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Dear Kelsey,

So as you know (because I can’t stop texting you about it and by the way what did you think of my last video? Was it good? Did you get it? Did you like it? What’d you think?), I started a video blog. I decided awhile back that this wasn’t really the place to mention it because the two projects are essentially opposites: the only rule for this blog is to write about books in whatever capacity strikes us, and the only rule (well…guideline) I’ve set out for my YouTube channel is to not talk about books (…as much as on this blog).

But basically what this means is that I spend my evenings obsessively watching video after video, editing my next video for awhile, and then reading a chapter of Udolpho before bed.  It’s a weird mix, the lurid gothic horror story and the Web 2.0 social media-ing (or are we at 3.0, now? 2.5?), and not even book review video blogs really reconcile them adequately.

Anyway, for the next video on my channel, I’ve actually been watching a lot more of YouTube than usual trying to get a feel for the kind of editing I want to do next.  I’m not really used to studying these videos yet, and it was probably because I was in such an odd mindset than this thought occurred to me when Bryarly’s latest video popped up on my subscription feed: she’s a person.

Okay, clearly, we knew this, and what with my other big revelation, I think I can easily win the award for Most Likely to SUDDENLY REALIZE! Something Completely Obvious. But even though it’s obvious intellectually, I don’t know how obvious it is instinctively.

When we read about the lives of fictional people, we often become that person. I mean, yes, there are literary techniques to increase or decrease that distance, but most often, we see the world through a character’s eyes: we think their thoughts, experience their experiences, and share their perspective. It’s quite amazing, actually. (Almost as amazing as the willpower it’s taken to prevent me from quoting Jane Smiley!)

One of the weirdest things about making videos for YouTube now has been the immediacy (and quantity!) of the feedback, and then the double-think mentality you can get if you reflect on this at all. I mean, obviously I’m a person with my own special bundle of social anxieties and idiosyncrasies—but when you get comments like “you’re so awesome and funny and nice!” and “omg I think I love you,” it’s not hard to imagine that your audience imagines you quite differently than you imagine yourself.

No matter how “honest” of a vlogger you are, there is still a certain amount of editing and selectivity that goes into what you upload and reveal (just like in a novel!). And this online persona can begin to resemble a fictional character—especially if your online friendships are apparent and publicly reinforced. 

But Bryarly, she’s, like, famous and stuff. Minorly famous, at least. Minorly famous in a small certain subsection of the internet that sticks around YouTube far too much. But really, how many people read Udolpho nowadays, either? So it’s perfectly normal to have a monologue along the lines of omgyou’resofunnyandcoolandYOUALSOhaveablogandavlogandwebothliketeasoclearlyweshouldalreadybebestfwwndswhadjathink?

…except that she’s not a character, she’s a person. And yes, while I also want to be best fwwnds with Hermione and Anne of Green Gables (sorry, bosom fwwnds!), I think it’s important to recognize the difference and to notice if you start to cross that line. 

My point was not to philosophize for ages (clearly a success!) but to explore just how easy it is to fictionalize the people we admire but might not know personally. Whether this is Bryarly or Jane Smiley or some other YouTuber/Author/Personal Hero, it seems like we constantly want more detail, more access, more stories, moremoremore, but rarely do we reconcile this with their person-ness. The logical conclusion of desiring ever-more access to someone is to actually be inside their head, which fiction freely allows—limited only by the length of the book or the series. 

And while I do realize that by talking about one person in particular, I’ve essentially characterized her in another way (and that this was probably just as unfortunate and ill-conceived), I’ve focused on Bryarly here not only because she inadvertently inspired the post, but also because she explicitly addressed this topic awhile back. But I think when Big Important Vlogger-Type People talk about the oddness of parasocial relationships (because I really do think this comes out of one-sided relationships, be it reader to character or audience to vlogger), it can come across as inadvertently lecturey (a pitfall I am sure this post deftly avoids 😉 ) or not particularly real. Like that moment when the fictional heroine wonders about how things would turn out if her life were a book. A book such as, say, The Mysteries of Udolpho. 

In conclusion (and-I-don’t-really-want-to-ruin-my-whole-point-by-egregiously-quoting-YouTubers-but-I-feel-like-this-Vlogbrothers-one-is-particularly-on-topic): Imagine People Complexly. 




P.S. Linkssssss! To the post-inspiring-though-not-necessarily-on-topic video. To Bryarly’s on-topic blog postTo the first post in my new series of Obvious Everyday Epiphanies. To posts with a much different ratio of words-to-pictures. To my shiny new YouTube channel. Yay!