Shots fired! I tend to agree with Brian’s clear-eyed, full-hearted take on why the YOMYOMF YouTube channel feels like a watered-down version of the take-no-cultural-prisoners approach that we’re used to, though I do think there isn’t quite enough “there” there to take a proper pulse yet. Because broad generalizations lead to drawing definitive conclusions, which people much smarter than me keep telling me is how we ended up with the latest Pew findings.
It’s probably worth keeping in mind, though, that the YOMYOMF channel is more than just a movement: it’s an advertisement for a movement. And advertisements are meant to be slickly produced, long on literal and metaphorical pyrotechnics, and short on actual substance and heft. Now, you could certainly argue that the social media echo chamber creates a real need for instant gratification, and there are few things more instantly gratifying (at least among many, if not most, of our 2nd gen Asian American peers) than seeing YouTube A-listers ingratiate themselves to crude shtick masquerading as wafer-thin slices of cultural commentary. That irresistible mix of sincerity and irony = total strategery! Which is par for the course these days with building an entertaining, critic-proof brand: be sure to wink with your audience, not at them (they’re your brand constituents!), and don’t let anyone know what you stand for unless it’s some unassailable cause like Free Tibet.
Branding yourselves as the ambassadors of a new Asian American identity that’s inherently loud, proud, and in charge of its own image (for once) can be even more volatile: there’s a reason the YouTube advertising model is going the way of shared revenue and sponsors — YouTube is banking on the fact that the content producers know a thing or three about the smartest, most practiced ways of reaching their subscribers. One of which is to usually not piss off other potential sponsors.
At the same time, I definitely have my reservations about the diminishing returns of the creative model as well. KevJumba’s episodes (the aforementioned SAT skit and the strip pole competition with Harry Shum Jr) feel a bit out of place, precisely because they deal in a warmer, more chillaxed aesthetic, where the Keynote graphics and voiceover effects actually feel like strengths, and not outtakes from an internet children’s show. Does that reveal some kind of weird nostalgia for YouTube 1.0 and the bedraggled (in some cases, literally) singer-songwriter on my part? Perhaps. But does a mock-glowering Sung Kang and Randall Park being Randall Park (Free Randall Park!) really constitute a bananapocalypse? Or is the YOMYOMF channel simply setting itself up for a soft landing before the training wheels get taken off?
As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. But to me, there’s an even simpler explanation. The KevJumba videos, and to a lesser extent, the idea for a curated short film series, breach the gap successfully because they’re willing to indulge some kind of aspirational arc, no matter how downright hokey it is or may appear to be. Sure, “aspiring” to be a pole dancer or a SAT savant is Kevin Wu’s not-so-subtle way of poking fun at Asian American stereotypes but as Brian pointed out, probing around the complicated forces that go into creating an identity in the first place can certainly make for both interesting art and instant (not to mention commodifiable) gratification. If the YOMYOMF channel wants to truly start a bananapocalypse, it should sell Asian Americans on a movement whose impact can be measured with more than just subscriptions.