The Creator – Viewer Relationship panel took place on Saturday at Summer in the City in Panel Room A. Led by Taha Khan, the panel featured Paul Neafcy, Ricky Dillon, Lucy Moon, Dodie Clark, Maja Anushka, and Rowan Ellis.
To kick things off, Taha brought up the idea of oversharing, and what creators should share with their sometimes young and impressionable viewers.
“There is no same line for everyone, that’s what I’ve realised,” said Dodie, beginning to touch on her journey of figuring out what is and isn’t appropriate to share online. “I’ve been using my platform to talk [about] and explore my mental health problems, and recently that relationship got a little unhealthy where my mental health became very bad and I started using my platform to offload. I was sharing the real raw side of things, and while I did have people thanking me for breaking down the stigma, I was also triggering people and it was just really unhealthy.”
After taking a step back and reevaluating how and what she shares, she decided to treat her audience as if they were her little sister; not in a condescending way or in a way that censors what she is going through, but rather limits the graphic details of what she’s experiencing and phrases it in a way that isn’t quite so jarring.
Lucy jumped in on this topic as well, expanding on her own personal experience with oversharing and what that’s done to a part of her identity online. “For context,” she said, “I made a video on alcohol and it seems that I am the only person on YouTube who talks about alcohol, other than Shay Carl, and that went… really well. It felt like instantly there was a spotlight on me and now I represent alcoholics even though I discovered I wasn’t one, relatively quickly. So I have had to really pull back, and I’ve stopped talking about alcohol at all. It’s really personal journey and I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m 22!”
Rowan questioned whether this version of oversharing online was a way to express difficult subjects that both Lucy and Dodie have a hard time talking about face-to-face with people in their everyday lives. However, both women disagreed with that analysis. “I tell everyone anything,” said Dodie. “I think that’s why it’s so difficult, because I am such an oversharer in my real life. Like, I’ll meet someone new and I’m like, ‘Here’s my life story, here’s how I’m feeling!’, so I think that’s where it got tricky because I did it online instead.”
Ricky, on the other hand, agreed with Rowan’s point with regards to his own life. Although he hasn’t uploaded too many exceptionally personal videos, he did admit that he finds it much easier to spill his thoughts to a camera rather than someone in person. “I just cannot open up to people, I hate it. So, when I need to, I do share a lot online. It just helps me,” he said.
Taha then moved the conversation towards what he described as an “uncomfortable” topic: while there is a genuine love and respect between viewer and creator, at the end of the day the creator does profit and make a living off of their expanding audience, and there is always a sense of “business” that creeps into it.
“Obviously you’re sharing yourself online and I kind of see it like, ‘oh, this is just you talking to your mates’,” Taha said, positioning the question. “So how do you come to terms with, ‘Okay, this person really likes you and your personality and is invested in you as a person, but they are also validating that with money’? There is like a quantifiable thing attached to it, so how do those two things interact?”
“Weirdly, I just had a conversation with a friend about this,” said Lucy, jumping in right away. “He said that he thinks it’s almost borderline offensive that YouTubers sell merchandise, but specifically just merchandise with their logo or name plastered on it. His argument was: there is so many others ways to make money on YouTube without taking your subscribers’ money, so if you’re going to do merch it should be something with real value to them.”
Ricky disagreed with this, however, pointing out that he likes the idea of merch not for monetary gain but rather because it just shows he supports people. “Me, as a fan of artists like Ariana Grande, I love to get their merch. I mean, someone in my meet-and-greet was wearing an Ariana Grande shirt and I got so excited!” he said.
“I think the problem with that opinion,” added Paul, “is that it takes away agency from the viewer. It says, ‘The viewer is a mindless consumer and will only eat what is given to them regardless’. I don’t think that’s true – I think people know what they want, and [we should] let them pay for it if they want to.”
The panellists also came to agree that there is a sense of pride and instant connection that can come with merch between members of the same fandom. “I was walking down Oxford Street the other day and I saw a girl with a Nathan Zed shirt, and I stopped her and said, ‘Can I Snapchat this?’” Lucy admitted, laughing.
“Listen, we also have to talk about the viewer/viewer experience, because whether we want to talk about it or not, long after the person or thing is done creating things, those people and those friendships within fandoms are going to last soooo much longer,” pointed out Rowan.
With the terms “creator” and “viewer” appearing in the title of the panel and being thrown around so frequently, Taha pivoted the conversation towards attempting to define the difference between the two. After all, many people in the packed audience create videos themselves and upload regularly to a small audience, and yet they don’t have a “featured creator” badge and are not, as Rowan pointed out, granted the same “authority” on subjects that creators who become panellists are thought to have.
“It’s places like this where you can really see how the ‘creator/viewer’ divide has really manifested itself,” said Taha.
“I still feel like a viewer, though,” said Ricky. “I’m a huge YouTube fan. I’m both, and I started as a viewer too.”
“But do you think there is a difference in treatment?” pushed Taha.
“I don’t know if Ricky knows this,” started Lucy, interjecting. “But in 2013 I was at VidCon and I walked up to you and O2L and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I love you, I’ve been writing letters to JC Caylen’. At that VidCon, there was only ‘featured creators’ and ‘community’, so at that moment I met you as a ‘fan’, you know what I mean? I was 18, I had three- or four-thousand subscribers. But it was really interesting because, I think at events like this, it brings out the idea that there is almost no middle ground. I don’t even know what that number [dividing the two] would be.”
“I feel like I’m kind of in that weird middle ground,” admitted Maja. “This whole weekend has been such a surreal experience. I’m very much a viewer, and I have so many YouTubers that I just love to watch, and then Taha calls me and goes, ‘Hey, so there’s this panel…’, and this is my second Summer in the City and I’m sitting on stage in front of a bunch of people. It’s the most surreal thing to sort of pass through that.”
Although the ultimate consensus was that there is a sort of arbitrary divide between what a ‘viewer’ is and what a ‘creator’ is, at least at events like this, as Neafcy put it, “the barrier isn’t as solid as it may seem”. He continued on to point out that it’s important for both sides, viewer and creator, to recognise and realise that they are all just people.
Still, with this hierarchy that all admitted has developed, the panellists took the time to discuss the idea that those in power can, and have, abused it. “There is an imbalance of power and some of those in power have used it to sexually exploit their viewers,” said Rowan, expressing that there was no way she could sit on the panel without touching on this important subject, that she saw even this year at VidCon. “If you see someone in danger, you need to speak up. It can’t be something you just sweep under the rug because it’s uncomfortable to talk about.”
Photos by Emma Pamplin.
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