content of a Kim Kardashian's new book. But what happens to TV when no one under 20 watches TV and everyone's a TV announcer? It's all quite interesting. And it might just pass you by.

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