Opinion & Debate Editor | Nicholas Ross
For months newspapers have been plagued with articles about two “YouTubers” having a boxing match in late August, an event in which people should not have taken interest. One struggles to discern the talentless spectacle’s phantom of appeal. Having trained in boxing and mixed martial arts, seeing two white-collar fighters throw jabs at each other would be no novelty, yet I watched, as did millions of others. Earlier in the year a controversy involved one of the competitors, Logan Paul, who had filmed (vlogged…) himself laughing about having found the cadaver of a suicide victim in Japan.
Given the poor defensive skills of beginner boxers and consequent likelihood of Paul being beaten up, it must have been the prospect of schadenfreude that attracted this sadistic Founder Editor. But the fight was hardly, if it may be said, striking. Although he was exhausted by the third round, Paul unfortunately survived and drew with his opponent (known as KSI, which stands for Knowledge, Strength, Integrity: a mantra of the kind recited by satirized Buddhist goatherds in one’s imagination). Uncannily, the pointless voyeurism of viewers had been forewarned.
In a 2001 Guardian article entitled ‘Reality TV: a death of talent and the death of morality’, Salman Rushdie predicted, ‘our voyeurism will become more demanding. It won’t be enough to watch somebody being catty, or weeping […] What is gradually being reinvented is the gladiatorial combat […] how long […] before “real” lions, actual dangers, are introduced to […] feed our hunger for more action, more pain?’ Seventeen years later people are booing at the fact a beginner boxer was not knocked unconscious.
The YouTube extension of reality television is more baffling a phenomenon than its precursor. In the same article Rushdie asked, ‘Who needs images of the world’s rich otherness, when you can watch these half-familiar avatars of yourself – these half-attractive half-persons – enacting ordinary life under weird conditions?’ However, YouTube does not necessarily involve weird conditions. For over a decade tripods erected in bedrooms have been attached to cameras recording artificial behaviour and uninteresting ruminations. KSI gained internet fame from people having been bored enough to watch him overreact to video games.
From reality television and YouTube emerge celebrities worse at filmmaking than filmmakers, at boxing than boxers, at comedy than comedians, etc. Logan Paul procured a fanbase on the thankfully obsolete online platform Vine by uploading videos of six seconds or fewer. It is popularity alone that imputes an illusion of value to these “personalities” but YouTube fanbases are not a dying breed.
Can these fans be more tragically passive, may they experience life more vicariously than by taking time out of their day to watch, and thereby glorify, normal people? It is a case of money being made out of the idolatry of mind-numbed hordes whose souls shall atrophy to impressions of stale coffee lingering at the back of their throats when they realise they would have made something of themselves had they filmed themselves watching.