YouTube is the New Tube: Identity, Power, and Creator-Consumer Relationships in a New Culture (Cottage) Industry

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Virginia Tech

YouTube is a new kind of media, offering new ways to search for meaning and identity in the digital information age. In this study, I explore how the struggle to establish meaning and identity is played out in this new cultural space, centering on amateur creators as they navigate tensions and test semiotic relationships with their productions online. I first situate YouTube within a larger context of cultural criticism that sees meaning as socially negotiated by consumers as active participants with cultural productions. I then discuss television as a cultural force and the effects of a new digital territory for these forces. By grounding my discussion in an understanding of media ecology that assumes a more varied and diverse collection of available cultural material will yield a healthier media ecology and thus healthier cultural subjects, I argue that YouTube is a positive intensification of television because it allows more viewers to participate in and more importantly participate in this media system. I then use two particular YouTube creators (Philip DeFranco and Hannah Hart) to demonstrate how these ideas are articulated in practice and how this process is not without its own problems.

YouTube, identity, autonomy, culture industry, critical theory, television