April 15, 2014

ELIOT | Confessions of a Former YouTube Hotshot

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When I sat down with the ghost of acclaimed Irish novelist and poet, James Joyce, he gave me a valuable piece of advice that I try to keep in mind when composing each of my columns; he said, “Write about what you know.” This explains why my columns aren’t included in “Sex on Thursday.” Probably not unrelated, I do know the Internet pretty well. In fact, I somehow managed to achieve mild YouTube fame in tenth and eleventh grade. Before a crazed fan approached me and my mother waiting in line for Rango tickets at the movie theater and I took down all of my videos, I had amassed roughly 1.3 million total video views — try not to faint … ladies.

A lot of you are learning this and probably thinking that it makes sense. I am an opinion columnist for THE Cornell Daily Sun; obviously I’m an artiste. The videos I posted were no less artistic and profound than my columns (read: a parody of Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” about sneakers, a DVD commentary of my experience at the Denver Aquarium, etc.). I did not, however, upload my films (yeah — I think it’s fair to call them films) because I fancied myself an artist. I did it because I liked the validation I found in the comments made by people who more often than not had Jonas Brothers-themed usernames. As a 15 year-old who was still pretty crushed that learning to play “The General” by Dispatch on guitar just could not outweigh the boyish acne and utter lack of knowledge about how one should try talking to girls, reading online that I was a “qt” was refreshing and helped get me out of bed in the mornings.

Unfortunately, though, basically anyone with an Internet connection can put comments online — and it turns out a lot of assholes have access to the World Wide Web. So for every nice comment like “wow this is so jokes” (username: Cas10001), “u guys r funne” (username: haleybaby11498) or “oh my bieber! youre at safeway! and i love you a lot <3” (username: Elena1648Xx) there were plenty of “omg u suck” (username: TheNoobishGamer) and other nasty comments criticizing my highly evolved sense of humor and video editing skills.

Did I let these comments get me down? Absolutely not — I was a YouTube hotshot, and these videos were going to propel me to a level of celebrity known only to the likes of Rihanna, Macaulay Culkin and theoretical physicist, Robert Brout. I subscribed wholeheartedly to Young Money, Cash Money mantra: “Haters make me famous.” I was not, however, above following the links back to these haters’ personal YouTube channels and writing some harsh comments on whatever videos they had uploaded. One thing that struck me though was for how comfortable these Internet trolls were telling me I looked like I was 10 years-old (honestly, fairly valid) or that my behavior suggested I didn’t get enough oxygen in the womb, they were a lot less comfortable creating and uploading content of their own.

Did I achieve the level of fame I dreamt of during AP United States History? Well I am a Daily Sun opinion columnist and study mechanical engineering in Ithaca, N.Y. — so yeah, I obviously “made it.” Even if I had never become the absolute king I am today, I would still prefer to have posted my videos and been ripped apart in the comments than never do it at all.

Religious figure, Jesus Christ (the man whose birthday we all use to index our calendars), said that “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). I may not have been a tree that brought forth “good” fruit, but I was a tree that was trying his best. The Internet trolls, in addition to having a pretty weak command of the English language, brought forth no fruit. If I was a disappointing tree like an Apricot, then the trolls were something else entirely — like one of those cell phone towers that thinks it looks like a tree but is really just an eyesore.

So that was the anecdote to set up the conclusion of this column. We are all fortunate enough to take part in the human experience, but we only get to do so for so long. We might as well make something of it. Impressive people in history are rarely critics — they’re creators. They are less concerned about things happening to them, like being able to afford an expensive vehicle or a smoking hot wife and are more concerned with doing things of value to others. I am not trying to make it sounds like I am an impressive person because I posted some videos online. What I am saying though, is that we are all at Cornell and have the resources available to make ourselves productive people. You can learn things here that will make you interesting and inventive. What I am saying is that although it may be a lot easier to criticize the efforts of others — and perhaps say things like “this column is not very good” or “this kid is kind of preachy and self-important” — those who you are criticizing are the creators that will leave a legacy after they are gone.

Do think about what you are creating though — it makes me pretty uncomfortable that somewhere online is a video of me performing my original song, “The Hannah Montana Rap.”