I’m awfully glad I didn’t have Instagram when I was 12. Quite frankly, it terrifies the bejabbers out of me to think of wide-eyed impressionable Holly opening the Insta-dora box (except there is no hope left. No hope at all.). The Internet is built on content consumption, and equally wields services where even the most inept find a way to contribute by adhering to the confines of the tool. “Human expression!”, every new social media platform initially preaches with good intentions. Tumblr, the microblog lowering barriers to scoring coffee-table deals. Twitter, the ability to easily participate in online discussions. Snapchat, the authentic look into personal lives in real-time via visual storytelling. And Instagram, sharing your beautiful artwork almost like an online portfolio. I appreciate social media immensely for bringing endless positive changes, and providing a medium to keep the world interlinked – I most definitely believe it played an essential role in rescuing the 12 young Thai boys & their football coach after 9 days in the caves, where over a thousand people flew from all over to lend a helping hand. For this, I really am forever grateful. However, this post is going to focus more on the dismal side of social media; how the original premises have sadly veered into our currently flawed state of user-generated content. For this, I will be delving into the unfortunate new generation of Instagram comedy as a true testament.
The Instagram explore page is now typically composed of the following: 30% people working out, 40% disastrous memes (“Tag 2 friends in the comments below who also like breathing”), and 30% useless lifehacks. Have a scroll down to look under the “Comedians” section, and you’ll find it is a terribly liberal use of that word. Train-wreck after train-wreck, it’s basically 6.5 seconds strewn across 60 seconds. The premise of Vine was certainly interesting, filling the void with a content medium in accordance with our current online attention spans. Constraint can create marvellous art, but the migration of tanking Vine stars onto YouTube & Instagram only serves to prolong what comedy they couldn’t even make in 6.5 seconds. I know, I know; sweeping generalization. However, I feel entitled to make such a bold statement considering its reckless abundance breeding reckless behaviour in young kids.
I’m no comedian, but isn’t comedy about the delivery and the punchline? Instagram comedy does neither. And if you thought the videos were outrageous, the comments are fantastically worse. Aside the dismayingly profuse use of the laughing-until-crying emoji comments, the complaints are of course about the video production, sound quality, and unwanted censoring of the otherwise R-rated clip – just disregard all the big glaring offences like rape, sexual assault and infidelity, because this is a backward mental sphere we’re in, mind you.
Have we regressed? It’s difficult to think we haven’t, when the steps taken forward to eradicate such pertinent issues have rapidly back-pedalled to zero under the guise of “comedy”. Objectification is an issue being battled as is, and of course Instagram comedians have subscribed to this belief by portraying women in their videos primarily for the thumbnail, because views. Also, just like how the Kylie Jenner lip challenge was so 2015, and fidget spinners are so 2017, isn’t cheating just so 2018? Because you better jump on that unfaithfulness bandwagon so rampant in Instagram comedy – haven’t you realized it’s a staple phenomenon to public relatability? What all these videos have in common, as Daz Game puts, is the predictability.
The worst part must be the amount of production value that goes into each less-than-average skit. A legitimate team of writers and producers, sitting behind the camera crew, elbows on knees, brainstorming – “Hey, you know what’s hilarious? Sexual assault! Comedy gold right there!”
Cody Ko so aptly calls this “pepper-spray comedy” – there is a time and place for everything, but there is never the time nor place when rape, cheating, or violence is the punchline. Nonetheless, the thrift-shop cloak of humour thrown over these issues draws in millions of views, views that pay their rent, buys their fancy cars, and similarly disguises their greed with altruism by “£10,000 donations to random strangers”. Besides this dark branch of Instagram comedy, Danny Gonzalez also titles another highly popular subset of videos “ab comedy”, which essentially translates to “I’m not funny, but at least I’m hot” (very loosely used term here). Look, if you want to post a shirtless selfie or a sultry bathroom picture of yourself, I would prefer that any day over doing so under the guise of “comedy”. Frankly, it’s quite insulting to our intelligence by doing so.
It must be said, though: props to the Instagram comedians working tirelessly to defy the moral status of the uprising generation; unafraid to severely exploit the vulnerable hormone-fuelled limbic systems, knowingly plugging into their digital lifelines. They’ve figured out the unwritten algorithm of the jamming-the-fast-forward-button nature of social media and consequent hysterical fan response, bypassing the more traditional celebrity framework – a strange, uncalled-for breed of “influencers” who live and die on their approachability, but ultimately, is a testament to their outrageous sense of entitlement and dollar sign eyes.
Where is the sense of pride? Where is the responsibility in reaching out to millions of malleable minds, the responsibility in setting the tone of what passes as humour to an entire generation? Impressionable children will witness “comedians” making light of sexual assault and rape, perhaps even standing up for the insensitive jokes adults used to be able to control through comedy clubs. Instead, this dangerous behaviour slaps young viewers in the face with no caveats through every and any Wi-Fi-connected device.
It’s offensive to creators in the digital world creatively dedicated to what they do – it takes courage and hard-work, of which the latter seems to be forgotten. And after all this, it left me with a couple questions: what does it mean to be a creator these days, and what has entertainment turned into? Having grown up watching YouTube since I was 8 years old, I’ve grasped a little of the ethos of long-standing YouTubers – they avoid drama, or indirectly tackle it in a clever way; their relationship with YouTube headquarters is amusing, to say the least; but, most important, they stay rooted. So, the sheer fact they’ve felt strongly enough to comment on the shifting online entertainment speaks volumes to me. Ryan Higa talks about the powerful politics behind-the-scenes of award shows, how we perpetuate the vicious cycle by treating such entertainment with much more value than it should have. PewDiePie so aptly says the number one rule in becoming a popular content creator, especially in the vlogging community, is a simple equation: flexing = views. He goes on to expand that vlogging has become the new clickbait window-shopping going beyond the materialistic behaviour, repeatedly begging the question, how far will you go, hitting the nail on the head describing the behaviour as pathetic & Neanderthal-like. Smosh have comedically parodied Instagram comedy several times pretty accurately. Wong Fu recently launched a Patreon page, and Phil talks about having watched the digital space & industry change immensely, how click-bait videos these days overwhelm the few channels creating original scripted videos. He spoke about their company never wanting to comprise quality & integrity because they care about their artistry and the fans, and it’s something so realistically addressed in their 3 million subscribers video. And, honestly, it makes me sad.
I’m not saying all Viners who migrated to YouTube are terrible; neither am I saying YouTubers these days are just money & fame hungry. Amazing creators are born all the time on YouTube and I’m struggling to keep up with my subscriptions because I have over 500 (I wish I was kidding). I’m a loyal member of the meme economy just as any other millennial. However, Instagram comedy was simply the trigger that made me step back and wonder, this can be detrimental to younger kids. What irks me is that it’s not those high quality content channels trending, but instead, ridiculous Musical.ly stars scamming money off gullible pre-teens are. I’m lucky to be able to step away and macroscopically see the situation as a 20-year-old, that I can put myself in the right frame of mind. Unfortunately if I was 12, this post could just’ve easily been a Wattpad tribute defending the #TanaCon disaster.