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Can Video Essays Be More Harmful Than Good?

Video essays have proven to be very entertaining given their large fan base, but at what cost?

A woman with headphones on watching video essays.
A woman watching a video essay. Credits: Shutterstock/VesnaArt

The recent boom of video essays on YouTube has created a sort of respite within the general stream of mindless entertainment, but is this content more poorly crafted than what could originally be gleaned?

Over the years, YouTube has become one of the pillars of entertainment on the internet. Of the people contributing to this entertainment, video essayists have been growing larger and larger in number, with many talking about anything and everything.

However, because of how saturated the field is, many have begun to make in-depth video essays of controversy and drama, or they try to appear as an expert in something they are not. So, how good are video essays? Can they instill wrong ideals in the individuals who watch them?

The Popularity of Video Essays and YouTube

The Youtube trending screen
Video essays on YouTube have started trending more and more over the years. Credits: Unsplash/Christian Wiediger

Initially, Gen Z was believed to favor more short-form content such as TikTok, due to attention spans waning. Then the pandemic hit, leaving room for hours and hours of unoccupied free time. This allowed for long-form content such as video essays to blow up across social media. This content ranged from a short 15-minute video analyzing a recent trend to an almost 2-hour deep dive into our favorite children’s television shows.

As more of these videos surfaced, it became clear that there was an audience for this long-form content. Demand was so large that creators were able to talk about any niche topic or genre, and there was sure to be an audience for it.

As the video essay community grew larger, issues began to show. Many questioned the accuracy of the information within these videos. How many of these videos ingrain a false sense of understanding and learning? Criticisms have started to pop up more frequently, with most growing concerned for the people who take these videos seriously.

The Good

It is important to note that some video essays and commentary videos can be helpful and informative in their own right. These are the types of videos that focus purely on the “entertainment” factor and less on the supposed “intellect.”

YouTube channels like DefunctLand, Quinton Reviews, and Summoning Salt all cover rather niche topics that focus mainly on amusing the viewers and informing them of trivial things they may not have known.

Defunctland's Fast Pass video essay creenshot.
Defunctland’s most popular video essay about Disney’s Fast Pass. Credits: Youtube/Defunctland

These videos are addictive despite how long they can be, making them a fun and interesting way to pass the time. We see how much effort goes into them, and how the creators themselves enjoyed creating them.

We are able to learn small things that we may have never known before. These videos then become free documentaries that people can watch at any time, anywhere.

Channels like these do their research and create well-made, well-thought-out videos. This was the original goal of video essays – to make an informational essay in video form. Video essays like theirs provide a space for people to ponder the information. They also make many think that other video essays out there will be similar when that’s not always the case.

The Bad

A line showing a downward trend.
Over time video essays have become trending downward in quality. Credits: Shutterstock/Alexander Mak

Among the numerous video essays and commentary videos that prioritize entertainment, there are also ones that actively attempt to “teach” something. Videos like these try to be thoughtfully critical of something and try to analyze great bodies of work such as films, books, and television. Or, they try to capitalize off of somebody else’s controversy while adding nothing in any meaningful way.

YouTube as a platform is structured around getting attention, and when you get attention you gain money. Because of this, many will produce just about any content that they feel would attract people even if there are potential inaccuracies or wrong information.

It has created a breeding ground for people to feel morally superior because they feel as though they learned something that is often untrue from a creator. It also creates a false sense of understanding within the audience. This can produce a community that no one wants to be around very much.

There are also issues surrounding originality when it comes to video essays. For example, while book essays require at least a small understanding of what the book is trying to say and why, the opinions expressed in them often come across as more surface-level.

Yes, the videos are subjective, but because of how large the audience is, many begin to regurgitate the same opinions and views. Whether or not they are wrong is not the question, but how harmful taking everything these creators say as gospel is. Just because ten creators say “this is why x happened,” doesn’t mean that is in fact why x happened.

Are Video Essays Harmful?

Youtube channel Summoning Salt's most popular video "Mario Kart Wii: The History of the Ultra Shortcut"
Summoning Salt’s most popular video “Mario Kart Wii: The History of the Ultra Shortcut.” Credits: Youtube/ Summoning Salt

The simple answer to this question is that while some video essays are well-made pieces of art that try to showcase something or another, others will not be and are created solely to gain attention or make money.

Video essayists come in many forms because of this. They’re either trying to make content that they feel will be interesting and thoughtful, or trying to entice a reaction from people who they feel will disagree. Videos that make it clear that they are trying to “teach” in an academic manner will often do this.

In turn, this way of thinking will make video essays a harmful form of content, especially given how fast misinformation and general ideas spread across the internet. Overall, the general conclusion here is to make money.

Wanting to make money isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If this is the creator’s livelihood is on the line, of course, they should want to monetize their content. But if it comes at the expense of saying blatantly incorrect things or commodifying internet drama, then there are probably better things you could be doing. Be weary of this the next time you throw on a video essay.

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Hi, my name is Sierra. I am a graduate of Montclair State University who loves reading and writing.

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