You may have heard the parable of the Organ Grinder’s Monkey somewhere. Essentially, it tells the tale of a person controlled by someone else, and ultimately has no real power unto themselves. In the modern age; think proletarians, plebs, YouTube ‘content creators,’ and people of such stations. That’s about eighty percent of the population, in fact. To be a monkey among monkeys is not such a bad thing, but to be a monkey in a world wherein exists giants who smell of milk and honey—to be a monkey then—would be a great sin.
Some say that the market for online content creators is saturated. Indeed it is. It became saturated, I think, due to the low-risk-high-reward factor of the whole enterprise. So long as you have a camera or a phone, and access to the internet, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Oh, what a world. It was Utopia until we let all the dogs out. The truth always sounds rude but that’s never stopped it from being necessary. Kenyan content is blasé, derivative, befuddling, and sometimes even frustrating. Very many pretty faces—from girls and boys—yet very little insight or innovation from either side. The girls seem to be a narcissistic bunch; makeup tutorials galore, house tours, park tours etc, as long as they’re in front of the lens, they think they’re serving God. The boys all seem to think they’re the next Eric Omondi, yet we all harbor hopes that nobody is, in all honesty. I’m not mad at this phenomenon my countrymen exhibit (maybe only a little), because I understand from whence it sprang. We’re born plagiarists, you see.
Let’s take one platform; YouTube, easily understood. Everyone, on an instinctual level, understands how a channel can grow from relative obscurity into a well known—a name that comes up just as often and as misused as ‘content’—’brand.’ Just like the other arts, particularly music, only the top ten percent really eat, while the rest keep playing the lottery, guaranteeing, paradoxically, the continuity of this lottery. We all know what it takes to grow a channel. Some people seem to want it more than others. This is because it takes consistent uploads, and a reliable format which creates a relationship of trust between creator and audience. Why is this a terrible thing?
For the creators it’s great. A lot of people have bought cars, purchased real estate and bettered their lives through this ‘content’ they gurk out, and the operative is, indeed, gurk, because they have turned the creative sector into a factory line industry. More power to them, truly. However, this evil, we did not even invent on our own; we are following in the footsteps of our Western pre-cursors who, due to socio-economic and geographic reasons, landed on this red and white tube moon before we did. We always follow the West, including legacy media content produced and distributed on flagship platforms like Netflix and Showmax.
It’s ‘What They Did There, but +254 now.’ And it works, for the most part; the masses are entertained. I am among the measly few old men complaining; yelling at the sky. It may be arrogant to suggest so, but we old men could be seeing this issue from an angle we would all benefit viewing from. I see what the Kenyan entertainment industry is and I ask myself what it could be; what it ought to be! Kenyans, on the track, smoke the rest of the world, with ease and pleasure, every five years at the Olympic Games. Kenyans, in international circles, are known for their verve, humor, and ability to hold copious amounts of liquor. Kenyans, by all means necessary, are not blasé or average, or members in the back row of a choir. Kenyans are leaders. What it ought to be is different.
I love that young folk are making money online through content, but as a life-long admirer of the audio-visual art, I feel that esoteric, avant-garde ideas must be explored; there is much yet to do with the camera and microphone, new ways to convey information and feeling that have not been tapped yet or discovered; by Kenyans, Japanese, Hollywood people or otherwise. I would take it a step further and add that the factory-line industry numbs us into a state of not caring about quality. Being content with the bare minimum and what not. It reduces our intelligence by refusing to exercise our brain, coddling us with uneducated opinions on subjects they have not studied, all in a bid to reach their weekly quota and keep those numbers up. Only ten percent actually make it, actually get seen, while the platform is clogged and saturated with ninety percent worth of imitators and perhaps some genuinely artistic fellows who aren’t lucky enough, or doing enough marketing, or making enough of those difficult-to-conceive artistic pieces. The game is rigged against itself, but as with all ecosystems, it always cleans itself out naturally.
A lot of these channels are good ideas, for one or two videos, but after that they seem to exhaust their utility, and are cashed-in on for pure profit. It happens everywhere, in every industry, but usually it’s understood to be some kind of disgraceful practice, and is hidden as well as possible. But on YouTube the practice itself must be seen; which is why it elicits such a violent reaction from purists like myself. I find it frankly disgusting and pathetic. Take the big cherry for male creators in recent times, thanks to the Me-Too movement; The Manosphere. People like Andrew Kibe, Amerix, who are strikingly familiar in template to others from the same community, the Tate brothers among others. I agree with a lot of the positive messages; go to the gym, work hard, hustle like there’s no tomorrow, stop chasing women—but due to the factory-line make-up which is a prerequisite to success on YouTube, they feel they must be controversial, and controversial as often as possible, to get hits and subscribers. They say the same things over and over again, in more and more entertaining ways, ultimately moving further and further away from their initial point until finally they just seem like clowns.
Wouldn’t it be better—huh—if we moved further into this forest and saw which way was up? Which ways are dead-ends and which ways are avenues to highs never before experienced. Wouldn’t it be better if we were all a little bit braver?
The first step, I think, would be simple and harmless. Renaming. The word ‘content’ denotes material contained within something else. It’s basically saying ‘product.’ By using the word ‘content’, what they are admitting is that what they create is so basic and abundant it doesn’t even deserve a name. YouTube Films, YouTube Videos, or even simply YouTube would be more respectable in my opinion. Words carry weight, they have content.
Less product, more innovation—better content.